Sunday, June 04, 2000

No down time for dancers

Ballet academy prepares version of 'Snow White'

By Carol Norris
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        The place is usually a beehive, studios filled with bodies with long legs bending and stretching at the barres and slim dancers in slouchy warm-ups rushing around with hulking dance bags slung over their shoulders.

        But now it's quiet. A few hours after Cincinnati Ballet closed the curtain on Cinderella three weeks ago, dancers cleared out for summer break.

        On a recent visit to the Central Parkway studios, not a creature was stirring except for studio A where Daniel Simmons was rehearsing. Sweat was flying as Darren Anderson and Heidi Rood worked out the problems in a loaded pas de deux. Airy lifts, time-eating balances and super-fast spins were the norm.

        Mr. Simmons convinced the two company dancers to hang around a little longer to star in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, his first-ever ballet for Cincinnati Ballet's Budig Academy. Although the ballet features 106 children from the academy, it's no kiddie affair. From featuring the professionals (“It's good for the kids to see how a company hierarchy works,” Mr. Simmons says) to the use of company sets, costumes and technical assistance at his disposal, it's a full-blown, full-length production.

        “Diane and Laura Vandergriff have been wonderful — they're filling the stage from Cincinnati Ballet wardrobe. My assistant, Nancy Fountain, has a background in costume design and is guiding Kristin VanEE — an 18-year-old who wants nothing more than to be a costume designer — in designing some of the other costumes,” Mr. Simmons said, amid piles of pink flower garlands to be used by tiny fairies.

        There are four principal roles. Besides Ms. Rood as Snow White and Mr. Anderson as the Prince, former Cincinnati Ballet dancer Tim Snyder is the Huntsman and a “mystery” person plays the witch. The rest of the cast — dwarfs, elves, bugle and snow drop fairies, lords and ladies — will be danced by kids.

        “I don't think children are given credit for what they can do. They can be taught professionalism right from the beginning,” Mr. Simmons says. “They need to be given steps they can do. I don't think children are given credit for how they can interpret music.”

        The music is all Tchaikovsky — on tape. Mr. Simmons has expanded the familiar fairy tale to make room for all the kids he wanted to include, including the Venture Dancers, Cincinnati Ballet's pre-professional company. “The Ventures are dancing all the divertissement, really tough stuff,” he says.

        Slightly built and quietly authoritative, Mr. Simmons is full of energy and passion for one thing — dance. He oversees the academy, teaches company classes, hires teachers, teaches the kids himself and dreams up ballets at an incredible clip. He says he's taking the summer to do this ballet for students who need the experience, and the academy, which needs the exposure. He's also doing it for the professionals who are being pushed and the community which can watch future stars grow — and himself.

        “I need to be creative,” he says. He insists building big ballets is not that hard. “If you have all the music and story in your head, you can just go.”

        Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, 7:30 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday (June 13 and 14), Jarson-Kaplan Theater at the Aronoff Center for the Arts; tickets at the door: $18 and $20.

        "Snow White': After Snow White, Mr. Anderson, 23, heads for New York to study at American Ballet Theatre's summer intensive program. It's six weeks of daily classes and evening rehearsals.

        Admission is by audition, except in Mr. Anderson's case. ABT's ballet master Kirk Peterson has choreographed for Cincinnati Ballet and knows Mr. Anderson's current abilities and potential.

        Mr. Peterson invited him to take part in the program. The only delay was coming up with the $1,500 to pay for the classes. To the rescue came the John and Shirley Davies Foundation of Cincinnati, which gave Mr. Anderson the money without strings.

        “I told them I'd work in their office to pay them back, but they said to just go to New York and dance,” a grateful Mr. Anderson says.

        Cincinnati Feis: When asked to describe the annual Cincinnati Feis, organizer JoAnn Buck said “Where else will you see 800 Irish dancers in one room of 2,200 square feet in one day?” This year's feis (pronounced fesh) is at Northern Kentucky Convention Center in downtown Covington. If you've never been to one, Ms. Buck says it's a real adventure. “There are eight stages in one room with simultaneous competitions going on. They are open to the public and there's always a huge crowd. Irish dancers never come by themselves — there are always grandparents, moms, dads, sisters and brothers . . . a lot of families meet at these, like reunions.”

        Ms. Buck, Rose Gahl and the Cincinnati Irish Cultural Society are the local sponsors. Ms. Buck's daughter, Emily Anson, is at the championship level — as high as you can go in Irish dance competition — and does about six feisanna a year, the norm for most competitors. There are 150 competitions to choose from each year in North America alone.

        Covington's event is pulling judges from around the world — Ireland, Great Britain and Canada — and about 800 dancers from U.S. and Canada. Cincinnati is represented by the McGing Irish Dancers.

        There's live music at every event — fiddle and accordion — and kids in curly wigs and embroidered costumes. There are contests for soda bread, needlework, vocalists and instrumentalists, too, but dance is the main event — except at lunch time when it's pizza. “It's madness when every kid wants a piece of pizza at noon,” Ms. Buck says.

        The 17th annual Cincinnati Feis, begins at 9 a.m., June 25, Northern Kentucky Convention Center, Covington; $5, children under 12 free; 731-2618 or 871-0083.

        Carol Norris covers dance for The Enquirer. Write to her at 312 Elm St., Cincinnati, Ohio 45202. Fax: 768-8330.


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