These aren’t recitals, folks
NBT and NEDE bring in the professionals for Cinderella and Coppelia
By Heidi Masek firstname.lastname@example.org
Tucked away in what looks like a former firehouse near Dr. Crisp School in Nashua, professional dancers rehearse in converted studio space. Some are imported under contract from out of state and are preparing for Northern Ballet Theatre’s production of Cinderella.
The second-floor space is about the size of a stage, and artistic director Doreen Cafarella worked with dancers and stood in for characters on March 20 while Susie Michaud ran through rehearsals of scenes with the ugly stepsisters. Cafarella choreographed the ballet while Michaud, who has more of a musical theater background, choreographed the more comical elements with the stepsisters.
The rehearsal looks like Michaud is plotting a course, trying to get the dancers and actors across the stage in various directions to various places within a certain number of counts. It’s a lot of work for a scene that might last a few minutes or less.
Cinderella is played by Jung Min Lee, born in Seoul, South Korea. Her credits with Joffrey Ballet 2 include roles in Swan Lake and La Fille Mal Gardee. She danced a principal role with Chicago’s Alma Dance in their new production, Frankenstein, as Frankenstein’s bride.
Jung Min Lee’s elegant, graceful performance in rehearsal contrasts with the laughs that the stepmother and stepsisters are going for. You have to be pretty talented to purposefully look awkward in ballet, Cafarella pointed out. Company member Caitlyn Brandt has comic flair and was cast as a stepsister, she said. Northern pulled in local actors, brother and sister, Brandon and Jennifer Mallard, to pull off the physical comedy of the stepmother and other stepsister. Brandon has been involved with NBT for eight seasons.
Carafella said part of NBT’s mission (she originally founded Granite State Ballet) is to bring professional dance to New Hampshire, although it’s not easy. When people hear of an upcoming ballet performance, they envision “3-year-olds” and “tutus,” she said. They don’t realize professional dancers are hired.
“This is their job,” Cafarella said. “This is their passion ... you’re going to see all that passion on stage,” she said.
NBT went professional in 1998, and performs two or three shows per year, although they took last season off. A lot of professional companies are having a hard time, particularly the smaller regional companies, Cafarella said.
“What I’m trying to do is bring the mountain to Mohamed, here,” said Barbara Mullen, director of New England Dance Ensemble, based in Londonderry. Professional dancers play principal roles for NEDE, joined on stage by high-level NEDE students.
Guest artists Yuriko Kajiya and Jared Matthews became soloists with the American Ballet Theatre in New York this summer. They appear with NEDE as the leads in Coppelia April 5 and 6.
To see Kajiya and Matthews perform in New York would probably cost you about $125, Mullen said. “We’re bringing that caliber of dancers to New Hampshire,” for tickets that cost $25 to $35, she said.
“It’s important to me to keep the arts of that quality alive in southern New Hampshire,” Mullen said.
Tickets for Cinderella are priced affordably at $18 and less, but with the costumes, sets, and payments for the dancers, and other expenses, the bill for four shows comes up to around $60,000 for NBT. The company uses grants and sponsorships and other funding tools, rather than rely on ticket sales.
And Cafarella wants to keep it accessible to young people so they can gain exposure to the arts. This is a way to see professional dancers without traveling to a major city, she said.
“The men are fabulous,” Cafarella said. The professional male dancers play the jester, courtiers and others. The prince is played by Nathan Bland from northern California. He’s danced professionally with Kansas City Ballet, Eugene Ballet, and most recently with Lazar Ballet NYC and Connecticut Ballet.
Mullen, whose son works for the University of Florida football team, said she’d like to see the youth of today “exposed to culture at the same quality and level that they are exposed to in sports.”
Watching the dancers rehearse, you realize they are pretty much made out of muscle. Mullen said that the demands in choreography have made ballet dancers become more athletic in the past decade. (And here I had thought that how blown away I am by dancers’ abilities was directly related to how old or sedentary I am.)
“It’s obviously, wonderful, beautiful, artistic movement, but it takes an athlete to pull it all off,” Mullen said.
Mullen said rather than choreographing Coppelia, she is recreating the piece. She taught dance history at UNH for 10 years, and pulls from that, inquiries to New York teachers and other research.
“There’s just so much detail that’s gone into the performance. And it’s to share, it’s my gift to the community,” Mullen said.
NEDE is using 40 local dancers who auditioned, many of whom have rehearsed one day a week since October. Most are mature students, and a small group of children are being given the opportunity to perform in a folk dance scene, Mullen said.
NEDE usually performs four times a year — including The Nutcracker and A Child’s View of the Holocaust, which they’ve toured to schools and universities and plan to take to New York.
Coppelia is also a humorous story about a young couple. The girl sees the boy blow kisses to a beautiful woman in a window. They assume it’s a woman, but the girl discovers it’s actually a doll, and breaks into the toy shop to take the doll’s place and catch her man in the act.
NBT’s company rehearses every day for six weeks and uses elaborate sets with a balcony and costuming.
“It’s such an enchanting fairy tale,” Cafarella said of Cinderella.
Both Northern Ballet and New England Dance Ensemble are using recorded music rather than live orchestras. Hiring live musicians to perform Leo Delibes’ Coppelia would have upped NEDE’s budget another $25,000. Plus no actual orchestra pit is built into the new Bedford High School 850-seat auditorium. Whereas NBT last performed Cinderella in 1997, NEDE is starting from scratch with Coppelia, which will cost them about $40,000.