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Charleston Ballet offers taste of India with 'La Bayadere'

WANT TO GO?

"La Bayadere (The Temple Dancer)"

Presented by The Charleston Ballet

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday

WHERE: Civic Center Little Theater

COST: Adults $20, seniors and students $15

INFO: 304-342-6541 or www.thecharlestonballet.comCHARLESTON, W.Va. -- This weekend, local audiences will have a chance to see a world-class dance production when The Charleston Ballet stages "La Bayadere (The Temple Dancer)" at the Civic Center Little Theater Friday and Saturday.

The classical ballet set in ancient India tells the story of a love triangle between Solar, an Indian warrior; Gamzatti, the wealthy Raja's daughter to whom he's betrothed, and Nikiya, the temple dancer with whom he falls in love.

"It's the really huge companies that do it," said Charleston Ballet artistic director Kim Pauley, explaining that it's a show not often seen in smaller markets like Charleston or on smaller stages like the one in the Civic Center Little Theater.

"People said I was crazy to [stage it], but that just fueled the fire," she added with a laugh.

Pauley believes one of the show's strong points is that it very plot-driven, which can make it less intimidating to ballet newcomers.

"It's laced with story, which I think helps," she said. "When a ballet is plot-less, people sometimes think, 'I didn't get it. I think there might be more in it than there is.' Sometimes there is, sometimes there isn't.

"With the action and the characters, it makes it easier to follow. The actual steps become secondary," she continued. "The music is all classical and was written for the ballet. It's beautiful and really powerful -- and goodness knows we can use some beauty in our lives right now!"

The performance isn't entirely new to the troupe, though. The Charleston Ballet, collaborating with Radenko Pavlovich and the Columbia Classical Ballet in South Carolina, first staged it in October 2012.

"I'd never known it to be done in West Virginia -- not a visiting production or a local one. It's huge, the scope of it," Pauley said.

"I learned to do things on a larger scale and think on a larger scale," she added. "I learned how to be extremely creative in the Civic Center theater. The stage is really small, and this is a big show with lots of people. Trying to create a grandiose set on a little stage is really hard."

Preparation time for that first staging took about six months -- from late spring or early summer until October, Pauley estimated. She had to learn all the roles and how to stage them, plus costumes had to be designed and made and set pieces and props had to be bought, rented or otherwise obtained and more.

This time around, things went more quickly. Pauley estimated they've been working on the show just since "The Nutcracker" ended in mid-December.

 The decision to bring it back was two-fold. First because the ballet already has invested so much in it, and second to give audiences another chance to see it.

"I think a lot of people didn't really know what it was before," Pauley said. "Now, it's just a time to bring it back when it's been a little bit of time but not too long."

"And as a company, we've already made the investment in the production part of it. It takes so long to organize that -- where the costumes will come from, deciding on the staging and how to make the scenes flow from one to the other on a small stage, working with all the dancers. Nobody realizes how much it is until you're in it."

The Charleston Ballet will once again join forces with the Columbia Classical Ballet for the performance, but some tweaks have had to be made. For instance, some of the dancers in the previous cast are no longer in town, so there are more young dancers this time around; Pauley estimates that more than half of the 45-member cast is under age 20.

There are also more guest artists, including the three principal roles. Sasha Vhyrkrest, a frequent Charleston Ballet collaborator last seen in "The Nutcracker," will dance the role of Solar. Hana Oh and Sakura Oka perform as Nikiya and Gamzatti, respectively.

"You can't suddenly replace a mature artist who did a soloist role with a 15-year-old," Pauley explained.

That doesn't mean there aren't things for teenage dancers to do, though. Many of the young dancers perform multiple roles.

Mary Anna Ball, a 16-year-old Cabell Midland junior from Huntington, and Julianna Hanson, a 17-year-old homeschooled senior from Given, both return to the production, stepping into new roles as well as keeping the ones they originally performed.

Ball, a 12-year member of the Charleston Ballet and third-year company member, said returning to the production hasn't been too difficult. Plus, she bought a video of the show to study at home.

The production allows her great versatility. She said she enjoys each role differently, so it's hard to pick a favorite.

"I'm a temple dancer in one scene, and in the next, I'm a ghost of a dead lover, and the next, I'm a sort of bridesmaid at a wedding.," she said. "It really depends on my mood of the day [as to my favorite]. Am I feeling more flirty like a concubine or more reserved, so I can be a wisp?

Hanson, who is in her first year with the Charleston Ballet (she previously performed as a member of the River City Youth Ballet) is most excited about being part of the scarf dance in Act I, one of her two new roles. As a dancer, it's her favorite part, though as a viewer, she said she loves to watch the intricate and technically difficult Kingdom of the Shades in Act II, which takes place in a dream world populated by ghosts. 

"This is a really beautiful ballet, and it has a really pretty story to it," she said. "It's not one you see performed a whole lot; it's just something different."

"It's really demanding [as a dancer]," she added, "but overall, it's a whole lot of fun."

Reach Amy Robinson at flipside@wvgazette.com or 304-348-4881.


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