In the Rochester City Ballet's studio on University Avenue, the company is rehearsing the ballroom scene from the classic story ballet "Cinderella" for this weekend's performance at Nazareth Performing Arts Center. Cinderella and the Prince are practicing the pas de deux — or step for two — of their initial meeting. She is shy and tentative; he is already pursuing her with gentle insistence.
"It's like you have butterflies in your stomach because you're meeting him for the first time," artistic director Jamey Leverett calls out to Megan Kamler who is dancing the title role.
"In a room full of people, you only see each other," adds ballet master Fidel Orillo, who portrays one of the stepsisters in the play.
The stepsisters are traditionally played by men in "Cinderella," adding an element of hilarity to the romance. Longtime Rochester City Ballet dancer Adam Kittelberger plays the other selfish sister. Promotional pictures of them in costume with exaggerated expressions are probably proof enough that Orillo and Kittelberger will nail the ribald humor of these two oafish siblings, a feat that requires considerable talent in physical comedy. The Evil Stepmother will be played by guest artist Brian Norris, a career comedic dancer who performed with the famous Ballet Trockadero.
As the RCB continues to rehearse, the Prince, danced by newcomer Jesse Campbell, draws Cinderella closer to him, his hands on her hips, supporting her as she dips down into arabesque penche, her leg lifted behind her. Kamler is a talented classical dancer. The line from her reaching fingertips down and out through her extended foot fairly vibrates with energy. Her practice tutu — white skirt and pale blue bodice — is quintessential Cinderella, innocent yet disarming. In fact, so is Kamler herself. Even her blonde hair, radiant smile and leggy look lend her a sort of Disney princess appeal that little girls will eat up.
Kamler is wearing her practice tutu this afternoon so that, as Orillo explains, Campbell can better practice his hand placement for lifts and turns. A tutu obscures the view of the ballerina's spine so the danseur can't readily see where to grasp her, instead he needs to rely on touch to gage where to place his hands.
"Those turns are like butter now," Orillo murmurs to Leverett seated beside him.
Kamler trained at Draper Center, the official training school of the RCB, left to major in dance at Arizona University, and returned to RCB three seasons ago. Her roles include the fiancée in Leverett's "The Blood Countess" and the Dewdrop Fairy in "The Nutcracker." This is Campbell's second season with RCB. He was last seen as the Arabian Dancer in "The Nutcracker" and as a soloist in Leverett's "Serenade."
As the duet's rehearsal draws to a close, Campbell's growing exuberance becomes almost tangible, glowing. Kamler responds to his every movement and gesture. And he becomes more assertive; at one point, taking her chin in his hand and turning it back towards him when she bashfully breaks gaze.
Also rehearsing are the Season Fairies, whimsical creatures who bourree in a tight circle on pointe, their toes rapidly pitter-pattering below erect legs and torso, while the Fairy Godmother, played by the gifted Jessica Tretter, weaves amongst them with her silver wand. The fairies wear leotards and tights this afternoon, but hanging in the costume room are their tutus, wondrous eye candy full of flower, leaf, and sparkle, in a pastel of hues. Original costume design is by Jackie Olstrum. The fairies are: Lauren Tenney as Autumn Fairy; Lisa Ushino as Spring Fairy; Beth Rodbell as Winter Fairy; and Rhea Keller as Summer Fairy. Ben Rabe returns as a guest artist to play the Jester.
Sergei Prokofiev's score for this ballet is gorgeous, lush and sensual, building to a compelling vibrancy. It is among his most recognizable music. Many different choreographic versions of "Cinderella" exist; RCB is using a variation created by founder Timothy M. Draper with contributions from Leverett.
"Cinderella" is Saturday, May 17, at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, May 18, at 2 p.m. Tickets are available by calling 389-2170 or online at Artscenter.naz.edu.