Ballet Royale Academy to debut with benefit performance at museum

May 20, 1994|By Patrick Hickerson | Patrick Hickerson,Contributing Writer

The Ballet Royale Academy's benefit performance of "The Secret Garden" demonstrates what the executive director sees as its mission: philanthropy meeting choreography.

"Gala 1994," which includes "The Secret Garden" and modern and jazz dance works, is set for Wednesday evening at the Baltimore Museum of Art. Proceeds will benefit the Bea Gaddy Foundation. The program will be the debut public performance for the year-old academy.

Executive director Donna Harrington-Payne said that community involvement is as much a requirement for her students as a love for dance. "My goal is to allow children to perform and use the company as a vehicle and to learn to give time to their community. I don't just teach children to dance. It's just one facet," she said.

"It's really important to do things that benefit people. That benefits you in the long run."

"The Secret Garden" is based on the 1911 novel by English author Frances Hodgson Burnett about a spoiled girl, Mary Lennox, sent after her parents dieto live at her uncle's residence, Misselthwaite Manor in England.

While there, she meets other children: her disabled cousin, Colin; a teen-age maid, Martha, and the maid's brother, Dickon, who shares a close bond with nature.

Mary unlocks the gate to a garden on the grounds that have lain dormant since her uncle's wife died a decade earlier.

Ms. Harrington-Payne, who choreographed the work, said the adaptation is not easily labeled. "It's not classical. The music is a new age flavor and it's untraditional. But it's not modern. It's lyrical," she said.

One of the reasons she chose the work was its orientation for children. Also, it isn't a commonplace Christmas classic. "There are umpteen 'Nutcrackers.' There aren't many other things for children," she said.

The dance lasts 40 minutes and has a narrator.

The 27-member cast of "The Secret Garden" ranges in age from 9 to 17.

Dancing the lead role of Mary is Amanda Fitzgerald of Ellicott City, an eighth-grader at Burleigh Manor Middle School.

She said this role requires more than most classical works.

"It's ballet with a lot of feeling and acting," said Amanda, who has danced for more than nine years and practices 10 to 14 hours a week.

"It's hard if you're shy, but I'm not very shy."

Amanda will have a busy summer. She was awarded a full scholarship to the Maryland Youth Ballet and was accepted to study at the Boston Ballet Conservatory. Her goal to join a company as a classical dancer.

Alicia Graf, 15, who plays Martha, will also perform a solo work, "Nightbird," later in the evening.

Alicia has danced at the School of American Ballet in New York City and was accepted to attend the International Ballet Competition in Jackson, Miss.

A native of Britain, Ms. Harrington-Payne danced at the London School of Performing Arts and the Royal Ballet School and has taught in England, Belgium and Wales. Her students have danced with the American Ballet Theatre, Canadian National Ballet, Alvin Ailey Dance Theatre, Dance Theatre of Harlem, School of American Ballet and the Royal Ballet School in London.

Ms. Harrington-Payne taught at Kinetics Dance Theatre in Ellicott City from 1991 to early 1993.

Amanda said, "She's made me so happy. She made me the best I can be. She motivates and works you until you hit that one point. I like it."

The academy has four administrative staff members and 10 dance teachers to instruct about 250 students.

With the Ballet Royale Company finishing its first year in the basement of an office building along Route 108, Ms. Harrington-Payne is planning to move to a new location on Red Branch Road in Columbia. Its dance space will increase from 2,000 to 7,000 square feet.

The Ballet Royale Academy will present an adaptation of "The Secret Garden" as part of its "Gala 1994" at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Baltimore Museum of Art, Art Museum Drive. A program of jazz and modern dance works will follow intermission. Proceeds will benefit the Bea Gaddy Foundation. A champagne reception is scheduled after the performance. Tickets are $50; $25 for children. Information: 997-8443.

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