The Howard County Ballet enthralled and awed children of all ages last spring with a production of Peter Pan, complete with flying special effects.
This weekend, Jim Rouse Theatre at Wilde Lake High School will provide the backdrop for the company's full-length ballet version of Cinderella, the most enchanting fairy tale of them all.
"It's the ultimate rags to riches story," says Kathi Ferguson, the ensemble's founding director, who recently received this year's Individual Artist Award for Choreography from the Maryland State Arts Council.
"The whole company is working hard to take the familiar story and create a totally new experience out of it, complete with holograms and special lighting effects. We're very excited about it."
In attempting to bring new life to the familiar story, Ferguson's troupe is in very good company. The theme of transformation and love in Cinderella has inspired more than its share of creativity over the centuries.
Rossini (La Cenerentola) and Massenet (Cendrillon) brought the story to the operatic stage.
Rodgers and Hammerstein turned it into a lovely made-for-television musical, while 20th-century Russian composer Sergei Prokofieff used the story as a point of departure for one of the most colorful ballet scores ever composed - music the Howard County Ballet will dance to this weekend.
"What a danceful piece it is," Ferguson says. "I can see the musicality coming out of these kids as they get to know it better."
For this production, the company will field a cast of about 60 dancers, though the number feels more like 200 to Karen Cerkez, the good-natured costume designer who has been charged with the task of whipping up ball gowns, stepsister frocks, princely waistcoats and fairy godmother outfits.
Dancing the role of Cinderella will be 16-year-old Rebecca Friedman, whose delicate stage presence has won her other featured parts with the company.
"The challenge for me is to get Cinderella's transformation into dancing," Friedman says. "This is as much an acting role as it is a dance role."
Ben Cramer, 17, will dance the role of the Prince.
"The Prince isn't quite as fun as the Jester role I was going to do, but I can do more partnering so that's good," Cramer says.
Washington-based professionals Mary Hong and Joseph Rodgers will dance the roles of the Stepmother and Jester, with Liane Kropp, a recent graduate of Towson University's dance program, taking the part of the kindly Fairy Godmother.
Not one, but two sets of Stepsisters - Paige Novak and Erin Maskell, then Sarah Levitt and Emily Curran - will share the three weekend performances.
"As always," says Ferguson, "putting a show like this together is about manipulating a large cast in creative and innovative ways."
The Howard County Ballet will present "Cinderella" at 2:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Saturday and at 2:30 p.m. Sunday. Tickets for this ballet, which is being performed at Jim Rouse Theatre at Wilde Lake High School in Columbia, are $18 for adults and $13 for children, senior citizens and students. Tickets are on sale at Aesthetics Dance, 3240 E. Corporate Court, Ellicott City, or may be ordered by calling 410-465- 8233.