Stars come out for local dancers

ABT members will dance alongside Ballet Royale

Stage: theater, music, dance

April 08, 2004|By Elizabeth L. Piccirillo | Elizabeth L. Piccirillo,SUN STAFF

Four of the most prominent names in the world of ballet -- Paloma Herrera, Gillian Murphy, Ethan Stiefel and Gennadi Saveliev, from the American Ballet Theatre in New York City -- will join young dancers from the Ballet Royale Company on Tuesday for the latter's second annual spring gala at the Jim Rouse Theatre in Columbia.

Saveliev, who also took part in last year's event, sees the opportunity as enriching for himself and the young performers. "They're looking at your every step, and they're watching your every move. It's setting an example," he said. Regarding his fans, he added, "They give you inspiration, they are clapping and screaming, and you can see the excitement in their eyes -- it's an extra push."

When Saveliev and the other American Ballet Theatre dancers reach Maryland, their band of admirers at the Columbia-based Ballet Royale will have been practicing for the one-night performance for more than three months, several hours a week, under the direction of Donna Pidel. In 1993, she established the Ballet Royale Institute of Maryland, which is now home to more than 550 students ages 3 to 18.

Four years later, Pidel founded the pre-professional Ballet Royale Company, giving experienced students the chance to attend such events as the Youth America Grand Prix, America's first student ballet scholarship competition.

The competition's founders are Saveliev and his wife, Larissa, who said she saw Pidel and her students coming out of the competition as winners again and again. She asked her husband if he could pull together "a few of his friends" (who happened to be world renowned dancers) for a benefit performance with Pidel's company.

This year's gala featuring Herrera, Murphy, Stiefel and Saveliev, along with a corps de ballet composed of dancers from Ballet Royale Company, will cover a wide repertoire. Among the pieces are La Bayadere, Kingdom of the Shades; Diana and Acteon; Don Quixote, Act III; Grand Pas Classique; and a Ukrainian folk dance called gopak. Music by Ludwig Minkus and D.F.E. Auber will also be included in the performance, for which the dancers will wear costumes flown in from St. Petersburg, Russia.

Saveliev is from Moscow, where he began studying ballet at age 9. He joined American Ballet Theatre in 1996 to dance roles such as the Nutcracker-Prince in The Nutcracker and Lucentio in The Taming of the Shrew.

Herrera, born in Buenos Aires, began her ballet studies at age 7 and joined American Ballet Theatre in 1991. She later was promoted to principal roles such as the Sugar Plum Fairy in The Nutcracker and Juliet in Romeo and Juliet.

Since joining the American Ballet Theatre in 1996, Gillian Murphy, a native of England, has also taken on several principal roles, but perhaps the most well-known member of the group appearing at the gala is Stiefel, who broke into popular culture with his lead role as top-of-the-line ballet dancer and heartthrob biker boy in the 2000 film Center Stage, directed by Nicholas Hytner. The Pennsylvania-born dancer joined American Ballet Theatre as a principal dancer in 1997, performing as the prince in Cinderella and Cassio in Othello.

Dylan Burry, 18, and Allison Block, 14, are looking forward to meeting Herrera, who Burry says is one of her idols. Block, who is in her first year with the Ballet Royale Company, expects to be amazed by each visiting performer and to learn the styles of each.

"There are little details you can see in artists that help in learning what makes them unique," she said.

Pidel says it's important to surround the students with successful dancers. "Any time you expose young people to a high standard, they dream," she said. "The more you show, the higher you go -- why not show them the very best?"

Ballet Royale Company's "Gala Evening of Dance" begins at 7 p.m. Tuesday in the Jim Rouse Theatre at Wilde Lake High School, 5460 Trumpeter Road, Columbia. Tickets are $40-$45. For more information, call 410-997-8443.

For more theater, classical music and dance events, see Page 34.

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