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Ballet companies put contemporary spin on children's classic

A beautiful ballet rendition of The Secret Garden, written by Frances Hodgson Burnett, graced the William Saroyan Theatre, March 2-3.

The State Street Ballet of Santa Barbara teamed up with the Fresno Ballet Theatre to bring this classic children?s tale to life. Director/producer Rodney Gustafson and director/choreographer Josie Walsh collaborated to create a truly masterful interpretation of this charming story.

The Secret Garden centers around young Mary Lennox (Season Winquest), who is left alone in the British colony of India when cholera takes the lives of her well-to-do parents in the early 1900s.

Brokenhearted, she boards a train to London to live with her estranged uncle, Archibald Craven (Michael Waldrop), who is mourning the loss of his wife, Lillius (Angela Rebelo). With her passing, Archibald has locked her favorite rose garden in an attempt to push away the natural beauty that reminds him of her.

The Cravens?s crippled son, Colin, is also dealing very poorly with his mother?s death; he resents the help of the servants and his physician (David Eck), and frequently throws tantrums and verbally abuses them. Both father and son lament the loss of good feelings between them, but neither knows how to rebuild their relationship.

Mary is initially very lonely due to the Cravens?s lack of compassion and the constant disapproval of Medlock (Samantha Bell), the head servant. To combat her inner turmoil, she escapes to Lillius?s secret garden.

In this wonderful and enchanted world, she encounters Dickon Sowerby (Ryan Camou), a mystical boy who brings her the friendship and happiness she has thus far lived without. The creation of this relationship brings healing not only to Mary, but to Colin as well when he is befriended by the pair and experiences the beauty of his mother?s garden.

Since I found so much enjoyment in the last ballet I attended at the Saroyan, I was very excited to see State Street Ballet?s interpretation of The Secret Garden. I was very impressed by their performance; they turned a beloved childhood story many people are familiar with into a more modernized dance that still managed to appeal to the different generations represented in the audience.

The last ballet I experienced was much more traditional; a live orchestra provided lovely music and an elaborate set brought intriguing and believable transitions between scenes. However, I was more intrigued by the entire design of The Secret Garden, as the dancing was more contemporary than I expected. I appreciated this as its unique choreography contributed to the overall quality of the show. Instead of a normal set, complete with backdrops and various props, the stage remained empty throughout the performance.

The setting was projected onto a large screen behind the actors, and the movement of the elements in each scene indicated the dancers? movements from place to place. The music, composed by Paul Rivera, Jr. was played over a sound system, which allowed the sound effects to have a greater variety than if the music was being played by a live orchestra.

Furthermore, the dancers’ costumes were elaborately and interestingly made; in addition to accurately reflecting the time period, they made the garden scenes visually captivating. The use of vibrant color for the fairies? costumes, along with the way the locked gate was represented through black leotards, gave the outdoor scenes an intense feeling and enabled the viewer to be fully transported into this fantasy world.

While each dancer brought a unique character and great talent to The Secret Garden, there were a few standout performers. Winquest played the part of a lost young girl convincingly; she successfully communicated her frustration and despair to the audience and the emotional journey she underwent was understood by viewers.

Bell did a commendable job portraying Medlock’s sour disposition. She danced with an intensity that made her character interesting to observe. Stewart’s interpretation of Colin was enjoyable to witness as well; his ability to express his feelings of neglect due to his broken relationship with his father evoked feelings of sympathy from the audience.

Beautiful solos were performed by Winquest, Waldrop and Rebelo. Their command of the stage helped the audience feel drawn in to each of their worlds and provided a more personal connection, making their characters very relatable.

My favorite dance featured the introduction of Medlock and the other household servants. The clever use of props such as mops, pails and feather dusters in this number added a visually captivating element, causing this performance to be exceptionally fun to witness.

My experience with The Secret Garden was thoroughly intriguing and enjoyable; I was drawn in to Mary?s mystical world and appreciated the amazing talent each dancer possessed. Their ability to successfully convey a story without words speaks to their proficiency as actors as well as dancers.

The next local ballet performance is Giselle, put on by the Northwest Studio for Ballet, at the Saroyan Theatre, June 10.

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