Ballet avoids complications to let dancers shine through

Posted: Thursday, March 11, 2004

With 60 years experience as a dancer, dance instructor and choreographer, there isn't much in the realm of dance that Norma Cooper hasn't seen or done before, but for her new show, "Les Sylphides," she has managed to come up with something different.

Cooper, the owner of North Star Dance Studio in Sterling and Soldotna, choreographed a ballet that is a departure from ones she's done before.

"This is one of those rare ballets that has no plot to it," she said. "There's no story line, it's merely a blend of movement and music put to the music of Chopin. ... It's basically an experiment. I wanted to see if something like this will be readily accepted in the community."

While ballet purists may note the lack of a plot and characters, this unorthodox production may appeal to a wider audience than a more traditional production. Since there are no characters or plot to keep up with, viewers will instead be able focus solely on the dancers themselves.

"It's basically a ballet designed to show off the dancers," she said. "It's what they call a 'white ballet' all the costumes are white so they don't distract from the flow of the music and so on."

 

Photo by Jenny Neyman

The style of ballet originated with noted choreograph Michael Fokine, who choreographed a one-act ballet set to the piano music of composer Chopin without a narrative. It was originally produced in 1907 and was called "Chopiniana," but later was orchestrated and renamed "Les Sylphides" (loosely meaning "the spirits") to better describe the romantic and ethereal nature of the production. In Cooper's version, she chose her own Chopin selections and came up with original choreography.

"I go very much by the music because the mood changes constantly," she said. "There are some very slow movements and then I have couple mazurkas which are quick and involve leaping and turning in the air and so on and there is some softly flowing music."

While there is variety in the tempo and feel of the music and also the dancing the overall character of the ballet is romantic, Cooper said. Doing the choreography herself is at the same time a curse, because of the work involved, and a blessing, because Cooper has more flexibility to make changes.

"What I do in the studio by myself I can bring to the group and decide it won't work with the whole group, due to space limitations and so on, so you redo it until it works," Cooper said.

Thirteen dancers from ages 13 to adult will perform "Les Sylphides." Cooper had hoped to have dancers from all over the central Kenai Peninsula audition for the production but, since January was such a busy time of the year, her own studio dancers are the performers, she said. Guest dancers from Master's Dance Studio will open the show with a ballet performance.

"These kids have been wonderful, they've just been great," Cooper said. "... They've been very good and their enthusiasm is high so they're really great to work with."

Heather Paxson of Soldotna, a home-schooled sophomore, said she joined the production because she loves ballet and working with Cooper.

 

Dancers rehearse "Les Sylphids" Saturday in Soldotna.

Photo by Jenny Neyman

"I really love the style, I love a lot of the moves," Paxson said. "It's traditional and I'm very much a traditional kind of dancer. I love that there's technique, there's rules set down for it. It's not just a mess of things."

Ballet is not as popular a form of dance with school-age dancers as jazz and hip hop tend to be in this day and age, which can make it challenging to recruit dancers, Cooper said. However, there is a value to ballet for anyone interested in dance.

"Ballet is actually a wonderful foundation for any other kind of dance," she said. "If you had a good background in ballet it would not be hard to switch over to any other kind of dance because you already have a sense of body and rhythm and a feel for music."

Because of its simplicity in production, "Les Sylphides" will showcase the dancers and ballet movements as the stars of the show.

"It's something different and I hope they come see it. I just hope goes over pretty well," Paxson said.

"Les Sylphides" will be performed tonight at 7 at Soldotna High School and at 7 p.m. Friday at Nikiski Middle-Senior High School. Tickets are $8 general admission, $5 for seniors and students and are available at River City Books, Northcountry Fair, Our Best Friends and at the door.



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