'Cinderella' takes the stage at Virginia Theatre

'Cinderella' takes the stage at Virginia Theatre

The story that brought you "happily ever after" returns to Champaign in a ballet of fine dancing, an energetic score by Sergei Prokofiev and beautiful costumes — all at the city's finest arts venue.

What's not to like about "Cinderella," a story with a magic pumpkin and slippers that outdo Dorothy's? You can see the Champaign Urbana Ballet production this weekend at the historic Virginia Theatre.

One of the two Cinderellas to alternate in the part, Tuli Bera, a junior at the University of Illinois, has appeared in the company's "Nutcracker," "Swan Lake" and "Sleeping Beauty."

At the UI, she says, her training emphasizes modern dance, so it's a nice change of pace to do this more classically-oriented role.

The role is physically and mentally taxing, Bera says — and very rewarding. The Champaign native has put in about 20 hours a week of practice and rehearsal as showtime nears.

The other Cinderella, Maeva O'Brien, is a junior at Urbana High School. It's her first time in a leading role.

"I'm really excited. It's worth the practice," she said, for "a show full of magic, and the stepsisters, too!"

Ben Chapman, the one and only Prince Charming, has eight years of Champaign Ballet Academy in his 16 years, including a performance at CU Ballet's earlier "Cinderella."

Gallantly, he refuses to discuss which leading lady he prefers dancing with.

"The whole show is great," he says.

Though the company has done "Cinderella" before, much of this production is new.

CU Ballet Board Director Terri King points out that new for 2013 are forest scenery, costumes for the stars (light blue togs) as well as Cinderella's ball gown. Another addition is a short piece at the end called "Amoroso," where Cinderella and Prince Charming have a last romantic dance among the stars.

The stars (and younger starlets) hold orbs, requiring tremendous discipline as they keep them aloft with a tremor.

Scores of volunteers are behind the production — some of whom hand-made costumes. And nearly 1,000 Girl Scouts will be attending.

The ballet is also introducing a senior ticket price for the evening performances, King said.

Director/choreographer Tracy McCabe said the ballet is one of a kind.

"'Cinderella' is a departure from the traditions of (Pyotr Ilyich) Tchaikovsky and the choreographer (Marius) Petipa who define classical ballet; this Prokofiev ballet has a more contemporary style, but comes with some of the most beautiful waltzes ever composed for ballet, and they make the ballroom scene unforgettable," he said via email. "This version for CU Ballet takes the best of Prokofiev's score and a sophisticated libretto that gives the story an exciting pace and some beautifully magical moments.

"I also love watching our dancers meet the challenge of the stylized choreography" (think 1920s Hollywood meets "Romeo and Juliet").

Doing the choreography was a labor of love for McCabe.

"'Cinderella' is the only ballet I've ever created and it's a work of personal passion. It's pretty amazing that CU Ballet's artistic director Deanna Doty opened up her company to this idea and supported it with beautiful costume designs and staging of her own," he said. "Sharing my favorite ballet with a community who appreciates its artistry, and loves its story of acceptance, makes it meaningful on multiple levels."

McCabe said having dancers of different ages "adds complexity to the performance.

"The company's principal dancers are very professional, and Deanna has taught them how to dance beautifully together, transcending differences in age and experience," McCabe said. "And our Cinderellas and Prince Charming have great chemistry.

"But who wouldn't when dancing the world's greatest fairy tale?"

The newly renovated 1920s Virginia Theatre is a "spectacular space," the director said.

"We are anxious to try out the technical bells and whistles that make a digitally advanced system come to life," he said. "Truly, though, any theater is made great by the passion of the people running it, and the Virginia Theatre staff and CU Ballet share great passion for our art."


If you go

What: The Champaign Urbana Ballet presents 'Cinderella,' a ballet with music by Sergei Prokofiev

When: 7:30 p.m. Friday; 2 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday; 2 p.m. Sunday

Where: Virginia Theatre, 203 W. Park Ave., C

Tickets: $8-$24; call the Virginia Theatre box office at 356-9063