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Classic ballet 'Cinderella' gets a new look

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Cinderella is about to get an extreme makeover -- at the hands (and feet) of a college dance program that knows a little something about being an underdog.

The Indiana University Ballet Theater will debut a world premiere production of Cinderella on March 25 and 26 at the Musical Arts Center, the largest university performance stage in North America. The performances will feature all-new choreography, sets and costumes to accompany Sergei Prokofiev's score performed by students of the IU School of Music.

"This is two hours that you're not going to see anywhere else," said Professor of Music Jacques Cesbron, the ballet's choreographer.

The new-look, full-length Cinderella might surprise modern audiences accustomed to seeing a vaudevillian or Hollywood production. Cesbron promises a "very classical, very traditional" Cinderella that preserves Prokofiev's vision, avoids contemporary movement, reinstates parts of the composer's score that other companies have cut and eschews slapstick-style comedy in favor of a more demanding, humoresque technique. (There will be no men in drag playing Cinderella's ugly stepsisters, for example.)

"The music is so beautiful. I don't want to make a vaudeville act out of it," Cesbron said.

Cesbron, a former dancer with the Paris Opera Ballet and soloist with the Harkness Ballet, used an arts and humanities research grant he received last year from the university to study other versions of Cinderella in Paris and the New York Dance Library. He discovered that while many choreographers and dance companies have tried on Cinderella's glass slipper, no one seemed to wear it quite right. "No choreographer has done such an incredible job that it will frighten me, not like Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet," he said.

He has spent the last several months writing choreography that utilizes his dancers' abilities and allows them to work on their weaknesses. "I seek to create steps that look good on the dancers and are difficult enough to improve their technique," he said.

Readying Cinderella for her big debut has required a "colossal" collaboration of talent, Cesbron said. The makeover team includes Cesbron's wife, Virginia, master scenic artist and designer C. David Higgins, veteran orchestral conductor Imre Palló, visiting lecturers Doricha Sales and Guoping Wang, and the ballet department's entire roster of 52 student dancers.

"I could never do this by myself," Cesbron said.

Cinderella is the most challenging work to date by a theater company that has gone through its own dramatic transformation since Cesbron and his wife left New York City 19 years ago to develop a leading training ground for aspiring young dancers. Today, the IU Ballet Theater is considered one of the world's premiere dance programs, Virginia Cesbron said. Ninety percent of IU ballet majors have become professional dancers, and many perform for the world's leading ballet companies. Other alumni have succeeded in becoming choreographers, teachers, critics, administrators and advocates for the arts.

"Our work was a struggle," said Virginia Cesbron, an associate professor at the IU School of Music, "but we accomplished the goal of creating a place where dancers could be for four years, achieve a professional level, and have time to grow and learn in a nurturing environment."

Performances of Cinderella begin at 8 p.m. Tickets are available at $15 to $30 for the general public and $10 to $20 for students. Tickets can be purchased at the Musical Arts Center Box Office (Monday through Friday from 11:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.) or by phone through TicketMaster (812-333-9955).

The ballet is underwritten by a generous gift from Murray and Sue Robinson and sponsored by the Bloomington Herald-Times.

To learn more about the IU Ballet Theater's production of Cinderella, go to http://music.indiana.edu/publicity/ballet/balletnews/0102/.

CONTEST INFORMATION: Tomorrow through Friday (March 8-11), children and their parents can register online to dress up and meet Cinderella and the Prince at 7:30 p.m. before each performance and to win free tickets for their families to a performance of the ballet production. Contest details and sign-up information will be on the Web sites of the Bloomington Herald-Times (http://www.hoosiertimes.com) and the IU Ballet Theater (http://music.indiana.edu/publicity/ballet/balletnews/0102/). One family will be chosen for each night of the ballet. Notification will be on Saturday (March 12) by phone, through e-mail and in the Saturday edition of the Herald-Times. If the winning family has already bought tickets, it will be reimbursed by the MAC Box Office.