Dancers move through the air and across the floor, their wooden-toed slippers the only sound, bodies reflected in studio mirrors.
At other times, they sit or stand along the walls, waiting their turn to perform, stretching at the bar or on the floor, relaxing, fixing slippers. Dancers move around the room as directed, alone, in pairs, or all together. Muscles controlled and defined by years of practice, the dancers work hard, sometimes stumble, rarely fall. I hear their breathing, see their effort, feel their joy.
On another day of rehearsal for the Sacramento Ballet’s production of “Peter Pan,” the process begins with a score composed by Italian Silvio Amato. Ron Cunningham, artistic director, choreographs the ballet to his interpretation of the music, first as a storyboard. Cunningham doesn’t create the steps until he’s working directly with the dancers.
“They execute; I craft, morph, bend, revise, trash, tweak … Like an ‘action painter,’ I try to work fast, instinctively,” he says. Then he refines.
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Cunningham observes people through their movements – a language truer than speech, he says. He danced so he could become a choreographer, to tell stories about life through movement.
As Tinker Bell, Maggie Rupp conveys that “fairies are so small, they can only hold one emotion at a time.” She has wanted to be Tinker Bell since she was a child, a destiny in the form of a leaping, twirling, magical phenomenon.
Wendy is “the most stereotypical little girl, a princess” who wants to play and nurture at the same time, dancer Alexandra Cunningham says.
Captain Hook dances “as a caricature of a character, a comic fop, an antihero,” Christopher Nachtrab says. He’s diabolically funny.
As Peter Pan, Rex Wheeler imagines flying as a possibility. In moments when he is suspended in a leap high above the floor, flying becomes reality. “We get to play pretend as dancers. Playtime is every day.”
Witnessing the process of artistic creation through the ballet and its dancers, I’m enthralled with their skill, discipline, athleticism and persistence. I appreciate the risks they take with their bodies and egos.
As a child, I saw Mary Martin as Peter Pan on Broadway, and felt the thrill of her flight above the stage. I still hear her crow.
I created 12 successive paintings representing the flight from the children’s bedroom to Neverland for the Sacramento Ballet’s production of “Peter Pan,” which begins Friday, at the Sacramento Community Center Theater. I imagined what I would see if I could fly over London, across the night sky, past stars to the island where the magic awaits.
“Peter Pan” is an expression of play and delight, transmitted through music and dance. To feel the characters and immerse ourselves in fantasy is to allow ourselves a childhood joy.
Stephanie Taylor, a Sacramento artist, graduated from UCLA with a degree in history and a focus on political philosophy.