Kinder Garden 

Imagine Ballet Theatre gives young dancers a shot at a homegrown production.

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Former Ballet West Principal Dancer Raymond Van Mason founded Imagine Ballet Theatre in 2004 because he wanted to give young dancers the opportunity to gain some professional performing experience. He realized, however, that there are a few daunting challenges associated with running a professional company that utilizes dancers under the age of 18. And one of the most daunting is convincing potential audience members that young dancers are capable of much more than subpar, amateurish recital-type performances intended exclusively for doting family members.

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“Our dancers may be young, but they’re totally dedicated. They step up to the plate. We make them sign contracts so that they know what’s expected of them, and the older ones dance as much as 26 hours a week, in addition to attending school,” Van Mason said in a phone interview.

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He explained he didn’t hesitate to found a company like IBT, because dancers under the age of 18 are often more apt to experiment with choreography and embrace new steps. He was also motivated to start a company that tapped into Utah’s vast pool of local dancers because he felt that Ballet West, under Jonas KÃ¥ge, sometimes ignored some of the state’s formidable home-grown talent.

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“Dancing has taken me all over the world and enhanced my life in so many ways. Utah produces a lot of good dancers, and I really wanted to extend the opportunities that I’ve had to other people,” Van Mason said.

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IBT’s original adaptation of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s classic children’s novel The Secret Garden'which premiered in Ogden in 2005 to unanimous audience and critical acclaim'has helped Van Mason and his dancers gain some respect and credibility. Since the 2005 premiere of The Secret Garden, IBT received numerous awards and grants, including multiple invitations to attend the prestigious “Dance Under the Stars Choreography Festival” in Palm Desert, Calif.

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Van Mason explained that Ballet West was originally slated to stage The Secret Garden, but the dream never materialized while KÃ¥ge was at the helm.

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Despite Ballet West’s apparent lack of interest in the project, Van Mason and composer Kurt Bestor (who wrote the score for Ballet West’s production of Seasons) continued to discuss their plans some day to create a ballet version of The Secret Garden. Bestor was drawn to the story of a trio of children who bond while refurbishing a long-neglected English garden because Colin, a wheelchair-bound character, reminded him of his own daughters, who both were with spina bifida.

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“Working with Kurt Bestor was wonderful. It was such as natural process. Our personalities really meshed and I felt like the music he wrote tells this story with such feeling,” Van Mason added.

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Van Mason is thrilled about the Salt Lake City premiere of The Secret Garden, because it will give his dancers a chance to grace the stage of Capitol Theatre'where he has danced on countless occasions with Ballet West'and to perform with a live symphony conducted by Bestor. The 2007 production will also feature former Ballet West dancer Christie Freebairn-Perry, who will dance the role of Colin’s ghostly mother Lily alongside her real-life son Mitchell, who is slated to play Colin.

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“For me, the essence of dance is emotion,” Van Mason said. “I know that there are others out there who have different opinions on the subject, but I always tell my students communicating emotion to the audience is much more important than executing the prefect arabesque.

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”I think that the most amazing things about these young dancers is that they wear their hearts on their sleeves. You definitely feel something when you see them perform.nn

THE SECRET GARDEN
nImagine Ballet Theatre
nCapitol Theatre
n50 W. 200 South
nApril 6-7
n7:30 p.m.
n355-ARTS

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About The Author

Jenny Poplar

Bio:
Jenny Poplar is both a dancer and a frequent City Weekly contributor.

More by Jenny Poplar

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