The presentation of Cinderella at the Savannah Arts Academy is a dream come true for the cast and the show’s director. "This is the first full-length ballet the Savannah Arts Academy has ever produced," Artistic Director Christina Powell says.
Powell has taught at the school for four years, but this is her first as the head of the dance department. "We have strong dancers who are experienced in ballet technique," she says. "I wanted to give them some exposure."
First, Powell told the students what she was planning and asked if they were interested. From that point on, there was no stopping. "This is the first time I’d ever produced something of this magnitude," Powell says.
The production also includes children from Bloomingdale and Gadsen elementary schools and Schuman Middle School, all fine arts magnet schools with dance departments. "That’s why I chose Cinderella," Powell says. "Most children know the story line and it appeals to that age group."
However, productions in the future might be for Savannah Arts Academy students only. "Next year and in years to come, we’ll try to do more traditional ballet, more classical ballet, something that the general public may not know," Powell says.
But this time, younger dancers are being included, and everyone is having fun. "This is a good way to plug children into the dance community," Powell says. "There’s many, many aspects to this ballet, many collaborative projects.
"We have a dance honor society and members must meet certain requirements," she says. "I divided the girls into three groups and each was responsible for going to the middle and elementary schools and teaching ballet technique classes.
"Once they’d done the initial classes, they started teaching choreography," Powell says. "That was good because my students got experience in teaching. They may not become professional dancers, but they may become dance teachers."
The younger students also got role models through the process. "That was one of my favorite parts," Powell says. "A lot of students are working to make it come together."
And not just on the elementary, middle and high school level. Students at the Savannah College of Art and Design also got involved.
Powell contacted SCAD fashion professor Marie Aja-Herrera about a possible collaboration. "I could not have done it without her," Powell says. "She rounded up SCAD students who were interested in making costumes.
"Initially, they made it part of a class project, then realized it was too big to be a class project. The quarter ended, but they hung with us and did a fantastic job.
"SCAD fashion merchandising students designed and created a lot of the costumes," Powell says. "They are absolutely fabulous. We also borrowed costumes from the Savannah Children’s Theatre and a theater in Statesboro."
Guest dancers, both locally and nationally known, came to the school to assist with the choreography. "We held auditions in September, cast all the parts and immediately started working," Powell says.
"We have a cast of more than 100 dancers," she says. "The biggest challenge was coordinating people, making sure everyone is aware what their task is, making sure to stay on task."
The students have been excited from the beginning, Powell says. "It hasn’t taken much motivation on my part," she says. "They want to impress and they want to be good. It hasn’t been too difficult, and it has been so much fun."
Sophomore Angela Novelli was cast as Cinderella. "She’s one of ones who is really dedicated to ballet technique and does intensive training over the summer," Powell says. "She wants to be a professional dancer."
"It’s very exciting for Savannah Arts Academy to have a performance of an actual ballet," Novelli says. "I’ve been dancing since I was 3 years old. My mom saw I was always dancing and thought it would be a good idea to try to do something with it. I just fell in love with it."
It hasn’t always been easy preparing for Cinderella. Novelli has been sick with bronchitis, but she’s still a trooper. She also competed in dance events outside the school and kept up with her class work, as well as rehearsals.
MacKenzie Dawson, also as sophomore, was cast as the prince. "I’m having a great time," he says. "It’s a blast. I was actually surprised the school had never done a full-length production."
Dawson has been taking dance lessons for seven years. This is his first year at Savannah Arts Academy. "I was really glad to be part of it and even more ecstatic when I got the part," he says.
Powell admits she had no idea what she was getting into when she started. "I always wanted to produce a full-length ballet," she says. "We have a lot of talent at the school, a lot that the community would be impressed to see. And it’s only getting stronger."
Other productions also are being planned. "We have all different kinds of dancers," Powell says. "We have jazz, tap, Irish, ballet, modern dance, African, hip hop. All are equally as important."
Coming up is a collaborative performance with the school’s Skyelite Jazz Band. "We’re going to mimic a 1930s dance hall, with tables and lamps," Powell says. "It will be a smaller production, meaning we won’t have a big set or elaborate costumes, but the dancing will be solid and will showcase completely different kinds of dance."
The Savannah Arts Academy Department of Dance, Bloomingdale and Gadsen elementary schools and Shuman Middle School will present Cinderella.
When: March 26, 27 and 28, 7pm.
Where: Savannah Arts Academy Theatre, 500 Washington Ave.
Cost: $10 general admission and $6 senior citizens/students.