WSU combines communities in modern 'Cinderella'
9:22:39 AM CDT - Friday, March 26, 2004
By Shannon Littlejohn
Community connections come together on campus the first weekend in April in "Cinderella," an original comic adaptation that tells the story of a young girl coming of age in a jazzy 1940s American setting.
It's a collaborative effort that has expanded far beyond the two creative forces, WSU dance and the Metropolitan Ballet of Wichita, behind the production, says Nick Johnson, director of dance for WSU.
Planning began about a year ago with talks between Johnson and Jill Landrith, artistic director of the Metropolitan Ballet. Then last fall Johnson was awarded a U-Link grant, a new funding source from WSU-Link that encourages community collaboration among faculty, to go ahead with "Cinderella."
"We've always aligned somewhat with the Metropolitan," says Johnson. "What's really exciting is that the grant has grown."
The grant requirement, he says, of developing one or two community and campus partners has been surpassed by allegiances that have evolved naturally both on campus and in the larger community of Wichita.
Johnson, who is directing "Cinderella," and choreographers Landrith, Sabrina Vasquez and Denise Celestin have created a multifaceted performance that also includes live music by Jazz Arts I, directed by Tom Fowler, and a film segment produced by the Media Resources Center's Lonnie Quattlebaum.
"It should absolutely be a lot of fun for everyone," says Landrith, "not the least of which is working with Jazz Arts. The opportunity to have live music, and then to have them on stage with us, is wonderful."
Landrith also serves as adjunct faculty for WSU, as does Sarah Bishop, a former Metropolitan Ballet dancer who plays Cinderella, a simple girl whose dreams merge with magic to change the mundane into a night of romance.
"It's definitely a challenge bringing all the elements together," says Bishop. The other challenge, she says, is just getting the dancers, including her younger charges from Children's Theatre, and musicians and theater majors together.
Bishop, who chased her own dreams from Boston to Texas to Chicago before returning home to teach and live, is especially impressed with the live music and video mix.
"It's neat how (Johnson's) using film and tying it into the story," she says.
"That's the magic," says Johnson, who doesn't tip his hand on how the film will be worked into the stage action. But he does note the film's outreach in Wichita.
"We've gone out into the community to get our film shots," he says. The video includes exterior shots of Wichita's historic Allen-Lambe House, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright; airplane footage from Midwest Corporate Aviation at Jabara Airport; and shots of the lobby of the Hillcrest Apartments, another Wichita landmark.
Add set design artwork by Vermont artist Bill Brauer, known for his paintings of women in warm, earthy colors, and the imaginative production pushes theatrical boundaries beyond the limits of the stage, says Johnson. In fact, Brauer is coming to campus to attend the production. His presence will broaden the links that "Cinderella" has created.
"I'm sending him over to (the School of) Art and Design to do a class," says Johnson, "and Ulrich will have a reception for him."
Another pleasant surprise is Cinderella's fairy godmother, played by Ann Garvey, the new president of Metropolitan Ballet's board and a longtime promoter of WSU's dance program.
"I just have a little walk-on part," says Garvey. "It's been a blast for me; I just love being with all the dancers. It's one of the most fun things I've done, ever."
But better yet, says Garvey, is watching the relationships develop through "Cinderella."
"We've got a group of people out at WSU now who work so well together — Marie King (director of musical theater), Nick Johnson, Steve Peters (chair of performing arts)," she says. "There is a beautiful affiliation among so many people. It's a dream come true."
It seems only fitting that as Cinderella's dreams come true, so would a fairy godmother's.
"Cinderella" is at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, April 2 and 3, and at 2 p.m. Sunday, April 4, in Miller Concert Hall. Tickets are available through the College of Fine Arts Box Office at (316) 978-3233, noon-5 p.m. weekdays.