CPAC Hopes 'Velveteen Rabbit' Will Become Local Holiday Tradition
BY KATE SMITH
"The Velveteen Rabbit: A Ballet" is a story of the scarcely hoped for and shy love disclosed through dance.
While Christmas season plays and ballets usually recommend love as top on the wish list, "The Velveteen Rabbit" breathes a different tune, pulling from the audience wistfulness they were unaware existed.
This year's production by Carolina Performing Arts will be held at The O'Neal Theater in the Hannah Center Saturday, Nov. 19, at 2 p.m.
Written by Margery Williams in 1922, the book tells of the transcendence of a stuffed rabbit through a prayer of love.
"The story has a compelling message this time of year, what with all the commercialism that has become Christmas," says Diana Turner-Forte, teacher at the Carolina Performing Arts Center and director of the ballet. "We need this message."
A mental script of the ballet slowly came to Turner-Forte throughout the six years since she received "The Velveteen Rabbit" with music and narration as an anonymous gift.
"In 2009, when I started to play the CD regularly, I began to see it with a dance mindset," she says. "What just gathered dust before now drives me."
Mulling over the music and tiptoeing through the steps that she would present to her students, Turner-Forte choreographed the entire production, becoming the mediator between her abstract perception and physical dance.
"That was a huge part of it - translating from my head to the dancers," Forte says. "Thankfully, the older dancers who really know me and my thoughts would throw around more ideas and grapple with how to make the story come alive, like how to make the skinned horse move in a way that speaks the story, to the audience, to the child, and to the rabbit."
Main characters include Andriell Finch as the velveteen rabbit, Erin and Elisa Arauz as the wild rabbits, Kylye Arauz as the skinned horse, Shamiso Kodzai as the child, along with a host of other characters including an elephant, cat, nursery fairy sprites and more.
During the blueprinting process, challenges became adventures, especially in the area of costuming.
"I didn't want frills and ruffles to distract from the movements and the message, so there are only hints of simple costumes," Turner-Forte says.
Practices have been intent on dusting off last year's showing to better speak to this year's audience.
"The goal is to make this an annual story that people will look forward to," she says. "I hope that the dance adds a dimension in people's minds - that they don't just hear the words, but see the visual image of movement speaking as well."
The ballet has been created by all of the characters, as they, like a family, sculpt each other to the dance's grace.
"It's exciting to see them dance this. It's exciting to see them be children, especially in the playground scene, because for a moment, it draws you into a different era," Turner-Forte says. "It's very powerful."
The original CD given to Forte, among other music for the show, features Meryl Streep as narrator and George Winston on the piano. The juxtaposition of an "ancient" story with more modern music adds to the ballet's magic.
"My hope is that the audience would be deeply moved before the holiday season," Turner-Forte says. "That they'd reflect and realize that nothing is more important than family and friends.
"Life is about the intangible things that are a part of our being. Step back and think for a moment what the season is about. It's about relationships and kindness and deep unordinary love."
Tickets are $10 for students and $12 for adults, and are available for purchase at www. seatyourself.biz/cpac.
Kate Smith works as a newsroom intern at The Pilot.
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