Once upon a time, there was a ballet company in Plano that decided to produce an annual original production based on a popular fairytale. Now, 35 years later, that same ballet company continues the rich tradition it began back in 1989 with a new production of the classic story of “Cinderella.”
Throughout January, Plano Metropolitan Ballet will perform “Cinderella” at the Courtyard Theatre, with the first performance slated for Jan. 5. It’s the culmination of months of hard work for the young students of Plano Metropolitan Ballet and the choreographers who help them create dynamic and entertaining performances.
“It’s a 90-minute ballet, and it’s a lot of fun because we make each story our own as we make it fit our cast of dancers,” Plano Metropolitan Ballet Director Cindi Lawrence Hanson said of the fairytale ballets. “That’s fun for us and the audience. It always has a lot of adventure, and there’s humor involved as well. If you think of a story being told on the stage with ballet choreography, you don’t see how this is possible, but it’s just a formula that works every time…it’s magical.”
Lawrence Hanson, who also owns and operates the Plano dance school Gotta Dance, became the company’s artistic director in 1998. Gotta Dance students who have graduated to pointe classes and successfully auditioned to join Plano Metropolitan Ballet perform as the company’s dancers.
“Usually, ballet dancers can’t wait to get of age and skill to be promoted to pointe classes, which means they’re dancing in toe shoes, which is quite a badge of honor,” Lawrence Hanson said, calling it “one of your most thrilling experiences” as a ballet dancer.
The dancers who want to pursue more performance opportunities can then audition for the ballet company. The company rehearses every Saturday, with preparation for the fairytale ballet beginning all the way back in August.
That’s because the fairytale ballet is an extensive undertaking for all involved. Rehearsals for the ballet involve four different choreographers spread across four different rooms. Each room of students learns a different dance roughly every month to six weeks.
From there, the choreographers start adding a second dance into the mix for each room, with some of the dancers in principal roles, like Cinderella and the Fairy Godmother, bouncing between rooms to learn the dances for different scenes. It all adds up to about 15 different dances in a given production.
“The most fun is the first day that we actually have a run-through of the full ballet, and all the dancers get to see what everyone else has been up to and doing,” Lawrence Hanson said, noting that the first full run-through typically takes place Thanksgiving weekend.
It’s about ironing out the rough edges from there so that the company is ready for its series of nine individual performances in January, including two outreach performances.
Community outreach is an important element of Plano Metropolitan Ballet’s efforts, especially as it builds its own tight-knit community of young dancers.
“The first time we get together…the first thing we talk about is respect and responsibility because we want to grow not only beautiful dancers, but we want to grow really valuable members of the community,” Lawrence Hanson said.
One of the driving initiatives in those efforts is the Plano Metropolitan Ballet (PMB) Pals program for special needs children.
Lawrence Hanson explained that PMB Pals is a free class for special needs children that many of the company’s dancers love participating in. It includes performance opportunities for the PMB Pals class so that they also have the chance to “put on a gorgeous costume, to dance in front of the stage and hear the applause of the audience.”
PMB Pals is an example of the kind of supportive environment Lawrence Hanson strives to create at Plano Metropolitan Ballet. For her, “the most heartwarming” aspect of the ballet company is seeing the older, experienced students in their late teens helping the new, incoming students who may be just 12 years old.
“We are a dance family, I can tell you that,” Lawrence Hanson said, describing the friendships forged by the common denominator that the art form provides. Throughout the years, she’s even taught students whose parents performed in earlier fairytale ballets as well as a student who went on to become a choreographer with the company themselves.
Lawrence Hanson views that we’re all connected by the arts in one way or another, referring to dance as an art form that brings joy to both those performing and those who are watching the performance.
“It works if you’re on the stage dancing and it works if you’re in the audience watching it because it’s very fun to watch. It’s very beautiful,” Lawrence Hanson said, adding that she believes it’s the young dancers who have “the most fun” when they see all the smiles in the audience.
The Plano Metropolitan Ballet production of “Cinderella” opens on Jan. 5 and continues through Jan. 20. For more information about the ballet company, visit https://planometballet.org/.
This interview has been edited for clarity.