Eastern Connecticut Ballet debuts ‘Ballerina Swan’

Emily Kramm, as Sophie the Swan, dances in a dress rehearsal of the Eastern Connecticut Ballet production of 'Ballerina Swan' on May 11.
Emily Kramm, as Sophie the Swan, dances in a dress rehearsal of the Eastern Connecticut Ballet production of "Ballerina Swan" on May 11.

Eastern Connecticut Ballet's newest piece, "Ballerina Swan," has quite a lofty pedigree.

It's both adapted for the stage and based on a book written by celebrated former New York City Ballet soloists for whom the legendary George Balanchine choreographed roles.

Gloria Govrin, who is now ECB's artistic director, created the choreography. Her inspiration was the children's book "Ballerina Swan" by Allegra Kent.

Govrin is trying to build a repertory for the students at the East Lyme-based ECB and wanted to put together a children's program. When she read Kent's "Ballerina Swan," she thought it would be the perfect material: she could employ the Tchaikovsky score and could use a lot of children at different levels at the ECB school.

She called the New York-based Kent to ask if she could have the rights to do the ballet.

Kent says, "I was thrilled out of my mind. ... I thought it was a fabulous and very imaginative idea of Gloria's."

She put Govrin in touch with her agent, and the process moved on from there - culminating with a premiere performance Sunday at the Garde Arts Center.

The two women have known each other for years. Govrin became a member of New York City Ballet in 1959, a few years after Kent.

Kent recalls Govrin's dancing being "dynamic, fantastic, (with) fabulous technique. Balanchine used her in such a great way. ... Her performances were wonderful, thrilling, gorgeous."

It's a mutual admiration society, because Govrin idolized Kent.

"She was the person that I wanted to be" Govrin says. "I used to sit and watch when she was in class. I wanted to dress like her in class. I wanted to have the same beautiful feet that she had in class. She was my example. I just loved Allegra. Even all those years in New York City Ballet, if Allegra Kent was dancing, I was standing in the wings, watching, because she was my inspiration.

"So for me to do this (adaptation of her book), it means a lot. It has to be good. I want her to like it."

In "Ballerina Swan," a swan named Sophie is enchanted by the child dancers she spies in a ballet studio. She enters the studio herself but is chased out by the teacher. That doesn't dissuade her from her dream of becoming a ballerina. Eventually, she returns and auditions to perform in, of course, "Swan Lake."

Caldecott Medalist Emily Arnold McCully illustrated Kent's book.

Using that plot as the starting point came with some challenges. Govrin says, "I am used to choreographing to a piece of music that inspires me. It's usually abstract. I've never done anything like this, which was to follow a storyline and not have a score that was made for it. It's one thing to do 'Hansel and Gretel,' and you can use the music from the opera. But this is something completely different."

What she did was write the story out and figure what scenes she wanted. Then, she tried to find music from the Tchaikovsky score to fit those various scenes but ended up borrowing some pieces from "Sleeping Beauty" as well.

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On a recent Friday night, young ballet dancers gathered in the ECB studio to run through "Ballerina Swan." The piece portrays Sophie the Swan's endearing gawkiness - she occasionally goes pigeon-toed and knock-kneed - and then captures the grace and elegance she eventually achieves. Govrin has created an evocative dance, too, between Sophie (Emily Kramm of Old Lyme) and Sophie's dream of the ballerina she wants to be (Sarah Marsoobian of Guilford).

Fun, whimsical scenes appear, too; when Sophie wanders into a ballet studio, girls stand at the barre, stretching their legs in traditional ballet positions and then popping into metronomic, synchronized moves.

What follows in the second part of Govrin's "Ballerina Swan" is essentially culled from "Swan Lake" and from what Govrin remembers about dancing the role of a swan.

"Once I got the score, putting the ballet together went very, very fast," Govrin says. "It just spoke to me. It told me what to do. It was so much fun. It really was."

"Ballerina Swan" will share the bill Sunday with "Carnival of the Animals," which ECB has performed before.

Kent will be at Sunday's performance at the Garde and will do a booksigning afterward.

She says, "I can't wait to see it."

In discussing her impetus to create this children's program, Govrin says she constantly sees younger dancers drawn like little magnets to the classroom where the older - meaning teenage - ballerinas perform.

She says the little ones "are so precious. They really are. I want to keep them interested, number one, but I think this is a wonderful thing for them. The world we live in is not always so beautiful. I want them to dream, to dream of tutus and white tulle. That's what attracted me as a kid to the ballet. Even if I didn't become a dancer, I would still love the ballet."


What: Eastern Connecticut Ballet's "Ballerina Swan" and "Carnival of the Animals"

When: 2 p.m. May 19

Where: Garde Arts Center, 325 State St., New London

Tickets: $26-$36 adults, $16-$24 kids 12 and under

Contact: (860) 444-7373, gardearts.org

After the performance: Author Allegra Kent will sign copies of her children's book "Ballerina Swan."


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