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    Friday, March 01, 2024

    Classical ‘Beauty’: Mystic dance company stages first show

    Dancers rehearse a scene for AMA Dance Theatre’s production of “Sleeping Beauty” at Dragon's Egg Studio in Ledyard Sunday. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
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    AMA Dance Theatre’ Artistic Director Felipe Puletini (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
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    McGee Maddox, as Prince Phillip, and Isabel Cary, as Princess Aurora, work through a scene during rehearsals for AMA Dance Theatre’s production of “Sleeping Beauty” at Dragon's Egg. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
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    Young company members watch as dancers rehearse AMA Dance Theatre’s “Sleeping Beauty.” (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
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    Artistic Director Felipe Puletini works through a scene with dancers. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
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    Dancers rehearse AMA Dance Theatre’s production of “Sleeping Beauty.” (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
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    Artistic Director Felipe Puletini works through a scene with dancers during rehearsals for AMA Dance Theatre’s production of “Sleeping Beauty” at Dragon's Egg. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
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    McGee Maddox, as Prince Phillip, and Isabel Cary, as Princess Aurora, work through a “Sleeping Beauty” scene. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
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    If you go

    Who: AMA Dance Theatre

    What: “Sleeping Beauty”

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

    When: 7:30 p.m. March 31 and April 1

    Tickets: $30-$50

    For tickets, visit: gardearts.org

    Inside the sun-drenched Dragon’s Egg building in Ledyard on Sunday afternoon, a group of professional dancers were rehearsing the ballet “Sleeping Beauty.” It was a display of graceful leaps and turns and of impossibly flexible leg extensions. Director Felipe Puletini guided them through the steps as music resounded from a laptop computer. Student dancers sat on the floor, watching the pros at work and waiting until they were called to add in.

    This was practice for the first official classical ballet performance of the new AMA Dance Theatre (ADT), which is based in Mystic. Dancers involved with ADT and several professional guest artists will perform “Sleeping Beauty” next weekend at the Garde Arts Center in New London.

    ADT is led by founder Puletini, a dancer and teacher who is originally from Brazil. The school currently has 22 students and four part-time teachers including Puletini. ADT is a pre-professional training school with a professional company.

    Isabel Cary, who started teaching with ADT in 2020 and is dancing the role of Aurora in “Sleeping Beauty,” says of Puletini’s creating ADT, “Felipe is really good at coming up with things that seem almost impossible, and he makes them happen. He never loses faith or energy in trying.”

    How it developed

    Puletini had been teaching dance in the area, including at Central Connecticut State University, before he founded ADT in 2018 with then-spouse Tim Rooney; Rooney works at Electric Boat and is a longtime arts supporter who continues to be involved with ADT.

    At first, Puletini taught classes on his porch. Over time, the number of students became such that it was obvious ADT needed a real studio.

    In 2020, during the height of the pandemic, they found ADT’s current home, 3175 Gold Star Highway, Unit F2, Mystic. That site, though, doesn’t have the ceiling height to allow dancers to practice lifts, hence the time at Dragon’s Egg.

    “It’s been a journey. This is our third year,” Puletini says. “It looks young, but for me it’s already like 10 years because we did so much.”

    ADT uses the American Ballet Theatre (ABT) National Training Curriculum, and the Nan Giordano Certificate Program in jazz technique. (Puletini danced and taught with Giordano’s company in Chicago.) Students from the organization have been accepted in schools including ABT, Boston Ballet, and Bolshoi Ballet Academy, Puletini says.

    AMA in ADT’s name represents “love” in Portuguese and are the initials of Puletini’s godmother, who was a great inspiration to him.

    Selecting ‘Sleeping Beauty’

    ADT has collaborated in the past with such groups as the New Britain Symphony Orchestra, Mystic River Chorale and Festival Ballet Providence.

    “I was like, ‘You know what? We’re sending our kids everywhere to dance, let’s do (our own),’” Puletini says.

    As for choosing “Sleeping Beauty” as the group’s first official production, he says, “My goal with the company is to bring back the real classical ballets. It’s being lost.”

    A lot of companies perform “The Nutcracker” but then tend to do contemporary pieces and new creations, he says. Many students coming into ADT haven’t seen classical ballets onstage.

    “Sleeping Beauty” has an “amazing score” by Tchaikovsky, Puletini notes. The original choreography by Petipa for been adapted for this production.

    “It’s a fairy tale – for us, it was bringing that magic back,” Puletini says. “And it’s about true love — who doesn’t like that?”

    Puletini says the show will feature around 30 performers, and they will dance to recorded music.

    The visiting pros that ADT is bringing in include McGee Maddox, who is a former principal dancer with the National Ballet of Canada, and George Sanders, who is part of the Twyla Tharp dance company.

    Also part of “Sleeping Beauty” will be dancers from Hartt Dance Division and the New London High School Multi-Magnet Campus, the latter from ADT’s community program, along with ADT dancers.

    ‘An amazing environment’

    ADT teacher Cary says, “The dedication that all these kids have here is beautiful and amazing.”

    Cary, who lives in New London, has an extensive background in ballet and was part of ABT’s school and second company. Her husband is in the Navy, and after a stint in Virginia, he is now stationed in Groton.

    With ADT and “Sleeping Beauty,” Cary says, “Everyone has come in with an ‘I want to make this work’ (attitude), and having that type of collaboration is huge and necessary, obviously. It’s an amazing environment. Even just the way all the professionals who are coming in and guesting with us right now, the way they take their personal time out of their work and they’ll work with our students – ‘Oh, let me help you with this’ …”

    Victoria Jaenson, one of those professional dancers guesting in “Sleeping Beauty,” is currently based on Hartford. Her history includes dancing with Ballet Theatre Company in West Hartford and with Charlotte Ballet’s second company in North Carolina.

    When Puletini asked if Jaenson would dance the role of the Lilac Fairy, it worked out with her schedule, and she was happy to do it.

    “It’s been a wonderful experience. It’s such a great group. These kids are so talented. It’s small, intimate group. I love the energy around it,” she says.

    Puletini’s background

    Puletini started dancing at age 8 in Brazil. Friends of his used to go to a local studio, and Puletini was intrigued. For his birthday, he asked his father for dance classes. His father was onboard, and Puletini auditioned for the competition part of the dance school and nabbed entry and a full scholarship.

    “That’s how I started dancing, and I never stopped. I’m 32 right now,” he says.

    Over the years, he has done a wide range of dance. He performed in musical theater, as part of productions including “The Lion King” in Brazil. He spent a year-and-a-half being a backup dancer for a musician on tour.

    “I was 24, I lost my godmother, which was the person that really pushed me to dance and be successful. And I realized, what am I doing with my dream, the dream of being a dancer and coming to New York? I’m stable here (in Brazil) but something was missing,’” he says.

    So he moved to New York. He later danced in Chicago to study with Giordano, which is where he found his passion for teaching, and eventually relocated to Connecticut.

    As for this inaugural ADT production, Puletini says, “We hope this goes well and we can make more.”

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