About 20 dancers rehearsed Friday to a musical compilation including a punchy song crooned by Rat Pack heartthrob Frank Sinatra and a sultry blues song sung by legendary songstress Etta James.

In matching two-tone midnight blue and black ankle-length dance wear, they confidently moved around the room in remarkable unison considering they had learned the jazz theater routine only five days earlier.

Former Rockette Nathalie Marrable, a guest choreographer who lives in New York City and recently toured off-Broadway with “An American In Paris,” smiled broadly as she watched and instructed the dancers from the front of the classroom. Marrable was in the process of teaching them the lighthearted, fun dance for “Inspired,” the first performance of the 35th season of the Victoria Ballet Theatre set for Sept. 28. The season also includes “The Nutcracker” Dec. 12-15, and “Cinderella” March 7-8.

“It is charming and witty and not only gives the company an opportunity to show off their jazz dance chops but also their acting ability,” said Brenda Serrata Tally, artistic director for the Victoria Ballet Theatre, in reference to Marrable’s piece.

“Inspired” is a mixed repertory of theater jazz, neoclassical ballet and modern dance set to an equally interesting range of music – from Dion to Vivaldi. While the company officially took a break during the summer, the dancers continued to train and reported back July 29 to begin staging and rehearsing new works for the first performance, Tally said.

All but two of the 44 dancers in the company are female, and they range in age from 10 to 21. Overall, the performance will showcase the entire company, but the dancers audition for various pieces and choreographers, and audiences also will get to see each of them stand out.

Some of the dancers will perform in five to seven pieces, which is physically and mentally demanding.

“They are in completely different mindsets for each piece,” Tally said. “This is fun, quirky and campy, and the ballet is fierce and strong, or serious and melancholy, so they have to be consistently focused.”

Many of the dancers are most excited about “Inspired” because the new and original works give them an opportunity to use all the facets of their talent, from dancing on pointe to rolling on the ground and emoting in jazz and modern dance pieces, Tally said.

Nao Kusuzaki, former principal ballerina with the Houston Ballet, is another guest choreographer for “Inspired.” She created “Effloresce,” a neoclassical ballet danced on pointe.

“This ballet highlights the technical ability of the company along with the individual strengths and nuances of each dancer,” Tally said. “The musicality and broad sweeping movements across the stage are simply breathtaking at times.”

Both the matinee and evening performances will include the dances created by the guest and adult Victoria ballet choreographers. Tally is creating a modern, abstract dance, and Kelli Klein, assistant artistic director, is choreographing a ballet. Kaitlyn Haschke, an artist in residence, is designing two dances. One of them, which Tally described as “precious and interesting,” was inspired by playground games for junior company dancers ages 10 to 12.

All six dances choreographed by students during the summer emerging choreographer workshop were selected for “Inspired.” They will be split between the two performances in September.

“The Nutcracker,” which sells out every year, and “Cinderella,” are full-length ballets. “Cinderella” premiered five years ago in Victoria and was the first spring ballet to sell out.

“’Cinderella’ is a fun ballet with beautiful dancing, powerful music and comedy,” Tally said. “We’re hoping that we get the same enthusiasm for ‘Inspired’ this year as it really is a very special concert.”

Victoria Ballet Theatre hires multiple professional male dancers routinely for its big story ballets. A professional female dancer also is hired each year to dance as the Sugar Plum Fairy in “The Nutcracker.”

“‘The Nutcracker’ is a holiday favorite and one of my favorite things every year because so much of the community is involved whether it is as performers, volunteers or audience members,” Tally said. “It really seems to mark that the holidays have arrived.”

Victoria Ballet Theatre holds auditions every April for the company, and dancers must be 10 years old to audition. Once accepted into the company, they have various class and rehearsal requirements to maintain.

“The dancers rehearse for nearly two months on 12 different pieces and work so very hard,” Tally said of the season’s first performance. “The work they are doing is top-notch and the pieces are truly inspiring.”

Elena Anita Watts covers arts, culture and entertainment for the Victoria Advocate. 

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