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CINDERELLA - and the fellas.

Byline: Fred Crafts The Register-Guard

For Eugene Ballet artistic director and choreographer Toni Pimble, the joke's on the audience.

And the joke is - drum roll, please - that those two clumsy Ugly Stepsisters in her ballet ``Cinderella'' are danced by a couple of guys.

The dudes in drag are Dan Alsedek and John Funk, who specialize in character roles. Their comings and goings lend a landslide of chaos to the sedate proceedings, which is precisely what Pimble is after.

Pimble's "Cinderella" is all confetti - guaranteed to bring smiles, chuckles and guffaws.

``It is always a challenge to know how much humor to project into a ballet like `Cinderella,' ' Pimble says.

Ballet, Pimble goes on, is a first-rate venue for slapstick.

"Unlike comedy in theater, which uses language, ballet uses the body on stage. Comedy has to be big and broad," she says.

"Timing is everything. It can't be too subtle because in all likelihood that won't read from an audience seat. However, it can't be too slapstick, or it starts to wear thin after a while."

Humor has been an integral part of the "Cinderella" story since Charles Perrault's fairy tale was first done as a ballet at the Maryinsky Theater in St. Petersburg in 1893.

Composer Sergey Prokofiev's lively 1945 score is the best known music for the ballet, and it is the one Pimble uses.

`When Prokofiev was writing the score for `Cinderella,' he wanted to make her character more dimensional. He wrote three variations for her (to dance) in the kitchen scenes, which are full of pathos, temperament, playfulness and sadness,' she says.

``For Jennifer Martin and Brett Mills (who alternately dance the role), this is a wonderful opportunity to get their teeth into the character of Cinderella and take the stage not only with their technical prowess but with their acting skills, too.''

Martin dances the role on Saturday evening, and Mills has the stage the following afternoon. Both bring plenty of star power.

Martin has been featured in many Eugene Ballet productions, including as the Sugar Plum Fairy in "The Nutcracker," Odette/Odile in "Swan Lake," Princess Aurora in "The Sleeping Beauty," Kitri in "Don Quixote" and The Chosen One in "The Rite of Spring," among others.

Long a Eugene Ballet mainstay, Mills has danced Titania in "A Midsummer Night's Dream," Beauty in "Beauty and The Beast," Odette in "Swan Lake," Alice in "Alice in Wonderland," Constance in "The Three Musketeers," the title role in "The Firebird" and Aurora in "The Sleeping Beauty."

Paired with them are two outstanding male partners as Prince Charming: Hyuk-Ku Kwon (on Saturday) and Hyoung Il Joung (on Feb. 29).

Kwon is in his first season with Eugene Ballet. Joung was featured as Prince Desire and The Bluebird in "The Sleeping Beauty" and the Cavalier to the Sugar Plum Fairy in "The Nutcracker" this season.

The production will have the entire 20-member Eugene Ballet company, plus dozens of children from the Eugene School of Ballet playing sprites, gnomes and pages. Costumes are by Lynn Bowers, Amy Panganiban and Lito-John Demetita; sets are by Skip Hubbard and Ann Woodruff Murray. The coach was designed by Jerry Williams.

At the heart of the production is its humor, featuring styles Pimble picked up as a child in England watching British pantomimes. As many times as she's seen it, she still gets a kick out of the ballroom scene - highlighted by a pas de deux for the Prince and Cinderella - when the stepsister, Skinny, dancing a variation, sidles over to a handsome man at the ball.

As Pimble puts it, ``She prepares to swoon into his arms. He, however, turns away at the last moment, and she crashes to the floor in an embarrassing faux pas.''

And as lovely as much of the ballet is, audience members, especially younger ones, are always drawn to the madcap Stepsisters.

``Dan (about 5-foot-9) plays the shorter one, Dumpy. He wears lots of padding - padded behind, padded bra. John (6-1), tall and lean, plays Skinny. They're like Mutt and Jeff,'' Pimble explains.

Besides their comical appearance, Pimble says both have "very good comic timing."

"The challenge of performing the Stepsisters, aside from wearing those high heel shoes, is creating their own character and taking that character seriously," she says.

`Dan loves old movies and so we talked about early movie stars. I definitely see Betty Davis' influence in Dan's character. John has performed some great character roles for us including the Don in `Don Quixote.' Being so tall and long limbed, his character is very visual. He probably would have been a great silent movie character actor. John has to play opposite to Dan's domineering character, so despite his height, he plays the baby sister role.

"At every rehearsal they each bring a little more to their characters. It's fun to watch."

Fred Crafts can be reached at 338-2575 or fcrafts@guardnet.com.

BALLET PREVIEW

Cinderella

What: A charming prince finds the love of his life in the Eugene Ballet's production; choreographed by Toni Pimble

When: 8 p.m. Saturday; 2:30 p.m. Feb. 29

Where: The Hult Center, Seventh Avenue and Willamette Street

How much: $16-$42, through the Hult Center box office (682-5000)

Free preview: Pimble and dancers will give a lecture and demonstration at 12:15 p.m. Thursday in the Hult Center lobby

CAPTION(S):

John Funk (left) and Dan Alsedek (above) dance in drag as the ugly stepsisters in the Eugene Ballet production of ``Cinderella.''
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Title Annotation:Entertainment; Eugene Ballet rolls a bit of slapstick into the classic story, with male dancers as the ugly stepsisters
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Feb 22, 2004
Words:912
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