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NEIGHBORS : Dance for a Phantom : Los Angeles' longest running musical features two dancers who attended the Oxnard School of Ballet together.


"Phantom of the Opera" will become the longest running musical in Los Angeles history with its 839th show a week from tonight at the the Ahmanson Theatre. And it owes some of its success to two dancers who got their first taste of show business in Ventura County.

In fact, the two cast members, Irene Cho and Mary Alyce Laubacher, attended the Oxnard School of Ballet together as pre-teens and quickly became best friends.

"We'd call each other the day before ballet class," said Cho, "to see what color leotards to wear."

Cho was a member of the original Broadway cast of the show and was hired on as the dance captain for the L.A. production.

She found Laubacher working with the Sacramento Ballet and asked her to audition for the company.

"I called her and dragged her down by the hair," said Cho. "She was very hesitant. She didn't really want to do it. I sort of called her over a period of a week and sort of nagged her."

Laubacher admitted she had some doubts, but is now having a wonderful time and is happy to be getting a steady paycheck.

"To be employed year-round is rare," she said. "In ballet companies you get 26 weeks and then you're out of work. My parents used to laugh. . . . I'd do 'The Nutcracker Suite' and I'd be getting roses (after the show), and the next day I'd be in Oxnard on the unemployment line."

So what do two young ballerinas who are best friends do when they're not in dance class? Pretty much what other young girls do. Hang around together.

Cho and Laubacher played on the tennis team at Oxnard High School together, they rode bikes together, they went to the movies together and they both failed their first driving tests.

And, oh yes, they said they both shared an odd sense of humor.

"Here's an example of Irene's typical humor," Laubacher said. "You know, ballet dancers aren't known to be full-chested women. Well, she and some friends got a 48-EEE bra that Dolly Parton would have been happy with and put it on a plaque and wrote 'Wishful thinking' on it. They put it in a big box and gave it to me for my birthday. I still have it."

And let's not forget this one: "When my family moved out to Somis I found a tarantula on the front porch and stuck it in a See's Candy box," said Cho, "and then I gave it to our ballet teacher."

Speaking of ballerinas, Russian dancer Vietta Dekhtyar has joined the staff of the Studio One Dance Center in Moorpark. Dekhtyar grew up in Moscow and received her ballet training at the Dance Academy of the Bolshoi Theatre there.

So how did she end up teaching in Ventura County?

"I'm a good wife," she said. "My husband changed countries because of the difficult situation in Russia, because he's Jewish."

Dekhtyar has been in the United States for 11 months and joined the dance studio two months ago. She has appeared in several MTV music videos including the "The Wilbury Twist" video with George Harrison.

And what does she think of her two-month tenure in Moorpark? "I like the students, I like dance, I like everything," she said. Not a bad review.

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