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The Stars Are in Alignment

Principals Kent and Woetzel Will Team for 'Sleeping Beauty' in First O.C. Show Together

March 27, 2001|CHRIS PASLES | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Orange County audiences have seen American Ballet Theatre principal dancer Julie Kent. They have also seen New York City Ballet principal Damian Woetzel.

What they have never seen is these two top stars dance together, at least not here.

We'll get our chance this weekend, but it won't be with either of those stellar New York companies.

Kent and Woetzel will be guest artists in Festival Ballet Theatre's production of "The Sleeping Beauty." It will be the first time they dance that ballet together, but for Kent, it will be her third time guesting with the fledgling Fountain Valley troupe.

What draws her to it?

"It's an opportunity to come and inspire a bunch of young dancers, to show them up close what it's like to do this work, what it's like to be a professional," Kent said in a recent phone interview from ABT studios in New York. "You're setting an example.

"Plus, it's inspiring to be around young people when it's all new to them. They have fresh eyes, fresh energy. There's something to be learned from that for any professional dancer."

Kent sees close parallels between Festival Ballet Theatre and Maryland Youth Ballet, where she studied as a girl. Her teacher was Hortensia Fonseca, who also taught such well-known dancers of Kent's generation as Susan Jaffe, Cheryl Yeager and the late Peter Fonseca, her son.

"There are lots of volunteers and lots of work from the parents," Kent said. "It's a community effort to have nice studios and nice productions, with a lot of the work done by a lot of people who don't get paid for it, other than knowing that their children are learning and enjoying ballet."

But a big difference is that guest dancers usually weren't invited to the Maryland troupe.

"Mrs. Fonseca felt that having guests did not show the students to their advantage," Kent said. "It showed their weaknesses."

Kent knows that the local "Sleeping Beauty" won't be on the level of a world-class production.

"It's a school, not a professional ballet company," she said. "It's not the same production you will see if I do 'Sleeping Beauty' with ABT.

"But still, when you dance, you make the same amount of effort. I'm a dancer with my own work ethic. I'm not lowering my standards."

When she was invited here, she saw it as another opportunity to dance with Woetzel.

"We've known each other since we were teenagers," she said. "We've done 'Nutcrackers' together for years."

*

Usually, that's with other troupes than the two whose home theaters face each other across Lincoln Center in New York. But this past season at the Met, ABT got into a bind, suddenly needing someone to step in to partner Kent in Balanchine's "Theme and Variations."

"They needed a boy who knew it and I was across the plaza," Woetzel said from New York. "We compared our versions and made it work. It was a really wonderful experience. We work very easily together.

"Our styles meld very well. The truth is, as much as we're in different companies and have had different training, the lines have been blurred over the last 20 or 30 years. Her training hasn't been that dissimilar to mine."

Woetzel adds another reason for coming to Orange County not voiced by his friend.

"There's also a sense that, as a dancer, there's a limited opportunity to dance, just because of the nature of the beast," he said. "You can only dance so long and only dance well so long.

"I'm not in a position that I lack for performances. But I always want to be dancing. That's why I'm doing it now. It would be silly not to."

Unlike Kent, Woetzel did have the early benefit of sharing the stage with major-league professionals.

"I grew up in Boston, and I remember, being 11, the first time Rudolf Nureyev guested with Boston Ballet," he said.

"That was pretty great. I was a little boy in [Nureyev's] 'Don Quixote.' I was quite enraptured by dance already, but that was really nice icing on the cake. He was the most glamorous ballet star we'd ever seen. It was not just the dancing; the glamour of that whole lifestyle was so clear."

That's the impact Festival Ballet Theatre founder Salwa Rizkalla hopes these visitors will make on her students.

"My dancers must be exposed to good, professional dancers so they will feel dance is not just taking classes," Rizkalla said recently from her Fountain Valley studios, which she opened in 1983. She founded the company five years later.

"They work so hard throughout the year, and they need to know, to see a professional person work with them and how prestigious it is to dance.

"When you bring somebody like [Kent and Woetzel], you get all this attention from the public, which comes to see the performance and see [my] dancers are good. That makes them feel good, that they're doing the right thing and can perform with professionals.

"They feel they are learning the right way. They put their heart into the dance. It's a great experience for them."

Chris Pasles can be reached at (714) 966-5602 or by e-mail at chris.pasles@latimes.com.

SHOW TIMES

Julie Kent and Damian Woetzel will be the guest principal dancers in Festival Ballet Theatre's "The Sleeping Beauty," Robert B. Moore Theatre, Orange Coast College, 2701 Fairview Road, Costa Mesa. Saturday, 8 p.m.; Sunday, 2 p.m. $19. (714) 556-2787.

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