Animal traits inspire dance moves as academy presents ‘Peter and the Wolf’


GREENFIELD – Audrey Pechin had her sights set on the part of the Wolf – a part traditionally performed by a male dancer — from the outset.

Not that having a girl audition for a male’s part in Peter and the Wolf was unexpected — the girls far outnumber the boys in the Dance East Ballet Academy — but director Dana Hart wanted just the right dancer.

The wolf has to be athletic, capable of big leaps. And as it turned out, Audrey had the skills to pull it off.

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“It’s good because it means I’m strong enough,” Audrey said.

Audrey, 13, has been training as a dancer for five years, and on Saturday she will don furry paws as the role of Wolf in Dance East’s “Peter and the Wolf and More!” — the “and more” serving as a nod to several competition pieces that will open the show before dancers move on to “Peter and the Wolf.”

Dance East Ballet Academy director Dana Hart selected “Peter and the Wolf” as her first spring ballet to add to a dance season that already includes Hart’s original holiday-themed ballet, “Little Things.” After five years, she felt that her dancers were ready to add another annual performance to their training and experience.

Hart understands that many regard ballet as a serious, no-nonsense enterprise, but “Peter and the Wolf” is a comedy.

It tells the story of a young Russian boy who disobeys his grandfather and goes out in the woods — accompanied by his friends: a duck, a cat and a bird — in search of a wolf that has been threatening the village. Peter and his friends confront the wolf in a harrowing encounter, but with the help of some nearby hunters, the wolf is captured and taken to a local zoo.

“It’s such a fun show,” Hart said. “The music just takes hold of you, and it’s a great introduction to ballet and classical music.”

Hart added that many local elementary schools use “Peter and the Wolf” as a teaching tool for music, so it ought to be familiar to many in the audience.

The hallmark — and teaching tool — of “Peter and the Wolf” is that each character in Sergei Prokofiev’s 1936 production is underscored by a different instrument and a unique musical variation. A flute tweets as the bird makes its appearance; the duck waddles to the sounds of an oboe; the cat slinks along with the clarinet.

And Audrey will be accompanied by the French horn.

Hart held auditions in January and settled on a cast of 15. During the audition, she had her eye out for energy, enthusiasm and dancers who weren’t afraid play the part and have fun while following the choreography.

In addition to the company, “Peter and the Wolf” features a guest dancer: Gregory Manning, a former student of Hart’s, will play the part of the grandfather and the narrator. Manning, 26, whose dance experience includes the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in New York, Philadanco!, Dance Kaleidoscope and the Radio City Rockettes, has returned to his native Indiana for a brief sabbatical and family visits and was happy to answer Hart’s call.

“It’s very important for them to work with a professional dancer in the show so they can learn from him and have something to aspire to,” Hart said.

Six weeks of rehearsals with Manning in attendance have involved a lot of lifting and partner work, Hart said. Manning performs a “pas de deux” — a dance for two — with several of the characters.

Manning, who has known Hart since he was a dance student at Shortridge Middle School in Indianapolis Public Schools, admits his casting as the grandfather is fitting.

“In school, my friends called me Grandpa Greg because of my maturity and how I carried myself,” Manning said. “It’s funny how it’s come full circle.”

Being back in a studio, surrounded by young dancers, reminds Manning on what it’s like to be taking on some of those early moves — how they frustrated and challenged him, how exciting it was to nail them.

“I remember being that age,” he said. “There’s so much learning and growing to do.”

Hart and her company look forward to sharing their hard work with an audience.

“Ballet is a unique kind of storytelling,” Hart said. “We tell the story with movement, not with words.”

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Performances of “Peter and the Wolf and More!” are at 7 p.m. April 1 and 2 p.m. April 2 at the H. J. Ricks Centre for the Arts, 122 W. Main St. Reserved seating is $10 for adults and $6 for students. Call 317-318-9266 for more information.