A haunting night at the ballet

On cold nights, when the wind howls and the house creaks, the imagination comes to life. And no matter how warm and snug the blankets are, one can’t help but wonder about the creatures lurking under the bed.

Fright night: Center Stage Dance Ensemble proves what you’ve probably suspected all along: There are few things more frightening than dancing, demonic clowns.

The imagination is a powerful tool: It can transform a closet full of clothing into a cave filled with monsters with yellow eyes. We all remember a time in the dark when the things that scared us came to life. With Halloween around the corner, the creatures of our imaginations are returning for a night of trick-or-treating and celebration. This year, they also will appear onstage in an adventurous Halloween ballet. The Center Stage Dance Ensemble presents its second run of What Scares You?, a dance performance that evokes the spirit of Halloween and all the characters that come with it.

“The ballet takes place in Emmaline’s bedroom. It’s an abstract set with huge windows and a seemingly endless staircase that climbs into the backdrop,” says Sandra Miller, the ballet’s artistic director/choreographer. “As Emmaline gets ready for bed, snuggles in, and begins to imagine, her dolls suddenly come to life and start dancing.”

Over the course of the ballet, Miller explains, young Emmaline confronts a trio of witches (complete with a boiling cauldron) and under-the-bed monsters who roll out from the darkness on skateboards. “The ballet is filled with Picasso-like creatures in colorful costumes, including a 25-foot-long snake fashioned after a Chinese dragon. We have ravens with wings, wolf spiders with eight legs, and clowns with bright, painted masks.”

In directing this ensemble, Miller hopes to create a new family tradition, a Nutcracker with a touch of nightmare flair.

“There’s something in it for everyone,” she promises. “For adults, it takes you back to childhood, and for children, it’s a fun way to make Halloween special.” This performance features 18 dancers from ages 11 to 17, many of who have aspirations for a career in the performing arts.

In such an imaginative performance, with so many different creatures and characters, it makes sense that the ensemble is using a variety of music and dance forms. “The music never feels the same,” Miller says. “It’s a compilation that includes techno, tango, classical music and the waltz. The music and the forms of dance were chosen to reflect the characters. We have the under-the-bed monsters do the tango with the witches!”

The Center Stage Dance Studio has been in Asheville for 29 years, and this is its third as a performing company—an important step for those who dance and work for Center Stage.

“Dance is more than learning a technique; its aims are to perform and to share,” says Miller. “[The rehearsal process and the performance itself] teaches these young dancers how to work as a team and work towards a goal. The arts have a tremendous effect on learning. Dance is a tool that allows children to take risks in a safe environment, and I see this learning in my dancers. They learn about themselves and their confidence. They express and explore that in a constructive way. It’s empowering and fun.”

Although the themes are scary, Miller says that that What Scares You? is more than a journey into the darker side of Emmaline’s imagination. It’s also an event appropriate for all ages. “We want this to be a family occasion, and are encouraging the community to come celebrate the holiday and experience dance in a new way. Costumes are more than welcome.”

who: Center Stage Dance Ensemble presents What Scares You?
what: Family-friendly Halloween dance performance
where: Diana Wortham Theatre
when: Friday and Saturday, Oct. 26 and 27 (8 p.m. $25/ adults, $15/students. www.dwtheatre.com or 257-4530)

About Aiyanna Sezak-Blatt
Aiyanna grew up on the island of Kauai, Hawaii. She was educated at The Cambridge School of Weston, Sarah Lawrence College, and Oxford University. Aiyanna lives in Asheville, North Carolina where she proudly works for Mountain Xpress, the city’s independent local newspaper.

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