Fairytale magic

The enchanted world of graceful princesses, handsome princes, sparkling fairies, and frolicking animals comes to life when the O'Brien Center of the Arts premieres "The Twelve Dancing Princesses" on Saturday, May 18 at the Petaluma Veterans Memorial Building.

The full-length classical ballet, choreographed by the center's founder Martha O'Brien, features a cast of more than 60 dancers ranging in age from five to 84. The ballet will be preceded by a showcase of other styles of dance taught at the center including hip hop, lyrical, jazz and contemporary.

The ballet tells the story of 12 princesses who are locked securely in their room at bedtime, yet in the morning, their shoes are worn out as if from dancing all night. Their father promises his kingdom and the princesses to any man who can discover where they go to dance. "My daughters grew up watching princess movies. I loved this Grimm's fairytale and thought that it would make a beautiful ballet," says O'Brien.

In addition to original choreography, the ballet is set to a score that O'Brien created by listening to hundreds of hours of music.

"The score is comprised of 19 songs, including classical pieces by Strauss and Tchaikovsky as well as contemporary artists such as Brian Crain. Like the choreography, the music has to tell the story whether it's happy or sad," she said.

O'Brien is very proud of the costumes that have been created for the production.

"The costume for every role has been custom-designed and hand-sewn. We have mice, bunnies, butterflies, dragonflies, and even a monkey and a cat."

At intermission, the dancers will host a tea party where audience members can have their picture taken with the princesses and other characters in the ballet.

"The Twelve Dancing Princesses" is the fourth ballet that O'Brien has created. O'Brien "has been dancing her whole life" and is a classically-trained dancer with a degree in dance from the University of California, Irvine. She danced professionally with several companies before beginning her teaching career 20 years ago.

The O'Brien Center of the Arts opened last July with a long-term vision to showcase dance, art and music.

"It was always my dream to have my own ballet school and create my own ballets. While some schools have a set repertoire, I wanted to have the freedom to create new ballets and have artistic control over every aspect of the production," O'Brien says.

She believes that to be a "complete" dancer, ballet training is essential.

"I'm seeing our hip hop students watch the ballet rehearsals, get curious and then cross over into ballet," she says. "Ballet isn't for everyone and you don't need to stay in it forever but the fundamentals of it are very important for all dancers."

In addition to the range of classes offered at the center during the school year, the summer program from June 24 through Aug. 11 will also offer rhythmic gymnastics classes. Rhythmic gymnastics combines elements of dance and flexibility with five different apparatus: rope, hoop, ball, clubs and ribbon. O'Brien says that the training for both ballet students and rhythmic gymnastics will benefit from the collaboration.

The culmination of the summer program will be a new production of "Candyland," another of O'Brien's original ballets that premiered in Petaluma two years ago. Inspired by the board game, O'Brien is excited to showcase all the classes and incorporate rhythmic gymnastics into the choreography.

"The rhythmic apparatus is perfect for representing the candy," she says.

For details and tickets to the show, call 765-1771 and online at www.obriencota.com.

(Contact Colleen Rustad at argus@arguscourier.com)