As The Civic Arts Plaza prepares the curtain for yet another production of the magical tale, The Secret Garden, many exquisite and seasoned dancers come together to bring this tale to life! Pacific Festival Ballet, the resident ballet company at the Civic Arts Plaza, is a home to many dancers whether student or professional. As we explore the heart of The Secret Garden and its cast, we find much room for common ground. That common ground exists in the love of dance, the love of family, and a wish to bring hope to each and every family that enjoys this classic story.
Young Eliana Vogel, at the age of 13, on May 18th will enjoy her first leading role as Mary Lennox. Quite ironically she remembers at the age of 4, her first performance being a piano recital in which she played the song, “Mary had a little Lamb”. Although you may have seen Eliana as Lieutenant Bell in The Nutcracker, as Mary you will see her in nearly every scene, which for this young dancer has been a big stepping stone in her technique. After years of classical training Ms. Vogel looks to the future with a deep love for performing, and a deep love for her home at the California Dance Theatre. “I see myself as someone who dances with a lot of joy and passion for what I do and I hope to show that in my performance” Eliana says. After countless hours of rehearsal on tired little feet she hopes to take her technique and her acting to the next level to help her audience understand a very misunderstood young girl. This role is also special to Eliana because it is the first time she has had the opportunity to dance alongside her younger sister, Gabrielle, who plays the Robin that shows Mary the key to the garden. It’s easy to see these sisters will be a hard act to follow!
As the spotlight beam shifts its way along our staring cast we find Antonia Vivino. Having grown up in New York, performing has been her passion for quite some time. Young Antonia will be playing the part of Mary’s cousin, Colin. You may have seen Antonia in previous years as Fritz in the Nutcracker. When asked how Antonia may be different or similar to her character, she excitedly burst out with, “Well first of all, I’m not a boy!” Yet, Antonia has found herself very able to relate to what she calls that “feisty fire” in Colin. Antonia states that “I never stop experimenting. I can’t, if I want to connect with my character, his past, and how he grows.” And undoubtedly Colin has quite the journey ahead of him in this epic tale!
Jennifer Block, whom you may recognize as young Aurora from Pacific Festival Ballet’s production of The Sleeping Beauty, joins us this spring to play Dickon. As Jennifer, Antonia, and Eliana are all close friends, they find themselves more excited than ever to have the chance at performing in such a tight knit cast. Jennifer, when asked her reaction upon finding out her role stated, “I looked through the casting list and found my name and couldn’t help but think, ‘What’s a Dickon’?” After reading the book and hearing the Irish score, she came to understand the vital role this boy Dickon play’s in the life of young Mary, and in turn, the very ill, Colin. Jennifer states that she is very different from her character because she tends to be quiet and shy, but you would never know it when she puts on Dickon’s shoes to show Mary the way to the garden!
Our next artist is not only a returning guest star, but one who has grown up in The California Dance Theatre family. Lily Kobabe comes to us this spring in her role as, Lily Craven. A tragic role, Lily plays the deceased mother of our boy Colin. You may have seen Ms. Kobabe as Clara in the Nutcracker, as The Dove in Noah’s Ark, or even as The Robin in the 2006 version of The Secret Garden. Having been a part of many productions, here with Pacific Festival Ballet, with Dream World Cirque as a contortionist, and with The New York City Ballet, she has always found a home with her California Dance Theatre family. This role carries special significance to Ms. Kobabe’s family, having known personal loss and the effects that can carry to every heart involved. Ms. Kobabe states that “In this role, I must believe I am the woman who left her husband and son behind in tragedy.” To anyone who has lost someone, a friend or family member, the memory of Lily and the love she had for her family brings hope in a very tragic and seemingly irredeemable circumstance. In addition to having recently battled knee, foot, and back injuries, Ms. Kobabe pushes on to portray a character that she not only identifies with for her audience but for her family as well. And in the scene titled “Lift Me Up” in which mother and son dance together in a dream, their hopes are united for a love that could never truly be lost.
Our final spotlight shines on Gary Franco, a desired and faithful guest star in many of Pacific Festival Ballet’s productions for the past 17 years, including his role as the original Sugarplum Cavalier in The Nutcracker. But, who could forget his role as Lord Craven in the Secret Garden. May 18th at 2pm and 7pm only, Franco returns as Lord Craven in this unforgettable ballet. Having known the loss of his mother years ago, Franco felt there would be no recreating the emotions he had as he performed this role for the first time. "My mom was my biggest fan, and I know if she saw me dancing this part she would ball her eyes out." says Franco. "I've never much cared for watching films of my past roles, but that couldn’t be said for this one [The Secret Garden]. There is something to [Artistic Director] Kim Maselli’s vision and direction, along with this moving story that can bring a dancer to life.” Rediscovering feelings of sorrow and of hope have been Franco’s cherished memories through the last few months of rehearsals as well as enjoying the beauty of the talent surrounding him. With one word to describe these upcoming days before his performance he used, “Calmness, because anxiety can only take you away from where you need to be.”
All of these dancers can be found in The Secret Garden, May 18th at 2pm and 7pm. Please visit ticketmaster.com or visit the Box Office at The Civic Arts Plaza for ticket information.
Written by: Samantha Morgan Dencer.