Durham County

Durham Ballet mixes dance, bit of fairy dust to serve special need

The young Darlings were fast asleep when the Shadow flew through their window, leaping across the furniture and sliding under the beds.

Peter Pan landed moments later, striking a proud stance before giving chase. The struggle to capture his Shadow roused the children, and Wendy Darling, the eldest of the three, swiftly sewed the shade to Peter’s foot.

Thus began the Durham Ballet Theatre’s rehearsal of “Peter Pan,” a colorful, fast-moving adaptation of J.M. Barrie’s classic fairy tale. More than 60 actors will spin the story of the eternally young Peter Pan and his Lost Boys, fairies, flowers and butterflies, and pirate henchmen led by the notorious Captain Hook.

The 90-minute show brings ballet, modern dance, action scenes and aerial acrobatics to the Carolina Theatre this weekend.

“It’s melding all together, this movement,” said Alyssa Rodriguez-Finch, the school’s board chairwoman. “It makes it a world; it makes it a space. You’re not just looking at this horizon of dancers. You’ve got this 3-D, pop-up world of people, up and down and side to side.”

Friday night’s show will debut to children with special needs and their families.

Susan Wingate and her daughter Nikki, who has Asperger’s Syndrome, have attended the last few special-needs shows, which started in 2011.

Nikki, now 15, can be overly sensitive to sound but has been drawn to classical music from a young age, Wingate said. The show is a big deal for her family and others, she said.

“Going to the ballet is a way for my daughter and I to have uninterrupted quality time, in an atmosphere that supports differences and celebrates the right to participate,” Wingate said. “As a parent of a special-needs child, it is hard to ‘just breathe’ sometimes. ... To find balance and be able to share an experience that brings joy is sometimes too good to be true.”

Rodriguez-Finch was motivated to coordinate the shows by her own family’s struggle to have nights out with her daughter, who has high-functioning autism.

“I wanted people to be able to have whoever they needed to make that a safe, successful, happy event to be able to come to, and I think the community appreciates that,” she said. “It’s been really, really nice just to see people come back year after year.”

The audience’s reactions also refresh their enthusiasm, the actors said. While an aerial movement or a happy scene can inspire cheers, the villains are met with boos. Sometimes children sing along with the performers or sway to the music, they said.

It always brings a smile to his face, said Moss Brennan, 18, who stars as Captain Hook’s nemesis, Tick-Tock the Crocodile.

“Normal shows, the audience, they clap when they’re supposed to clap (or) laugh. These guys, anything they see, they just give emotion, and it’s so awesome,” he said. “When we hear that reaction – good, scared, whatever – we know that they’re there and they’re watching and enjoying the show.”

George Sanders – in the role of Peter Pan – said he’s encouraged the company he dances for to do something similar with its dress rehearsal. The passion and energy that it brings to the show helps him be a better dancer, he said.

“That show makes such a big difference in those people’s lives,” said Sanders, 26, who is performing courtesy of Ballet Memphis under the direction of Dorothy Gunther Pugh.

When not on the professional stage, Sanders returns home to Durham to teach and encourage younger dancers. He fell into dance from a young age, as the son of Boleyn Willis-Zeger, Durham Ballet Theatre’s artistic director and founder.

“This is great for me and an opportunity, but this is an opportunity for these children and this is an opportunity for this audience to grow,” he said. “There’s such good arts in the Durham area and the Triangle area, we need to elevate every time ... so we can tell the story better.”

He admits playing Peter Pan at his age is tricky, Sanders said. He’ll have to shave his beard and adjust his makeup, but the reality, he said, is that Peter Pan is more grown up than he’ll admit.

“He’s really an adult, but he’s trying to act like a kid and seem like he’s trying to act like a kid the whole time. He clearly knows what’s happening,” Sanders said. “He cares about everybody; that’s why he’s so passionate.”

Tammy Grubb: 919-829-8926, @TammyGrubb

If you go

The Durham Ballet Theatre – formerly Legacy Studios Repertory Company – debuts “Peter Pan” for special-needs children and their families at 6:30 p.m. Friday, May 12, at the Carolina Theatre. Seats for the free show are limited but can be reserved at tinyurl.com/DBTPETERPANSNRSVP.

The show continues at 6:30 p.m. Saturday, May 13, and at 3 p.m. Sunday, May 14, at the Carolina Theatre, 309 W. Morgan St. in Durham.

Tickets also can be purchased at tinyurl.com/mdrtndx.