In their latest attempt to stay on the cutting edge, Charleston Ballet Theatre is entering new territory; their latest original production, Zorro, will feature sword-wielding ballerinas. Based on the classic legend of the Spanish-American masked bandit who defends the poor from tyrannical villains, CBT's production has been shrouded in as much mystery as Don Diego's moonlighting alter-ego. Everyone involved in this production is keeping the highlights, tricks, stunts, and even Zorro's name under wraps until opening night. However, we did manage to squeeze a few tidbits out of choreographer Jill Eathorne Bahr as well as a few key dancers.
Although Zorro was unavailable for a face-to-face interview (gotta protect that identity), he revealed via e-mail that "sword fighting ... is not a common element in ballet choreography, so it is almost like learning another language."
Both dancing and sword fighting have similarities in the processes of creating choreography and learning the routines. Precaution is key before rehearsing a fight scene, and Hollywood stuntman Tim Bell worked with dancers to make sure it's a top priority onstage.
"Dancers tend to throw caution to the wind when learning and rehearsing," Zorro explains. "That abandon comes from years of prior training and the confidence of knowing what you can do."
With the help of Bell, CBT dancers are stepping out of their shell to learn the intricacies of stunt work. Although the fight scenes, particularly between Don Diego and Captain Ramon, require dancers to practice "safety first" skills, the dancing process remains the same. The women rehearse, rehearse, and rehearse some more.
Bahr stresses the importance of a strong upper body, slight stiffness, and quickness in the women's movements in rehearsal. Dancer Stephanie Bussell, who stars as the main love interest Luisa, says that although Latin American rhythms aren't a typical part of a ballerina's repertoire, it fits well with her personal artistic style.
"It can be fiery, lyrical, playful, or syncopated, and I love to explore the same textures with movement," Bussell explains.
Those characteristics, found in flamenco dancing, aren't the norm in adagio and fluid ballet pieces. Also uncharacteristic for quiet-as-a-feather ballerinas, the show includes lots of clapping and stomping the floor.
But will we see the ladies in any action sequences?
As Luisa, Bussell will definitely be found in a fighting sequence, and as rehearsals continue until the opening show, there's always a possibility of more.
Similar to Zorro films, CBT's Luisa is in love with Diego and attracted to Zorro — the man who is her lover in disguise. She is caught up in the action as the catalyst of fights between Zorro and the villain, Captain Ramon.
Bussell will make her debut on the Charleston stage after a long year of injury and rehabilitation due to a posterior ankle impingement, otherwise known as the "ballet dancer's injury."
"There are a lot of beautiful girls to look at" in this production, according Bussell. But if the ballerinas aren't enough to entice the male contingent to the show, the swordfights and stunting might arouse intrigue.
"I can't give away any secrets, but the bull-whipping is going to be pretty extraordinary," Bussell assures.
Here's hoping all this mystery does not disappoint.