Coaxing little feet into ballet's joys

Posted: May 16, 2004

UPPER DARBY — Just as the arrival of the Lilac Fairy brings joy to Princess Aurora in Tchaikovsky's The Sleeping Beauty, so the recent performance of the classic by ballet company Pages to Pirouettes brought smiles to the faces of children and adults at the Christ Lutheran Community Church After-School Program fund-raiser.

The dance, which premiered in St. Petersburg in 1890, was shortened from more than three hours to less than one by Pages to Pirouettes, a nonprofit organization that shares the ballet experience with young children.

In its eighth season, the company performs about 25 shows a year for students in preschool through fourth grade throughout the Philadelphia area as well as New Jersey and Delaware, said Mimi MacDonald, codirector.

"We love the fact that we can bring ballet up close to the children. They can see the costumes, and at the end, they can join us in a dance," MacDonald said. "It's an experience unlike any other - even if they attend a full-length ballet."

The idea for Pages to Pirouettes began in 1995 when Susan Cade, the other codirector, who performed ballet professionally for many years, was asked by her children's preschool teacher to give a presentation of The Nutcracker.

Her 30-minute version of the Christmas favorite was a hit, and Cade, of Merion Station, teamed with MacDonald, of Cheltenham, to form the company.

The two met at the Pennsylvania Academy of Ballet in Narberth, where they recruited eight dancers to join the company.

Cade has a bachelor's degree in music and dance from Ithaca College in New York and a master's degree in early-childhood education from the University of Illinois.

MacDonald, a dance teacher at several ballet schools and Temple University, has a bachelor's in dance education from Principia College in Illinois and plans to enter a master's program at Temple University in the fall.

Shortened to accommodate the attention span of a young audience, each Pages to Pirouettes ballet is produced with professional costumes and danced to a recorded CD of the original score. In toe shoes and tutus, the dancers perform all of the steps that make the ballet a classic, MacDonald said.

Each show opens with a reading of the ballet story to introduce the audience to what it is about to see, she said. After the final bow, audience members can join the performers for a dance and ask questions.

Pages to Pirouettes also gives schoolteachers curriculum material on the company's shows: Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, The Nutcracker, Swan Lake, Coppelia and Don Quixote.

In December, the company performed The Nutcracker at Bywood Elementary School in Upper Darby, principal James Wigo said. About a month before the show, he said, the school's music teachers introduced the ballet's musical score and characters to students.

"We are always looking for ways to introduce our young students to artists. This was dance, music and the visual art of the costumes," Wigo said. "They are all extremely good dancers who really interacted well with the students."

Pages to Pirouettes donated its recent performance at Christ Lutheran as a fund-raiser for the church's after-school program, which serves about 30 fifth- through eighth-grade students.

Audience member Sharonda Shaw of Sharon Hill brought her 3-year-old son, Semaj, to the event. After the show, Semaj and friend Alyssa Hanrahan, 3, of Upper Darby, twirled with the Lilac Fairy, played by MacDonald.

"The show was very nice," Sharonda Shaw said. "Everyone enjoyed it."

Pages to Pirouettes has scheduled a public show for 7 p.m. June 17 at the Church of St. Asaph in Bala Cynwyd. Proceeds from the show will help fund the company's free performances, such as Christ Lutheran's event, MacDonald said.

"This is story-time ballet, from 'once upon a time' to 'happily ever after,' " MacDonald said.

Added Cade: "We read the story, perform the ballet, and afterward serve cookies and milk. The children love it."

Send Arts news to suburban staff writer Gloria A. Hoffner, The Inquirer, 800 River Rd., Conshohocken, Pa, 19428; e-mail it to; or fax it to 610-313-8227. Contact Gloria A. Hoffner at 610-313-8006 or

If You Go

Pages to Pirouettes is scheduled to perform Cinderella at 7 p.m. June 17 at the Church of St. Asaph, Conshohocken State Road and St. Asaph's Road, Bala Cynwyd. Admission is $12 for adults and $10 for children younger than 12, with tickets available at the door. For more information, call Pages to Pirouettes at 215-663-9776 or visit

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