When imagining a ballet, many of us picture a group of professional dancers who have devoted their lives to mastering the art form.
But that’s not what it’s all about, says Luis Abella, artistic director of the St. Augustine Ballet. To him, it’s all about the kids.
Abella graduated from the National School of Ballet in Havana, Cuba in 1991, and performed as a principal dancer and soloist with the National Ballet of Cuba, Bellas Artes Nacional of Mexico, the Minnesota Ballet and the University of Miami Ballet. But he put all of it aside and opened Abella’s School of Dance in St. Augustine.
From there, Abella founded the St. Augustine Ballet, giving his students the opportunity to perform in its annual production of “The Nutcracker” as well as a spring production each year.
This year’s spring production couldn’t be more fitting — it’s a story about kids, written for kids.
The St. Augustine Ballet presents “The Ballet of Peter Pan” at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday at Lewis Auditorium, 14 Granada St.
Many of us grew up knowing the story of the flying boy who refused to grow up and his adventures battling the notorious Captain Hook.
But few know that — outside the books, plays and movies — the story has a long history of generosity toward children.
The story’s author, J.M. Barrie, left all future royalties from “Peter Pan” to London’s Great Ormand Street Hospital for Children. He also saved several rows of seats for the young patients of the hospital at the opening night performance of what is now simply known as “Peter Pan.”
Continuing the story’s legacy of generosity, the St. Augustine Ballet has set aside a block of seats to accommodate the children who live at St. Augustine Youth Services, a nonprofit group home for boys ages 6 to 18 who are victims of severe abuse and/or neglect.
“As soon as we learned about the boys at St. Augustine Youth Services, we knew we wanted to share ‘The Ballet of Peter Pan’ with them,” says Abella. “Over the years, we have worked with Chris Stone, homeless liaison with the St. Johns County School District, to provide tickets for our homeless families. Expanding this program to include the boys at the St. Augustine Youth Services seemed like the right thing to do.”
The children, and the rest of the audience, will be treated to a recreation of Neverland set to music.
Mermaids, pirates and lost boys will all be present when the curtains open.
Daet Rodriguez, a professional dancer and artistic director of the Georgia Ballet, will dance as Peter Pan and Captain William Mayhem, the face and voice of the St. Augustine Pirate Museum, will play Captain Hook.
Despite the heavyweight professional talent in the ballet, Abella says the student dancers are the stars.
“The heroes in ‘Peter Pan’ are our student dancers,” says Abella. These young dancers bring something authentic to Neverland — something no one else could. It is exciting to watch them achieve it.”
Like he says, this ballet is all about the kids.