Jessica Fry McAlister had dreamed of dancing the role of “Cinderella”.
A professional ballet dancer for over 20 years, McAlister wanted to play the main character in the fairy tale of wealth portrayed in classical ballet.
But being a brunette who stands just over 5ft 3in, McAlister didn’t look like the traditional Cinderella.
The directors moved past her, still leaning towards the typical blonde or tall ballerina to dance the part.
“Having a career that spans over 20 years across the country, I’ve had my share of being the underdog, especially without having the stereotypical ballerina look,” McAlister said.
This time, her dreams – like those of Cinderella – will finally come true.
McAlister will dance the role of Cinderella in the Greensboro Ballet production March 26-27 at the Carolina Theater.
“‘Cinderella’ always felt like my own story as I finally achieved my goals as a dancer and achieved my own dream,” McAlister said.
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“Cinderella” is the latest performance from the company and the ballet school, which is located in the downtown Greensboro Cultural Center. He is known for his annual production of “The Nutcracker” at the Carolina Theater.
The school offers classical ballet lessons for ages 3 to adults.
In 2019, it experienced a change of direction when longtime executive and artistic director Maryhelen Mayfield and school principal John Dennis left.
The ballet originally planned to perform “Cinderella” in March 2020. But the COVID-19 pandemic has shut down live entertainment around the world.
It delayed production to fall 2020, then spring 2021, then again for another year.
“We are thrilled to finally be able to do this ballet,” said Jennifer Gentry, executive director of the nonprofit ballet.
The full classic ballet version of “Cinderella”, to music by Sergei Prokofiev, is dramatic, humorous and full of romance.
“A lot of people will think it’s like the Disney version,” Gentry said. “It’s very much based on that, but it has different aspects.”
Enslaved by her evil stepmother and stepsisters, Cinderella dreams of going to the ball and meeting the prince. With the help of her fairy godmother, Cinderella’s dream comes true.
The fairy godmother brings in four fairies, each with her own attendant, as well as butterflies and dragonflies. Youth ballet dancers fill the roles of butterfly and dragonfly.
Audiences will laugh when they see who plays the half-sisters: David McAlister and Will Napper.
A midnight guardian fairy reminds Cinderella that she must leave the ball at midnight.
Jessica Fry McAlister danced this role with Greensboro Ballet years ago when she was a professional dancer.
She had a long career in classical ballet, including training in New York with the American Ballet Theater and the Joffrey Ballet.
She has danced in several lead roles with Greensboro Ballet, including the role of the Sugar Plum Fairy in the 2018 production of “The Nutcracker.”
Now artistic director of the nonprofit ballet, McAlister performs roles as part of her duties.
Gentry suggested that McAlister dance the role of “Cinderella”.
“She encouraged me to dance my story and to have the opportunity to dance this role that had eluded my 29-year career,” McAlister said.
When rehearsals resumed earlier this year, the ballet had to start from scratch.
Some dancers are no longer part of Greensboro Ballet and had to be replaced.
Lauren Dorn, one of the professional fairies and dancers, graduated from UNCG and went on to medical school in Texas.
“Additionally, many of our dancers have been through two years of training since then and needed to be placed in a more challenging and level-appropriate role,” Gentry said.
The ballet is doing pretty well financially, Gentry said. He has received COVID-19 relief grants and forgivable loans. It ended 2020 and 2021 with a budget surplus, Gentry said.
His 2021 holiday production of “The Nutcracker” — which returned to live performance at the Carolina Theater — did well financially. In 2020, the ballet filmed “The Nutcracker” privately in Carolina, then played it on the big screen in the Greensboro Coliseum parking lot.
He hopes to bring back his Dancing Above the Barre class, which teaches creative movement to young children with physical and other disabilities, in the fall.
The ballet hit its revenue goal for “Cinderella” ticket sales.
Two “Cinderella” princess teas are sold out.
Tickets remain available for the “Cinderella Ball” for adults at 7 p.m. on March 26 to benefit the ballet.
As for McAlister, “She makes a great Cinderella,” Gentry said.
McAlister said she hopes her story inspires other dancers “who have the heart, but not always the ‘look’.”
“It’s also my vision for dance in our community,” McAlister said, “for dancers to have more than me and to have a venue that celebrates what they bring to the stage, which is so much more than what They look like. ”
Contact Dawn DeCwikiel-Kane at 336-373-5204 and follow @dawndkaneNR on Twitter.