Comedian Jackie Mason jokes that people go to the ballet just to be seen there, not actually to watch ballet. He adds that, for organizers to sell more tickets, they should supply beds instead of seats.
Mason's admonitions aside, this weekend's production by Ballet Florida should keep its audiences not only awake but riveted. The highlight of the program is Anne Frank by choreographer Mauricio Wainrot, a retelling of the famous story through ballet. In the medium of dance, the story finds a more physical route for expressing its inherent tragedy.
"Anne Frank is not a ballet made with spectacular scenery and costumes," says artistic director Marie Hale, "it is a ballet that has to be performed, never to be forgotten." Hale is showcasing this ballet as a paid public performance for the first time in eight years, though her organization has regularly presented it for middle- and high-school students as a creative vehicle for teaching the Holocaust. To date Ballet Florida has performed the dance for more than 6000 students.
With Passover and Holocaust Memorial Day approaching next month, Hale's timing to perform Anne Frank could not have been better. This story of uncompromising heroism and unimaginable horror is as valid today as when Frank's poignant journal first became available to the public. And the success of such productions as the revamped musical Cabaret last week at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts indicates the public's desire to reacquaint itself with the disturbing truths of Germany's Nazi era.
Leading Hale's corps of talented ballet dancers is 32-year-old Charla Metzger, in the title role. Metzger, who bears a striking resemblance to the real Anne Frank, was moved by the ballet. "I cry every day I work," she says. "It is the most challenging of all the ballets I have danced."
Metzger and Ballet Florida in a sense grew with each other. Metzger has worked with Hale since she was a preteen and became a diversified ballet dancer by the time she went to college. Upon her graduation from Southern Methodist University in 1991 with degrees in journalism and dance, Metzger blossomed with Ballet Austin from 1992 to 1995 before returning to her roots with Ballet Florida.
She says she chose Ballet Florida again because of Hale's dedication to her dancers. "The task of being physically and mentally prepared for every dance makes you become an adult," Metzger says.
The preparedness that Hale instills in her dancers is reflected in the well-balanced and popular dances in Ballet Florida's repertoire, from the neoclassicism of the late choreographer George Balanchine to jazz dance, with showcase works such as Romeo and Juliet, Cinderella, and The Nutcracker. On the bill this weekend with the 45-minute-long Anne Frank will be The Waltz Project by choreographer Peter Martins and Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux by Balanchine. Even Jackie Mason might admit that these ballets are nothing to snooze at.