A colorful, lavish 'Wonderland'

Young dancer fancies feline role in Alice

Fairfield Daily Republic ©

As several dancers flicker behind closed doors, with small bursts of giggles seeping through the walls, a cunning cat slithers about the ballet studio.

She scratches her head in a rhythm all her own, licking her paw delicately before eyeing her surroundings. She smiles, her foxy eyes betraying her naive expression, then licks her paw again slowly. And the music begins.

Samantha Fine, a 15-year-old high school freshman, is playing the role of Cheshire Cat in Vacaville Ballet Theatre Companys 'Alice in Wonderland,' Lewis Carrolls tale of a girl who tumbles down an enchanted rabbit hole to an off-kilter world of mad tea parties and talking playing cards. The show will be playing at the Vacaville Performing Arts Theatre May 19-21.

Artistic director Heidi LuMaye, who trained with The San Francisco Ballet, the National Ballet of Canada and the Marin Ballet, to name a few, stands by closely and watches Fines performance. Her eyes are fixated on the student as she silently counts each beat with a nod of her head.

'Shes a very hardworking, dedicated student who strives for perfection,' LuMaye says with a scratchy voice at a later time of Fine. 'She has definitely been doing her homework; shes really into her cat character.'

It wasnt hard for Fine to create a balance between her human side and the feline one that lies within her character.

She lives out in Vacavilles countryside and has been studying her cats and their behavior toward one another for weeks. And, she adds, has recently purchased the DVD of Broadways 'Cats.'

'Ive gotten the inspiration on the jumps and their mannerisms,' Fine says of the actors portraying cats. 'Plus my friends give me advice at the ballet. Im having fun with it.'

More than 80 dancers in the production are reveling in the legendary tale of nonsensical roles with enthralling choreography to the music of Chopin, Saint Saens, Tchaikovsky and Beethoven. The scenery and costumes, in addition, are incredibly vivid and surreal.

In LuMayes first 'Alice' last spring, the company spent more than $65,000 in the production, $40,000 of which was dedicated to costumes created by co-founder of the academy Cheri Glankler. This year, more embellishments have been added to the many characters, which percolate the theater with various pigments.

Lively colors, such as bright yellows, reds and hues that automatically bring a smile to any face, fill the stage during their one-hour performance a time span purposely orchestrated to accommodate the attention of any age level.

'Its just long enough to be one full act. Its nonstop dancing and music that allows for any patience level to enjoy it,' she says of her show without intermission.

Apart from the average stress any director faces when assembling a production, LuMaye was recently asked by a former student to choreograph a classical and contemporary ballet number for 'The Youth America Grand Prix,' a professional international ballet competition similar to the Prix de Lausanne held in New York.

A total of 256 dancers from around the world were summoned to the sleepless city where they individually vied for scholarships and even, employment.

'It was a great experience to see things from a different perspective and it was wonderful to be asked,' she said of the student who was a finalist in the competition.

Some cast members include Kaitlin Doolan and Allison Wilken as Alice; Chrystal Wade as Sister; Rebecca Zerga and Jessica Danner as Dinah the Cat; and Christiane Reyes and Doolan as the White Rabbit.