Arts & Culture

'La Boutique Fantasque' features younger dancers of Ballet Theatre SLO

Niko Yaroslaki as one of the harlequin dolls in Ballet Theatre San Luis Obispo’s ‘La Boutique Fantasque.’
Niko Yaroslaki as one of the harlequin dolls in Ballet Theatre San Luis Obispo’s ‘La Boutique Fantasque.’ PHOTO BY BARRY GOYETTE

Ballet Theatre San Luis Obispo’s latest holiday show is sure to inspire the child in all of us.

“La Boutique Fantasque,” or “The Magic Toy Shop,” takes place in a fantastic world where dancing toys lead secret lives of their own. The show runs Dec. 16, 17 and 18 at The Black Box at Dance Obispo.

“It’s really sweet and very moving,” choreographer Melissa Barnett said.

Based on the 1919 ballet by Léonide Massine, “La Boutique Fantasque” is set at the title toy shop run by a widowed shopkeeper (Thomas Bourne) and his daughter (Abigail Dorman).

According to Barnett, the shop’s enchanted inhabitants include ballerinas, clowns, poodles and rag dolls. There’s a wizard, a toy train and a teddy bear, as well as a troupe of sword-swinging Cossack soldiers and a trio of tambourine-tapping tarantella dancers.

The stars of the show, however, are two harlequin dolls (Sofia Woods and Niko Yaroslaski) who share a special bond. When the dolls are purchased by two different families, the toys must find a way to stop them from being separated. (Eden Lerner and Dylan West play the children.)

Barnett said she purposely cast younger dancers in “La Boutique Fantasque.”

“We really wanted to give an opportunity to our younger dancers to perform in a meaningful way in a professional context,” the Dance Obispo teacher said, noting that most of the 39 cast members are under the age of 13. “ We have some pretty incredible young students and great, dedicated parents that are very understanding.”

The ballet features music by Ottorino Respighi based on piano pieces by Gioachino Rossini.

“La Boutique Fantasque” is paired with two pieces choreographed by Ballet Theatre SLO founder and artistic director Theresa Slobodnik: a sophisticated composition set to Antonio Vivaldi’s “Winter Concerto,” and “Winter Wonderland,” a heartwarming montage that features excerpts from her previous holiday show, “The 12 Days of Christmas.”

“The whole production showcases a lot of different elements that Ballet Theatre does,” said Barnett, noting that all three works will benefit from The Black Box’s intimate setting.

Ballet Theatre SLO first tried out the Black Box theater, which seats about 100 people, in October. The show, “ Autumn Dances,” was a success.

“To my surprise, people loved being that close to dance,” Slobodnik said. “Being that intimateyou have to rethink how you’re presenting your program. The vantage point is so much closer.”

“We’re trying to make these programs at the Black Box at Dance Obispo more financially accessible (and) more accessible to people’s time,” Slobodnik said. While traditional dance performances can run as long as three hours, she explained, Ballet Theatre SLO’s shows last about an hour and a half.

According to Slobodnik, it’s all part of the dance company’s ongoing campaign to bring dance to the masses.

This year, Ballet Theatre SLO brought its piece “Levez le Rideau” ( “Raise the Curtain”) to five elementary schools through San Luis Obispo and the North Coast. The company plans to visit students in northern Santa Barbara County this coming spring.

Ballet Theatre SLO also has two upcoming dance performances in the works: the medley “Romantic Moments” in February and the new full-length ballet “Undine” in April. Based on a 19th-century French novella, it follows a water nymph who falls in love with a knight.

“Storytelling a big part of what we do,” Slobodnik said.