A! Magazine for the Arts

From left to right: Kielyn Hillis (wildebeest), Ainsley Dunning (zebra), Eva Burcher (flower), D’Arcy Morrell (azure skies) and Ella Burcher (crocodile)

From left to right: Kielyn Hillis (wildebeest), Ainsley Dunning (zebra), Eva Burcher (flower), D’Arcy Morrell (azure skies) and Ella Burcher (crocodile)

Deirdre Cole creates a magical journey

February 27, 2019

Deirdre Cole of Highlands Ballet Company is exhilarated and exhausted because of her multi-faceted role in creating the new ballet, “Magic Butterfly.”

“I love it. It is both exhilarating and terrifying. But, I am proud as a peacock that we have the opportunity to do this. We are always stoked to create original work, and we prefer it. Evelyn (Pursley-Kopitzke, the composer) left the artistic choices in my hands. It is such an honor that she trusted her beautiful creation to my hands,” she says.

Her role is creating this new ballet is daunting. In addition to being the choreographer, she’s dealing with costume design, stage design, floor patterns and more.

“It’s like ‘lions and tigers and bears, oh my,’” she says. “On top of that we’re trying to create a professional, high-quality production with a tiny budget.”

Emotions also come into play.

There’s “overwhelming terror” that what she produces won’t speak to her audience. “Seriously though, schedules, weather, brain freeze and working with a cast that is mostly only available in the evenings is complicated. I think when the creative process has time limitations and financial limitations it makes it so much more challenging.

“I put a lot of pressure on myself to not only choreograph for the audience, but to also challenge our dancers. Most of the style is contemporary ballet, with a bit of lyrical in one section and a flavor of African dance in another,” she says.

Her “terror” was compounded by grief this summer, when she lost her brother suddenly. It’s also when the phrase, “it takes a village,” came into play.

“It was all I could manage to get ‘The Nutcracker’ on stage. So, that resulted in us being vastly behind production schedule. My original plan was to set half the ballet during late summer. That didn’t happen. Fortunately, we have a fantastic faculty who rallied behind me. We discussed at length what I envisioned it would look like both in concept and design. Each of them took a section, and we are cranking out a ballet. I’m still doing the majority. But without their help, I wouldn’t have stood a chance to make it happen. It has been a tough time for us all,” she says.

Cole completed one piece during the fall and presented it during Highlands Ballet’s “Turn Out For The Cure” fundraiser for Susan G. Komen of the Tri-Cities. Creating the rest of the ballet began in the second week of January.

The sets for the ballet are minimal, except for a Baobab tree that comes to life (there’s a dancer inside). She had hoped to reuse sets from their repertoire but decided that they were not appropriate. So everything is new.

“Sam Dunning, one of our many awesome dads, has been the ringleader on these endeavors,” Cole says.

The costumes are “eye candy in so many ways,” she says. “We have a fantastical morpho butterfly, zebras, wildebeests, ants, fish, a lion and more. I have been working on the design of costumes, and the fabulous Stephanie Morrell is the seamstress and general captain of the ship to complete - along with volunteer helpers - all the costumes. Everyone is all hands on deck. I have tried to order all the costumes pre-made, then work our magic to create the look I want. One section, the Moonbow, will have beautiful costumes made from scratch by Stephanie.”

Anna Blake Wright dances the role of the Magic Butterfly, “However it is not a ballet of lead roles so to speak. It is truly an ensemble ballet,” Cole says.

The one aspect of the ballet that isn’t weighing heavily on Cole’s mind is rehearsing with the musicians, The Paramount Chamber Players.

“Rehearsal with the musicians will be limited, but I am confidant it will all come together. We have two stage rehearsals scheduled. The Paramount Chamber Players are superb professionals, and our dancers are fairly savvy. Evelyn has provided me the entire score through music software that recreates her composition electronically. Then TPCP are rehearsing with sheet music of course. As long as tempos and phrasing match - I am sure they will- it will be easy breezy,” she says.

This isn’t Cole’s first original ballet. She and her mother, Deanne Cole-Roberts, have collaborated on many. They include “A Christmas Carol,” “In Celtic Days” and “Appalachian Sunshine.” Cole has taken the lead on many others “Alladin,” “Beauty and the Beast,” “Alice in Wonderland and “Sleeping Beauty.” “Gosh too many to list. We have produced so much. No wonder, I’m tired,” she says.

Her journey with “Magic Butterfly” doesn’t draw down the curtain in March. She plans to present the ballet again in 2020 with two sections re-introduced that she has omitted this year. She would also like to tour the ballet and license it to other companies.

Cole’s exhilaration about this new ballet is contagious. Her choreography guides the beautiful brilliant blue Magic Butterfly and the other animals that Eve meets on her magical journey through Africa. Eve and the Magic Butterfly evade lions, crocodiles, hippopotami, snakes, mosquitos and too-tame zebras and baboons, all the while acquiring, and losing, a variety of pets, both wild and tame. Storms, floods and a lion-hunt rite of passage are also featured in this action-packed ballet. It concludes with a dramatic and magical surprise ending.

You can join this fantastical journey at 7:30 p.m., Friday, March 15 at the McGlothlin Center for the Arts in Emory, Virginia, and at 7:30 p.m., Saturday, March 16, at the Paramount Center for the Arts in Bristol, Tennessee. There is also a third performance at the McGlothlin Center on Friday morning open only to students of secondary schools in the area.

For more information about Highlands Ballet, visit www.highlandsballet.org.

There's More: Evelyn Pursley-Kopitzke composes ballet