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Ballet brings out the stars

Twilight trickles through the branches of the trees in Woodland Park onto a group of sprites whose purple dresses flutter as they twirl into the shadows.

They are preparing to dance an annual rite of midsummer in Lexington, Ballet Under the Stars. As the sunset comes earlier, and the calendar reveals only a couple of weeks left before the first day of school, dancers gather on a stage under the trees along the Kentucky Avenue side of the park to renew the 19-year-old tradition.

”It's very summery,“ says Sherri Springate of Versailles, relaxing on a picnic blanket with some family and friends. ”It's great watching ballet outside, and we also go to Shakespeare in the Park (SummerFest) and even like the drive-in“ movies.

Springate's friends Robin Burke and daughter, Cass Burke, 17, often make the hour-and-a-half drive down from Mays Lick to take in the evening of dance.

Waiting for the show to start, Springate's 6-year-old daughter, Madeline, popped over to another blanket to say hello to Bianca, Andy and Erika Olsen's dog who came to the show with them. That's another thing that makes Ballet Under the Stars different. Don't try bringing a dog to the Opera House.

”We've said for years, "we should go'“ to Ballet Under the Stars, Erika said. ”And then we finally decided to do it. Otherwise, we would have just sat at home and worked.“

While fans gathered in the park, pre-show choreographers Lindsay Roberts and Michele Rothermund were getting the young dancers playing Mary Mary Quite Contrary's flowers ready for the stage.

Grace and daintiness can sometimes take some firm crafting, such as Roberts asking, ”Why's your leg like that?“ of one girl while the dancers are holding a pose.

”Can you believe they put this together in just two months?“ asks emcee Tracy James, from WMXL-FM 94.5. ”It's wonderful to watch the faces of the people in the audience while the performance goes on.“

Rebecca Faulconer, 9, who danced the title role in the pre-show production of Sleeping Beauty's Dream, loves looking out at the crowd, particularly when she can spot her mom's face, beaming.

Amber Luallen, who manages Ballet Under the Stars for the Lexington Fayette Urban County Government, says the event usually attracts 8,000 to 10,000 people over the four nights it's presented each summer.

In Sleeping Beauty's Dream, numerous fairy tales play out while Princess Aurora slumbers under Maleficent's spell. Layne McDuffie as Little Bo Peep gathers her sheep, and Paige Holland as Little Red Riding Hood searches for grandma's house, all under the branches of the tree at the back of the stage.

Off to the left in Woodland Park's gazebo, professional dancer Rafaela Cento warms up for Le Jazz Hot, which she will soon perform on stage. Shadows mostly obscure her, except when her toes cross an orange splash of street light reflected on the gazebo floor.

”It's something I always look forward to,“ Cento says. ”Not many dancers get a chance to do a show like this,“ she adds. Then she dashes into a trailer to change into her costume as twilight gives way to starlight.