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Just imagine being part of a real ballet company

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The Imagine Ballet Theatre is designed to give young dancers a taste of what it's like to be in a professional ballet company, according to artistic director Raymond Van Mason.

"We hold auditions, and those accepted into the company actually sign contracts," Van Mason explained. "They get to see what it's like being in a real, working company like the American Ballet Theatre, the New York City Ballet and, yes, Ballet West."

Van Mason is no stranger to Ballet West. He is a former principal dancer/choreographer for the company. Since his departure in the late 1990s, he has traveled around the world. But he knew that at some point he would return to Utah. "I came back to Utah because my dad passed away a few months ago. I just had to come back."

Before that, Van Mason had moved to California, where he worked with Ballet Pacifica. From there, he got a chance to ham it up in a New York comedy ballet company called GranDiva, traveling to Europe and Japan.

"When I got back to Utah," Van Mason said, "I looked around for things I could do. I got a call from Nanette Chertudi, whom I had worked with at the Eccles Center in Ogden. She wanted to know if I'd be interested in helping out with a new company called the Imagine Ballet Theatre. And I jumped at the chance."

Van Mason met with Ogden city officials and got in touch with Peery's Egyptian Theater with the idea. "We first auditioned the dancers in February. We had them sign contracts for the year, and we were really impressed with the quality of these young dancers."

The Imagine Ballet Theatre's corps is comprised of dancers ages 9 to 17. "They come from all different dance schools in Utah. We work them hard. They are dancing up to six days a week and still want to dance more. It's wonderful to work with that kind of enthusiasm."

But the dancers aren't the only ones who are sacrificing their time and efforts for the company. The parents have also played a big part in Imagine's development. "We have volunteers who are there when we need them," Van Mason said. "And the commitments of the dancers' parents, getting their dancers to class and rehearsals all the time, has been wonderful."

Currently the company features 29 dancers. And Van Mason wants more. "We are hoping to grow from there."

While the company is housed in the Eccles School of Ballet Theatre Arts, Van Mason has stressed that any young dancer with training can audition for the IBT. "We have a lot of dancers from Clytie Adams School of Ballet, and other schools are involved. If they are good dancers and have potential, more than likely we'll choose them."

The Imagine Ballet Theatre's maiden performance was in May. Van Mason said it was a success. In fact, a portion of the company was asked to participate in the seventh-annual Dance Under the Stars choreography competition in Palm Desert, Calif., next month. "That's an exciting thing for us," said Van Mason. "We've got so much we want to do, and this is part of it."

IBT will perform Friday and Saturday in Peery's Egyptian Theatre in Ogden. "We are looking forward to these particular performances," said Van Mason. "There are seven works in the program, and they are choreographed by different, well-known dancers from Utah." Former RDT dancer Jim Moreno, present RDT dancer Angela Banchero-Kelleher, LaRae Thackeray's Celtic Beat Irish Dancers and Van Mason have all created works for the performance.

"We're looking forward to showing Utah audiences what we can do," Van Mason said.

If you go . . .

What: "Dance 360," Imagine Ballet Theatre

Where: Peery's Egyptian Theater, Ogden

When: Friday and Saturday, 7:30 p.m.

How much: $9 and $12

Phone: 801-395-3200

Web: www.imagineballet.org

E-mail: scott@desnews.com