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'Secret Garden' follows kids' book

Kara Nielsen of Imagine Ballet Theatre rehearses for upcoming performance of "The Secret Garden" at Peery's Egyptian Theater in Ogden.
Kara Nielsen of Imagine Ballet Theatre rehearses for upcoming performance of "The Secret Garden" at Peery's Egyptian Theater in Ogden.
Brian Nicholson, Deseret Morning News

Raymond Van Mason, the artistic director for Imagine Ballet Theatre, had the idea to make a full-length ballet based on Frances Hodgson Burnett's children's classic, "The Secret Garden." He and Kurt Bestor wanted to collaborate in bringing the story to the stage.

"It was about 13 years ago," Van Mason said just before a rehearsal. "I was in Ballet West at the time, and Kurt and I discussed the possibilities of doing the story. Kurt was interested in the story because of his daughter, who has spina bifida. And I just wanted to do a story that has never been done as a ballet before."

The artistic director for Ballet West at the time was John Hart, who, according to Van Mason, was also interested in the project. "Then Mr. Hart retired and the project didn't get off the ground. In fact, nothing happened until I formed IBT. Kurt and I started talking about it again. And it's actually going to happen."

Bestor, one of Utah's most recognized locally based national musicians, wrote the score. Van Mason did the choreography. "I wanted to do this project because both of my daughters can't dance," Bestor said during a rehearsal in Ogden. "They have spina bifida. I wanted to do the story because of the story line with Colin."

"The story is perfect for Imagine Ballet Theatre," said Van Mason, "because it's a children's story. And we've a cast of young children. It makes the ballet more authentic, I think."

The story follows a young, spoiled orphan girl named Mary Lennox, who moves from India to England to live with her uncle. While in England, she discovers a garden and learns to care for it with a new friend named Dicken. In addition, she meets her wheelchair-bound cousin, Colin, and hopes that the garden will cure him. Throughout the story, Mary finds herself becoming a more selfless and giving person.

"Mary is 12 years old in the book," said Van Mason. "And since this is a children's ballet company, I cast Mary with a 12-year-old and a 13-year-old. To me that makes the ballet more real."

Tessa Whiting and Allysa Alger are two dancers cast as Mary Lennox.

Whiting, a 12-year-old resident of Layton, said she prepared herself for the role by reading the book and watching one of the many movie versions. "I think the ballet is closer to the book," said Whiting. "In rehearsals I try to feel what Mary would feel. I try to remember how she was in the book and the movie."

Ogden resident Alger, 13, said she prepared for the role by "taking a deep breath and saying, 'Ready, set, go!' I was very excited when I found out that I was going to dance the part of Mary. I've read the book and seen the movies, and I try to model Mary after the book, because I liked it better. The book gave more detail and the movie went too fast."

Both Whiting and Alger have been cast in smaller parts in other IBT ballets. The role of Mary is the first starring role for both.

"I'm looking forward to the ballet because it's about the character I'm dancing," said Whiting. "I'm excited to be able to dance a part that has never been danced before. The company has given us a chance to dance. It gives us a chance to be part of a real dance company."

Anger added, "Tessa and I were party girls in 'Pillow Talk' and part of a group of friends in 'The Waltz.' I'm looking forward to dancing Mary because of the partnering work. And I like working with Ray because he knows what he's doing and is good with us kids."

If you go . . .

What: "The Secret< Garden," Imagine Ballet Theatre

Where: Peery's Egyptian Theater, 2415 Washington Blvd., Ogden

When: Thursday-Saturday, 7:30 p.m.; Saturday, 2 p.m.

How much: $9-$20

Phone: 801-395-3227