I REMEMBER reading about Graduation Ball as a child in a beautifully illustrated book of stories from the great ballets, a book that was given to me by my mother. I never had the opportunity to see the ballet performed, but I often studied the graceful illustrations and was enchanted by the sweet story: young girls in a boarding school experiencing their graduation ball with gallant cadets from a nearby military academy. Years later as a professional dancer, I was delighted to learn that the ballet would be part of San Jose Cleveland Ballet’s 1996/1997 season. I couldn’t wait to perform the ballet that I had imagined for so long.
Casting went up, and I was thrilled to find myself listed to learn the role of the Mistress of Ceremonies, second cast for one of my idols, ballerina Nancy Latoszewski! I enjoyed working on the role’s challenging variation, complete with a series of hops on pointe, as well as getting to lead a group of dancers in a whimsical polka that we called the “Monkey Dance,” as its choreography mimicked the “see-no-evil,” “hear-no-evil,” “speak-no-evil” monkeys of legend.
But the role I quietly coveted was the Pigtail Girl. She got to have all the fun! Dancing the role that year was Cleveland’s star Karen Gabay in the first cast. Ballerina Grethel Domingo danced the Pigtail Girl opposite me in the second cast. I tried very hard not to be jealous, watching the two of them cause mischief, perform flashy jumps, grab all the laughs and steal the scenes, with their signature pigtails sticking out of their heads like Pippi Longstocking’s. Please don’t misunderstand — I was happy for Karen and Grethel, and I was extremely proud to be dancing the soloist role in which I had been cast. My parents even flew to Cleveland from San Jose to see me dance, as the ballet wasn’t included in the San Jose portion of our season. But secretly I hoped that some day the ballet would return and I would get to be the Pigtail Girl.
As luck would have it, I got my chance. When the ballet appeared in Ballet San Jose’s 2001/2002 season, I was fortunate enough to be cast as the Pigtail Girl, the role I had secretly dreamed of dancing for years.
Dancing the role of the Pigtail Girl was an utter joy. I loved my crazy pigtails, created for me by Ballet San Jose’s hair and makeup designer Robin Church. The cast included many of my best friends: Patricia Perez whirling off fouettés as a Competition Girl, Beth Ann Namey and Catharine Grow looking glamorous as Senior Girls, and Le Mai Linh nobly asking me to waltz after the most handsome cadet turned me down for Tiffany Glenn, who danced the role of the Mistress of Ceremonies.
Other moments from those performances remain etched in my memory: Stephane Dalle performing a technically impeccable rendition of the famous Drummer Boy solo, Raymond Rodriguez creating a hilariously grumpy General, and the glorious Maria Jacobs-Yu, along with Ramon Moreno, glittering in the ballet’s central classical pas de deux. I will never forget hearing the audience laugh out loud as I tried to get away with mischief under the watchful eye of Dennis Nahat, unforgettable en travesti as the Headmistress.
Graduation Ball, with its joyful plot, lovely costumes, and infectious humor, is truly a delight to dance. However, I still have never seen the ballet from the audience; I danced in every performance of the ballet during my tenure with the company! For these reasons, I can’t wait for March 2nd, when I will finally have the chance to sit in the audience and watch the wonderful artists of Ballet San Jose bring to life the ballet I imagined so often as a child.