RAMONA PONY DANCING TO A BALLET'S TUNE

It's not unusual for a touring troupe to issue local casting calls for auxiliary dancers, musicians or actors. Even the American Ballet Theatre turned to San Diego performers to flesh out its production of "Sleeping Beauty" during a recent visit.

But filling the needs of the Joffrey Ballet's "La Fille Mal Gardee" from the stable of local supernumeraries was a horse of a different color.

"It was the wish of Sir Frederick (Ashton), when he choreographed 'La Fille Mal Gardee,' that it would have a white pony and cart," said Joffrey spokeswoman Rima Corben, "so everywhere we go, we always have to find a miniature pony."

In the ballet, "the wealthy vineyard owner brings his pony and cart to take the widow (danced in drag by the inimitable Stanley Holden, who created the role in the original Royal Ballet production 27 years ago) and her daughter to the picnic, and there are some charming little details with the pony. Sir Frederick even choreographed into it that the pony gets a piece of sugar," Corben said. "It's not just a walk-on for the pony."

Menendez Miniatures, a Ramona-based breeder of American miniature horses, had the perfect horse for the job.

"It had to be a white horse," Delores Menendez said, "and it had to be trained to pull carts. Bond Fiddlestick has been a driving champion, so he's done that, and he's really calm. He's also used to being shown, and he isn't afraid of being around crowds.

Bond Fiddlestick (nicknamed James) is not a typical horse. This miniature "halter" stands a mere 31 inches tall--smaller than some dogs--and at 6 years old has already sired two champions. The little horse is no newcomer to show business, although his appearance in the Joffrey's production of Ashton's "La Fille Mal Gardee" (a San Diego premiere) will mark his stage debut.

"He's been in the La Jolla Christmas Parade, the Mother Goose Parade and the St. Patrick's Parade," his proud owner said, "so I think he'll be very good. We've been driving him (with a cart) all week to prepare for it, and he's very easy to handle."

Just in case Bond Fiddlestick develops a case of stage fright, one of his favorite handlers, 17-year-old Janice Menendez, will be on hand to lead him through his role.

"I've never even acted in a play before," she said, "but I'm going to be in costume and on stage with the horse. I'm very excited."

Local balletomanes can catch Bond Fiddlestick's debut performance in this full-length ballet at the San Diego Civic Center on Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. The Sunday matinee has been canceled.

The Joffrey Ballet will begin its San Diego stay with two evenings of repertory Wednesday and Thursday at 8 p.m.

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