Everything small is big in California Contemporary Ballet's 'Thumbelina'

Aerin Holt always dreamed of turning one of her favorite childhood tales, "Thumbelina," into a ballet. But she knew the perspective would be tricky to capture.

In the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale, a girl the size of a thumb is born from a tulip. Holt, the artistic director and choreographer at La Cañada Flintridge-based California Contemporary Ballet, found a way to make the dancers look small: enlarge everything else on stage.

PHOTOS: California Contemporary Ballet's "Thumbelina" rehearsal

"Everything else has to be small," said Holt. "That's actually the challenge that I enjoy about it and what attracted me to the story itself."

The company will perform the fairy tale at Glendale Community College's auditorium on June 29 and 30. "Thumbelina" features a cast of 40 performers, from young children to professional dancers. Holt collaborated with choreographer Lynn Bryson Pittenger to bring the whimsical tale to the stage.

Holt created the popular winter ballet "The Snow Queen," which has run for 15 years, and decided it was time to create something new. When New Mexico artist Kurt Bowker offered to make giant flowers and six-foot-tall toadstools for the ballet, she said she couldn't refuse.

Bowker, a "Snow Queen" veteran, also created a mechanical painted steel tulip with one petal that is thicker than the others so Jaclyn Stryker, who plays the titular role, can slide down from the flower.

La Cañada Flintridge artist Anne Tryba also designed ceramic flower sculptures that will be on display and for sale at the opening night performance.

Stryker, 26, started her dance career as a child at California DanceArts, the studio which houses California Contemporary Ballet. She has since performed with dance companies in San Francisco, returning to La Crescenta in 2010. Stryker said Holt always talked about how she wanted to do a full production of "Thumbelina." One day, she received a call from Holt, who told her that the idea was finally becoming a reality. She said she is excited to perform in a brand-new production.

"You don't have other people's expectations," said Stryker. "You just get to perform and be a part of something completely new. I love that aspect of it."

Dancing in front of a whimsical, larger-than-life backdrop is also a new experience.

"The sets are amazing," she said. "It will be adventurous."

Holt tried to be faithful to the original story, which, like "The Snow Queen," is adapted from a Hans Christian Andersen tale. But there are a few changes: Holt decided to cut out plot lines where animals ranging from toads to moles propose marriage to Thumbelina. Instead, the visual story focuses on themes of friendship and adventure.

The author's stories usually include lessons about morals and character, which Holt said is important to showcase. "Art should relay a message about life."

What: “Thumbelina”

Where: 1500 N. Verdugo Road, Glendale

When: June 29 at 7:30 p.m., and on June 30 at 2 p.m.

Admission: $20–$30. Group tickets are also available.

More info: (626) 568-3665, CalBallet.com


[Editor's note: An original version of this article incorrectly stated that Anne Tryba's sculptures were being used in the production.]

Follow Tiffany Kelly on Google+ and on Twitter: @LATiffanyKelly.

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