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Lauren Anderson/sugar plum fairy

December 13, 2000

Sugar Plum Fairy



Sugar Plum FairyMaking little girls' dreams come true

By KATE COLEMAN / Staff Writer

photo: GEOFF WINNINGHAM

Lauren Anderson, principal dancer with the Houston Ballet, was scheduled to dance in eight performances of "The Nutcracker" in Houston this season. Then someone got hurt, so she took on three more shows.

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Anderson, 35, also danced the ballet three times in Wichita, Kan., last week, and she will be onstage at The Maryland Theatre in Hagerstown Saturday, Dec. 16, and Sunday, Dec. 17, to do it again.

Does she ever get tired of "The Nutcracker"?

The answer is a resounding no. She couldn't imagine Christmas without it. "I'm the Sugar Plum Fairy," she exclaimed. "I make little girls' dreams come true."

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Anderson's success has far surpassed her own dreams. It was seeing "The Nutcracker" as a child that got Anderson interested in dance. At age 7 she enrolled in the Houston Ballet Academy, a decision that later forced a choice between studying violin and ballet. "I was much better at violin than at ballet," she said.

Anderson studied exclusively at the Houston Ballet Academy, became a member of the company in 1983 was promoted to soloist in 1986. In 1990, she became the first African-American to be promoted to principal dancer at the academy.

Houston Ballet's Artistic Director Ben Stevenson choreographed new productions of "Don Quixote" and "Cleopatra" with Anderson in the leading roles.

Stevenson is an excellent teacher, Anderson said. It was one of his classes that changed her mind about quitting when she was about 11. His classes were a lot of work, but fun, Anderson said.

Later, when her teenage body began to mature beyond the long, lean lines of a classical ballerina, she became a vegetarian - but still eats seafood - and turned to the Pilates method of body conditioning to lengthen and strengthen her muscles. "I worked hard," she said.

She still does. A typical day includes an hour-and-a- half class and six hours of rehearsal.

Anderson has danced all the great classical roles - the Swan Queen in "Swan Lake," Aurora in "The Sleeping Beauty," the Sylph in "La Sylphide" and the title role in "Cinderella." Anderson has portrayed Tina Turner, Diana Ross and Whoopi Goldberg In the company's performances of the satirical "The 'Nutty' Nutcracker."

She has guest-starred in New York, Chicago, Chile, China and Moscow. She has danced at the Bolshoi.

So why is she dancing in Hagerstown?

"Susie Banks," is Anderson's answer.

Susan "Susie" Banks, who grew up in Hagerstown, is Potomac Classical Youth Ballet Company's ballet mistress. Banks danced with the Houston Ballet from 1974-81 and taught at the academy for 11 years. Although she never had Anderson in class, she got to know the dancer.

"She'll have a lot of contact with the children," Banks said.

That contact is important to Anderson. She wants kids to experience the magic of seeing ballet on stage, but to know she's touchable. She frequently speaks at inner-city schools, and recently spent some time at the elementary school where her mother teaches music. She took along a "Nutcracker" video, her Sugar Plum Fairy tutu and toe shoes or, as she called them, "toe coffins."

Anderson believes it's important for kids - especially those who might not get a chance to go to the theater to see a performance - to know about ballet. Her message is - "I'm a ballerina. But I'm just a chick out here like you guys," she said.

More than 70 local children from Boys' and Girls' Clubs of Washington County Inc., Girls' Inc. and BTJ Dancers have been invited to attend a tea and "informance" Saturday morning at Kepler Theater on the Hagerstown Community College campus. They will have a chance to meet Anderson and fellow Houston Ballet Principal Dancer Dominic Walsh, who will talk about ballet and the hard work that goes into developing talent and success.

"The sky's the limit," Anderson believes.

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