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‘Tales of Winter’ ballet for the holiday

WBFO News photos by Eileen Buckley

A local dance theater and school of ballet is preparing for a special holiday performance. Configuration School of Ballet will present Tales of Winter Sunday afternoon at the Flickinger Theater at Nichols School in Buffalo. WBFO's Eileen Buckley says the ballet will feature excerpts from The Grinch, Duke Ellington's Nutcracker Suites and other works.

The professional dance school is neatly tucked neatly inside a building, with other businesses, off Main Street in the Village of Williamsville. Inside you will find Joseph Cipolla teaching ballet class.

Credit WBFO News photos by Eileen Buckley
Joseph Cipolla adjusts music as he teaches a ballet class.

Cipolla is a Buffalo native who returned home after dancing professionally with the Salder Wells Royal Ballet and Dance Theatre of Harlem and served at Birmingham Royal Ballet.

"I came back to America in 2001 after I finished my final contract with the Birmingham Royal Ballet in England, and I had a small group of dancers. First I came back to Cape Code and this group of dancers kind of turned into a full-time thing, from kind of a summer thing to a full-time obsession," explained Cipolla.

Cipolla co-founded the Configuration Dance Theatre with Kolleen Fischer, a contemporary ballet company.

Credit WBFO News photos by Eileen Buckley
Joseph Cipolla instructs ballet students during class.

Initially the dance troupe performed at UB'S Center for the Arts, but Cipolla says funding wasn't easy. That's when Cipolla decided to opened a dance school to offer professional ballet lessons.

"Funding is a real problem and it has been -- I'm not going to lie to you -- and so we kind of switched gears and went from a professional company of six dancers, that I brought with me, and we said well, let's do a school, let's start nurturing talent," said Cipolla.

Credit WBFO News photos by Eileen Buckley
Dance students at the ballet barre.

And as the school nurtures the new local dance talent, it has also created new ballet themes, stepping outside the traditional performances of the Nutcracker during the holiday season.           

"You need to start thinking in more contemporary terms and developing more contemporary ideas" said Cipolla. "Still maintain some of the more traditional things that work and I think there is a place for both. Keep kind of one foot in the future and one foot firmly placed in the past."

Cipolla and his partner Fischer also work as co-artistic directors.

Credit WBFO News photos by Eileen Buckley
Set items set aside in the corner of the ballet studio for Sunday's 'Tales of Winter'.

Fischer is a big fan of The Grinch and decided to turn parts of it into a ballet, helping to create the Tales of Winter -- a first-of-its-kind show for Buffalo.

"We love the Nutcracker. We've both done the Nutcracker for years. I never get tired of it, the music is beautiful," said Fischer. "But this year we wanted to do something a little bit different."

Fischer didn't want to reveal too much about the performance, but noted that in The Grinch piece, you can expect some of those Grinch-like costumes and wild hairdos and costumes featured in the originally 1966 animation, and perhaps even the Grinchy-grin.

"We are actually having Leon's Studio One School come in.  We have some volunteers that are coming in to actually do all of their hair and makeup," said Fischer. "So their hair is just amazing. It's very colorful. The expressions are amazing."             

But before the Grinch, the first half of Tales of Winter will feature Nutcracker music, but don't expect the classical kind.

Dancers will be performing their moves to Jazz great Duke Ellington's Nutcracker Suite. You'll recognize the Waltz of the Flowers and Sugar Plum Fairy, but Ellington titled his Nutcracker Suite pieces The Sugar Rum Cherry.

"It's absolutely brilliant," said Cipolla. "He took the original Tchaikovsky score and he transpose into a big band jazz sound as only Duke Ellington could do it.  And I have to say, I cheated big time on this one because as a dancer, when I was dancing myself in England, the director of the Birmingham Royal Ballet, did the entire piece, and it worked so well. It was really great."

"We are also doing a piece, that I choreographed Pachelbel's Canon in D," said Fischer. "It's very beautiful."      

Credit WBFO News photos by Eileen Buckley
Dancers take ballet class.

Configuration held an open audition for other area dance schools to be in the school.  More than 20 students, ages 7 to 18, were selected this past September. They will dance along with some principal dancers in Tales of Winter.

The concept of Tales of Winter is to build on it each year. Fischer and Cipolla are hoping that this first ever performance will turn into a new holiday tradition for a Buffalo audience.