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Kids join brown rabbit in latest ballet production
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Phalan Henry, left, as the brown velveteen rabbit, and Hannah Patten as the girl are two of the 60-member cast of Gainesville Ballet’s production of “The Brown Velveteen Rabbit.” - photo by SARA GUEVARA

‘The Brown Velveteen Rabbit’

What: Gainesville Ballet’s spring production
When: 7:30 p.m. Friday, 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday
Where: Pearce Auditorium, Brenau University, 500 Washington St., Gainesville
How much: $18-24 adults, $16-22 seniors 55 and older and $10-16 children
More info: 770-532-4241 or gbcinfo@gainesvilleballet.org

Bringing more tiny butterflies, duckling and birds into a magical story is just one of the ways that the Gainesville Ballet Company made "The Brown Velveteen Rabbit" its own.

The company’s version also cast a girl to play the lead role of the beloved stuffed rabbit, traditionally played by a boy.

"The reason I chose it is because it’s a story about the power of love," said Diane Callahan, executive director of Gainesville Ballet. "I think in this day and time, when things are difficult and hard, that it would be a good story for us to do. We adapted it so there are a lot of smaller children in it also in the forest."

Friday will be the opening night of the 45-minute production, which will continue on Saturday and Sunday at Pearce Auditorium at Brenau University.

Phalan Henry plays the brown velveteen rabbit and Hannah Patten is "the girl" in the "Brown Velveteen Rabbit" production.

The children’s classic book, "The Velveteen Rabbit," on which the ballet is based, is about a little boy and his stuffed toy rabbit.

The Velveteen Rabbit hopes to become real one day and thinks if the boy truly loves him, he will.

"It’s a wonderful story and makes people feel good and it’s time to have a little magic in your life," Callahan added.

One of the 60 cast members is Katie Chastain, cast as a mama duck. The 14-year-old will take charge of six ducklings in the production, geared to children of all ages.

"I have an apron and a hat," said Chastain, while stitching together a bright orange toe shoe for her costume. "I’m white instead of yellow; the little ducks are yellow and I get a tail."

Chastain added that she enjoys the relationship between the bunny and the little girl.

Michelle Santana, who plays the fairy, said this production will be bittersweet because, as a senior at Brenau University, she will be graduating this spring and ending her run with Gainesville Ballet.

"It’s kind of sad leaving but it’s exciting to be graduating from college," said Santana, a dance major who hopes begin choreographing and continue performing after graduation.

Santana said she thinks the story is one that children will love, but it also gives something to the dancers.

"I think there is a lot of acting and pantomime in it and I like that," she said. "It gives the dancers something else to work on because we always work on our technique and our steps and everything, and now we are working on our acting skills."

Derrick Smith, who also will be performing for the last time with the company, said the ballet will be doubly emotional for him.

"It’s very theatrical, it’s not a very dancing ballet like "Swan Lake" or "The Nutcracker" and ... I think the kids are going to love it," said Smith, who also will graduate from Brenau in the spring. "There’s a lot of emotion and intensity and happy moments. The kids will be going on a roller coaster."

Smith said he loves the role he was cast in because he gets to show a silly side of himself.

"My role in the ballet is someone that is kind of a show-off and very cheesy ... I enjoy that and I really get into that type of character," he said.

Callahan added that along with the production of "The Brown Velveteen Rabbit" there will be six repertory performances to start the show.

"We do what we call repertory works which are smaller, short works, 5 or 6 minutes," she said. "There are six of those and they’re just the Gainesville Ballet junior company, apprentices and senior company works. They are all different and they don’t havev stories ... (they are) jazz, modern, ballet."

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