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Local dancers take the stage with Syracuse Opera

Six young local dancers will take the stage this when Syracuse Opera presents Georges Bizet's "The Pearl Fishers" Friday April 8 and Sunday April 10.

Students performing in The Pearl Fishers include Caroline Charles (Jamesville DeWitt High School), Ashley Green and Margaret M. Moreno (Corcoran High School), Rebecca Lillich (Manlius Pebble Hill), Molly Linhorst and Minakshi Raj (Syracuse University).

Also dancing will be guest performer Sudha Raj, consultant and master teacher in Bharatanatyam, a cultural Indian dance. She was introduced to the Syracuse Opera by the late Mark J. Wright, grants and program director at the Cultural Resources Council, to whom the performance is dedicated.

For choreographer Cheryl Wilkins-Mitchell, this was her first experience choreographing an opera piece. She said she was thrilled by the opportunity to choreograph for this production.

"The music is lovely, the sets and costumes are just beautiful and the story of a love triangle intriguingly set in the historic location of Ceylon, now Sri Lanka," Wilkins-Mitchell said.

She asked her daughter, Aisha Mitchell, a professional dancer in New York City, to co-choreograph, bringing her contemporary movements into an opera setting.

The co-choreographers incorporated different styles of dance into their performance, including classical Indian, modern, ballet and a touch of hip-hop. Sudha Raj choreographed the cultural Indian dance with her daughter Minakshi Raj.

"I knew that I wanted to do this storytelling through the dance using authentic classical Indian movements and gestures," Wilkins-Mitchell said.

Storytelling through dance movements, facial expressions and gestures is very intricate. There are 23 single hand gestures, 23 double hand gestures, nine expressions, and more than 14 adavu, or foot rhythms.

The youth dancers learned about two years worth of training in just a few dance classes. The posture Sudha Raj focused on usually takes years to learn.

The dancers' performances will be blended throughout the opera performance. Stage Director Marc Astafan didn't want the dancers to simply dance and then exit.

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