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Sleeping Beauty Spans Generations on the Stage

Bonnie Blunk Townshend develops a sense of dèja vu as she watches daughters Taylor, 8, and Brooke, 6, practice for "Sleeping Beauty" under artistic directors Tania Rousseau Tupine and Oleg Tupine at the Virginia Ballet Company in Burke.

Townshend was in the ballet under the Tupines as a child.

"I was in it in the '70s, 1982 and 1983. I played the role of Aurora. It's completely like deja vu. When I watch them rehearse, I see the girls I danced with," she said.

Maria Cerva Eustace was alongside Townshend years ago and now has twins, a daughter and son, in this year's production. Eustace's daughter, Elizabeth, is a flower princess, and son Joe plays the part of a page.

"I was in it the last time we did the full length," which was in the '80s, she said. She plays the part of the queen this year, being one of a few parents that are actually in the production.

"Maria and I, we danced together. I was Princess Aurora and she was the witch. We're literally reliving our teen-age years," Townshend said.

Artistic director Debra Shank was also a student of the Tupines in their premiere production of "Sleeping Beauty" in 1966 at TC Williams High School in Alexandria.

Shank likes to see the same faces from year to year and for families to remain involved.

"Some mothers become very involved because they enjoy it. It's nice when you have the founders still active. He [Oleg Tupine] teaches with more energy than his students sometimes," Shank said. Tupine is 82.

The dancers are now practicing for the first full-length "Sleeping Beauty" performance in years, March 2-3 at Northern Virginia Community College's Ernst Cultural Center Theater in Annandale.

Eustace sees a lot of coming and going in the area, so for families to stay in the area is not as common as other places.

"It's unique in an area like this," Eustace said.

<mh>Dancers

<bt>Lake Braddock senior Susanne Mirabello plays the leading role of princess Aurora. She is in her 11th year at the ballet company, and her family is involved as well.

"My parents are on the board, my dad likes to build props. My brother just has to come to the shows," she said.

WT Woodson High School senior Alyssa Johnson's father plays the king in the ballet. He doesn't dance, though, it's more an acting part.

"It's more acting, dancing is not his strong suit," Alyssa said.

Her father, Phil Johnson, noted the role his participation plays.

"It satisfies the Thespian in me. It's what you do if you're an involved parent," he said.

Matt Jensen is a freshmen at George Mason University and has been involved with the ballet since he was 8. He is among eight other males that are in the "Sleeping Beauty" cast. His twin sister, Amanda, is part of the cast as well.

"My dad is the president of the board of directors, mom is the registrar," he said.

Susannne and Matt have been working together for years. Shank sees the camaraderie among the dancers.

"He's like a brother to Susanne," she said.

The teen-age years have other distractions beside afternoon ballet practice and weekend shows, but Penelope Lewis' friends understand.

"My close friends, they forget I dance every day. Now it's gotten to the point where they don't ask," she said.

Susanne Mirabello sees familiar faces in the audience sometimes.

"A lot of my friends and teachers like to come to the performances," she said.

<mh>Teaching Tradition

<bt>The Tupines are a catalyst to all this family interaction and bonding that goes on behind the scenes. They have been co-directors and the principal instructors since the Virginia Ballet Company and school were established in 1965. Both received their training from Europe: Tania Tupine in the school of Princess Egorova Troubetskoy from the Maryinsky Ballet, Madame Olga Preobrajenska in Paris, Le Ballet de Jeunesse in Paris, Le Theatre de Champs Elysees and the Agrenieff Ballet Company. Oleg Tupine was part of the original Ballet Russe and has worked with Alexandra Danilova and Mia Slavenska.

Tupine began teaching ballet in the area in 1953 at Baileys Crossroad and Quantico as well as a few other studios at that time.

Oleg Tupine talked about his experience with the Russian ballet, post-1917 and the Bolshevik revolution.

"I'm one of the few left over from the original dancers after World War II. I'm passing it on," he said.

Old photos from his early days still adorn the walls at the school, and some of his original costumes are still being used.

<mh>Lasting Impressions

<bt>Tupine noted the lasting lessons the ballet teaches the students.

"It's a lot of grace, poise, culture, self-assurance, it's a big plus. You have to be devoted," she said.

Over the years, she's had many students go on to be professional dancers as well as doctors, lawyers, pilots and nurses.

"We even have one judge," she said.

On the last page of the 1972 "Sleeping Beauty" program, there are pictures of several past students that have moved on to the National Ballet, the San Francisco Ballet Company, the Boston Ballet Company, the North Carolina School of Arts and the New York City Ballet Company.

Nick Skillman, who has a son and daughter in "Sleeping Beauty," noted his role behind the scenes in addition to being enthusiastic about their aspirations. Last year, he was the curtain man, opening and drawing the curtain between acts.

"Help their children go in the direction they want to go, help them follow different paths" is his role, he said.