It's the role every little girl dreams of playing, and Kristen Zemina is no exception.
"I think it's every girl's fantasy to be Cinderella," said Zemina. "And now I actually get to do it."
The University of Florida student, now one of three professional dancers with the , will take the coveted lead role in the ballet's spring production of "Cinderella" Saturday, April 21 at 7:30 p.m. at Spoto High School, 8538 Eagle Palm Dr., Riverview.
For Zemina, a biology major at UF with a minor in dance, playing the lead role in the ballet has been demanding but exciting.
She began her career as a student dancer at the Brandon Ballet at age 5 and continued on until she was 18 and went away to college. There, she danced professionally with a Gainesville dance company before Brandon Ballet founder and director Alice Holden Bock invited her to dance professionally with the Brandon Ballet.
"It was nice to be able to go back home as a professional dancer," said Zemina. "It's demanding. I travel back home every weekend, but it's been very rewarding."
Zemina is one of two professional dancers who grew up with the Brandon Ballet. The other, Veronica Daniel, also will perform in the upcoming production of "Cinderella." A third professional, Claudia Aragon, is also a member of the company.
"I'm really proud of the fact that we have two professional dancers who started out with the Brandon Ballet," said Bock. "They had opportunities to dance with other professional dance companies but decided to come back to us. Sometimes, coming home is best."
Bock began the nonprofit ballet company in 1993 in the hopes of giving young dancers an opportunity to perform in a professional company while exposing the community to the art of ballet.
"That was our dream, and now it's all grown up," said Bock. "People come from all over to see our ballets.
In addition to the three professionals, the company consists of 40 training dancers ranging in age from 5 to 18. They've been rehearsing each Saturday for the ballet since January.
"This is one of the few opportunities in the area that gives young dancers a chance to perform with professionals in a full-length ballet," said Bock.
Each December, the Brandon Ballet presents "The Nutcracker," which has become a seasonal favorite, followed by spring production.
This year's spring production, said Bock, is appropriate for both children and adults.
"It's a three-act ballet that is two hours long, and it's especially wonderful for young children who are already familiar with the popular fairytale," said Bock. "It's both magical and whimsical. The stepsisters, Alissa Heath and Lexy Thompson, are so comical, and Kristen's performance is so elegant. It's a wonderful ballet."
Costume designer Lisa Coxon has been hard at work on the 70 elaborate handmade costumes included in the ballet. Her daughter, Rachel, has been with the Brandon Ballet since age 5 and will play the lead dragonfly in "Cinderella."
The costumes are based on the designs of Richard Munro, a professional choreographer with the Brandon Ballet and former director of the Louisville Ballet, who died suddenly of cancer in 2008.
Munro's artistic drawings hang in the Brandon Ballet studio to remind students of his contribution and legacy.
"The costumes, props and scenery in this ballet are spectacular," said Bock, displaying Cinderella's dress cape and tiara. "We even had a carriage made for the ballet."
In Munro's memory, the ballet has formed a partnership with the Giving Hope Through Faith Foundation, founded by the family of Zach Tucker of Valrico, who died from a brain tumor at the age of 8.
Bock said they selected Spoto High School as the venue for the ballet to make it accessible to the community.
"We could go to the performing arts center in Tampa but we prefer to keep the ballet in the area," said Bock. "We want to raise awareness of ballet in the community. Besides, Spoto is great venue with a full stage and backdrop."
To further promote awareness of ballet in the community, Bock is planning two other events on April 14.
There will be a free behind-the-scenes tour of "Cinderella" Saturday, April 14 from 2-3:30 p.m. and from 3:30-5 p.m. The event, geared to children and adults interested in learning more about ballet, will include a viewing of a rehearsal, a tour of the costumes, a question-and-answer session with the dancers and the opportunity to see a class in session.
"It gives everyone an up close and personal view of the ballet," said Bock, who has been giving the behind-the-scenes tour for five years. "They learn the vocabulary of the ballet, the different steps and meet the professionals. In addition, we pass out educational packets to everyone who attends."
Those wishing to attend should register in advance at brandonballet.org.
Also on April 14, from 9:30-11 a.m. or from 11:30 a.m.-1 p.m., little girls will have an opportunity to be a ballerina princess for a day. Young girls, age 4 to 7, are invited to wear their favorite princess costume and dance with the Brandon Ballet ballerinas as well do crafts and decorate a cupcake. The cost is $20 per child. Call 813-684-4282 to register.
"This is the fourth year for our princess party. It's going to be a thrill for little onces to meet Cinderella and get her autograph. Kristen is a wonderful role model for the ballet. She's an honor student who wants to be a doctor, and she's just wonderful with the kids."
Tickets for "Cinderella" are now available for $25 for adults, $20 for seniors and $15 for children age 18 and younger. They can be purchased at shop.brandonballet.org or by calling 813-684-4282.