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The discriminating classes

Boys get a free ride at the Ballet School of Chapel Hill



It's clearly discrimination based on gender. Its sponsors are also hoping it will help save ballet. That's why the Ballet School of Chapel Hill is giving boys between the ages of 8 and 12 preferential treatment this fall: free tuition for the school year. During the same period, girls the same age enrolled at the school will be charged somewhere between $800 and $1,700 for what the boys will be getting for free. Those now dialing the Department of Justice should pause long enough to consider the historic gender imbalance in dance classes--particularly those involving students of a certain age.

The disproportion "is almost off the scale," says choreographer Tyler Walters, the former Joffrey Ballet principal now affiliated with Duke Dance and the Carolina Ballet in addition to his duties at the Ballet School. "In all dance forms, for every 100 girls learning to dance, there are only three to five boys taking lessons. For ballet, that ratio is 100 to one. We all realized we had do to something to get guys into dance."

Already four families have taken advantage of Walters' unorthodox recruitment technique. The offer remains open.

But even if someone else is paying the fare, the deal isn't exactly a free ride. The boys must commit to two classes per week: a special "guys-only" beginning ballet class Wednesdays at 6 p.m., and their choice from a curriculum including jazz, tap, modern dance--and fencing. They're also expected to commit for the year and to participate in the school's concert in the spring.

On the whole, fairly minimal obligations for the chance to study dance with an internationally recognized faculty--on the house. For further information, consult the Web site at or call 942-1339.

Triad Stage's 2004 season opener, Bus Stop , left the terminal with its final performance Saturday night. I'm still scratching my head over what I saw. Though William Inge's play, immortalized in the 1956 Marilyn Monroe film, arguably occupies an era of its own, this production places it in the uneasy, unmarked space between "period piece" and "cultural archaeology."

While Inge's script is riddled with flaws--most of them not shied away from here--in fairness, he gets the majority of them out of the way before the end of the first act. It's almost as if he was overeager, shortcutting clearly needed character development and exposition in a brief first act to get to the meat of the play: the changes that take place when a snowstorm forces a roomful of strangers to take refuge in a small-town diner overnight.

Yes, we see a bumptious country titan named Bo gradually learn a more civilized way of courting than the "rope-and-brand" method he begins with. We also see an off-key song-and-dance girl named Cherie grab at the straws of a second chance. Michael Abbott, Jr. and Melodie Sisk finally do find human-sized emotions, and the start of a believable relationship as the couple at the work's center.

But this only happens after an opening act that just about zeroes out our sympathies for all concerned. At the start, Bo's character is clearly abusive, throwing chairs across Fred Kinney's pitch-perfect set, violating all boundaries around Cherie. Indeed, most of the play centers on the interventions required to make him something just a bit more human, from ranch hand Virgil (Bill Raulerson) and the local sheriff (Mack McClain).

The initial impulse in much of the present culture might easily be to give up on Bo, or put him in lockdown. This play goes the other way--which may well mark the biggest schism between that world and this. If we look closely, cautionary examples in men fill Inge's stage. His point with Bo seems to be that if wild men aren't civilized--through the help of all hands on deck--they remain wild. The consequences of that are potentially more tragic than nearly anything seen onstage during Bus Stop.

The N.C. Women's Prison Repertory Company returns to regional stages with their latest work, From the Inside Out this Friday night at St. Mary's School in Raleigh. Those who caught the Sunday feature in the News and Observer--or our coverage last August, for that matter--know that this group of inmates is mining perhaps the ultimate in autobiographical theater: performance pieces based on the experiences that put them behind bars. Their initial work was gripping theater--and fully earned our 2003 superlatives for "Special Achievement in the Humanities." Find out why this Friday night.

For some folks, every day is Halloween: Those with a taste for the offbeat in musical theater might well be heading westward this week when Bat Boy: The Musical takes flight over UNC Greensboro. Torn from the pages of the Weekly World News, which first broke the story of a boy raised by bats in the caves of West Virginia, this cult rock musical has become something of an, um, underground classic (soundtrack available on Amazon!), baffling audiences off-Broadway and currently on the West End. Now showing nightly--when else is a musical with bats going to fly?--through Oct. 7 (except Monday) at UNCG's Taylor Theater on Tate Street. Call 336-334-4849 for more details.

***1/2 One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Raleigh Little Theatre--When one actor in a show pulls off an achievement like Maggie Rasnick's true-believer Nurse Ratched, the rest have to keep up. Many do here, including Tim Cherry as a memorably urbane inmate Harding. But with Seth Blum as R. P. McMurphy, co-directors Linda Young and Rick Young (who has also outdone himself here in set design) have reduced the grifter par excellence and possible psychopath to a fairly flimsy con man being slowly crushed by a system he's fatally miscalculated. Cuckoo's Nest actually has to raise our spirits in order to trample them--something this production has difficulty doing. (Wednesday-Sunday through Oct. 3. $15-$12. 821-3111.)

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