Dancers from ages 11 to 40 twirled in flowy skirts, while flicking and shaking Spanish-style lace fans. Then, they abruptly stopped and clapped to the Spanish music of "Carmen" as professionals from Pacific Ballet Dance Theatre introduced themselves in the form of a master class. 

The students from Dance 1 in Redondo Beach, some on pointe and some not, all came to learn a non-conventional form of ballet as Natasha Middleton, choreographer and director taught her favorite Spanish-inspired dance moves.

Middleton, a former member of the Joffrey II Ballet in New York who hails from three generations of dancers, is bringing the full-length ballet "Carmen" to the South Bay.

“We wanted to go more south, we’ve done LA a lot,” Middleton said. “They don’t know us, but that’s all right, they’ll get to know us.”

Pacific Ballet Dance Theatre, based in Burbank, is celebrating its 17th season and is touring locally for the first time. "Carmen" comes to the Redondo Beach Performing Arts Center on Saturday.

“All the steps you see and learn today came from here,” said Middleton, pointing to her head. “And here,” she said motioning to her heart.

“It’s a fun show,” she said. “But there’s a lot of drama.”

Emulating the fire and charisma of the main character, Carmen, the dancers flicked their wrists with moxy rarely seen in more traditional, fluid ballet moves.

“You’re going to see a lot of sharp moves,” Middleton said. “Very typical of the Spanish style. Carmen is a very vibrant and passionate girl.”

To perfect the wrist and hand motion for Carmen, the dance director told the students to pretend they were “picking grapes.”

“And stick your sternum out,” she said. “Spaniards are very proud.”

Based on the opera, "Carmen" is the story of a wild gypsy girl working in a cigarette factory in Seville, Spain, but the backgrounds of the performers span the entire world: New Zealand, Brazil, Russia, Armenia.

“As a ballet dancer you need to learn from performances,” Middleton said to her students, touching on the importance of broadening their ballet horizons. “You don’t learn from just demi-plie, plie.”

The professional dancers have been rehearsing five to six days a week, up to eight hours a day to prepare for their South Bay debut. The company includes Redondo Beach resident Shelby Freeman, who plays a gypsy and cigar factory worker.

“It’s a really fun, fabulous show," said Freeman. "It’s so unique and I think that it’s going to be a great thing to bring to Redondo."

Freeman explained that the story of "Carmen" is a little different and "saucier."

“A new ground and a new show, something to offer that’s new and exciting,” she said.

Freeman, who’s been on the receiving end of master classes, this time was in her hometown to help teach one.

She said the master class at Dance 1 was special because it was non-traditional. The students just ate it up as they’re used to pink tights and frilly tutus.

“The kids were wonderful, they worked so hard and they are so talented,” Freeman said. “They picked up the choreography and style very quickly.”

The non-conventional style of "Carmen" hopes to bring some fresh faces to the ballet at the Performing Arts Center. It’s no nutcracker, said Freeman.

“We put the story in the program, so if you get lost and you can’t tell what’s going on, there’s a little run down of the story,” Freeman said.

“It’s a great show for beginners; it’s not typical. You’re definitely not at risk of being bored at any point.”


What: “Carmen”

When: 8 p.m. Saturday

Where: Redondo Beach Performing Arts Center, 1935 Manhattan Beach Boulevard, Manhattan Beach, CA 90278

Cost: $40, $45, $50 and $60


Contact Lisa Jacobs or follow her on Twitter @lisaannjacobs.

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