By MARTY CLEAR
If you remember the Bay Ballet Theater from the mid '90s, then perhaps you'll also remember one of its most famous works, Gaspar: A Pirate Fantasy, created by artistic director Christopher Fleming.
Seventeen years after its premiere, Fleming and Gaspar are back for another run.
"It's going to be an annual event," Fleming said. "We've already booked (the theater) for next year. We want this to be Tampa Bay's Nutcracker."
Fleming, who had left Bay Ballet before it folded, has worked all over the world since he left Tampa. For the past year, he has headed Ballet Fleming in Philadelphia.
He brought eight Ballet Fleming dancers here to take the principal roles in Gaspar, and rounded out the 40-person cast with students from Patel Conservatory, Blake High School and the Pinellas County Center for the Arts at Gibbs High School.
Naturally, the ballet is based on the legend of Jose Gaspar, the pirate who supposedly invaded Tampa. But Fleming decided not to try to sort out fact from fiction when he wrote the story for his ballet.
"I made it up," he said. "It's easier."
In Fleming's story, a young woman who is the ward of the pirate-hating viceroy of Tampa falls in love with Gaspar at a masquerade. But she soon notices that Gaspar wears a locket identical to one the viceroy has. Turns out Gaspar is the long-lost son of the viceroy.
Fleming said he hasn't made any major changes to the work since its first performances in 1994. But with higher-caliber dancers and more rehearsal time, he thinks this version will be better.
One especially noticeable improvement, he said, is in the music. Although it's the same score, by local cardiologist/composer David Goldstein, technological advances allow the electronic instruments to offer a warmer, richer sound than 17 years ago.
It was a dancer from that original production, Sharon Sanchez, who provided the impetus for bringing Gaspar back to life.
Sanchez, who lives in Treasure Island, wanted to enhance the presence of the arts in Tampa's Gasparilla weekend. Gaspar gives student dancers from both sides of the bay invaluable experience, Sanchez said, and the proceeds go to three local charities, Operation Homefront, Drew's Shoes and the Tampa Bay chapter of the American Red Cross.
"It's all about the community," Sanchez said. "And besides, it means we won't lose this wonderful ballet."