This week's premiere of "Dancing With the Stars" drew 16.8 million viewers, proving that America has a passion for dancing. In Bakersfield, Imagine Ballet Company aims to draw in some of those dance fans Saturday for its "Imagine That! 2013" performances at Dore Theatre.
And although the ABC dance competition has some star power on its side, that's nothing compared to seeing a live performance, according to Imagine's artistic director Kristen Doolittle McLaughlin.
"I don't think one can imagine the energy and awe that will come when you see these dancers perform. And there is also the pride that comes from seeing the youth of Bakersfield do something so spectacular."
The most recognizable piece on display Saturday will be the excerpts from "Romeo and Juliet." Starring Austin Erwin as Romeo and Shelby Hagelstein as Juliet, the Act I scenes will include sword fighting and theatrical sets.
Along with the classical piece, Imagine dancers will perform a mix of classical and contemporary works, including originals from Hagelstein and Kira Morris, Imagine senior students who are stepping into the choreographer role for the first time.
"Two of the pieces ('Les Poissons Desesperes (The Desperate Fish)' and 'Nostalgia') are part of our emerging choreographer program, helping newer choreographers get some experience and some work to show later as they progress in their career."
McLaughlin, along with Alicia Angelini and Ann Conrad, choreographed the other Imagine pieces, including "It's Not Impossible," which will be performed in May at the Regional Dance America Pacific festival in Arizona. The piece was selected earlier in the year by a representative from the national organization of which Imagine is a member.
"The adjudicator, Rosine Bena, who danced with the Stuttgart Ballet, told us she loved the energy of 'It's Not Impossible' and said it was great choreography that the dancers executed well."
For the second year, Imagine has teamed with a guest dance company, inviting members of South Bay Ballet to perform two pieces in the show. McLaughlin said collaboration benefits the dancers and the audience.
"The dancers are able to take a company class together, watch each other perform from a close vantage point and be inspired by each other's work ethic and performance attitudes. It also brings the Bakersfield audience an opportunity for a bigger picture of dance and specifically the abilities of the youth in dance."
Skills are on full display for "The Path," which features Morris, Hagelstein and other Imagine dancers Hannah Contois, Amy Cox, Jordyn Frapwell, Isabelle Guillory, Kimberly Marquez, Samantha Palmer, Tara Shearer, Erica Ueberroth and Jenai Wilcox.
"'The Path' highlights the technical ability of my dancers that work hard all year. ... It is a piece performed on pointe. The choreography has advanced turning sequences, toe hops on pointe shoes, and really fast movement. They have to maneuver on and off of their pointe shoes and move through space at a rapid speed while keeping the integrity of the feel of the piece."
"Imagine That!" is one of three annual local performances for Imagine, along with "The Nutcracker" and "Peter and the Wolf," both performed with the Bakersfield Symphony Orchestra.
McLaughlin, who has been dancing since age 9, said she has seen an increase in local support for dance and the arts in general.
"I think that everything has changed since I was a young dancer here in Bakersfield. Luckily I think we are growing together. I think more people are seeking out the arts in Bakersfield and we just have to point them in the right direction."
After last year's successful show, McLaughlin hopes for an even-bigger reception this Saturday.
"We had record crowds last year. Each performance filled up three-quarters of the Dore Theatre. As excited as we are about that, what we wouldn't give for a sold-out show! Come on, Bakersfield, let's sell out a wonderful local performance!"