GASPAR Pirate Ballet
Just to change gears for a moment this article was sent to me . It will appear in The Tampa Bay Magazine and is written by Theresa Richardson.
Gaspar Returns!- by Theresa Richardson
You’re new to Tampa Bay. You like your some-what-quiet, very cool Hyde Park neighborhood. You enjoy the arts scene, the great weather… then one morning, you awaken to discover that your neighborhood has been invaded by pirates.
For Christopher Fleming that shocking discovery a few years back opened his eyes to a world of possibilities. Unlike the natives, who know a pirate fest when they see one, Fleming had never experienced anything like Gasparilla. And for good reason: there is nothing like it in the world.
He asked around, and discovered that the annual event was cooked up as a publicity stunt by some Chamber of Commerce types in 1904. It caught on and grew, along with the stories and legends of “Jose Gaspar,” til now when no one is quite sure if this bit of “history” is real or fabricated.
Fleming was in a unique position to capture the local fable and bring it to life. He was artistic director of Bay Ballet Theatre, a company that brought classical ballet to our area. He thought a Tampa-centric ballet would be perfect, and it would allow revelers a family, kid-friendly event. With a fun (but tame by Gasparilla standards) love story, Fleming started weaving a tale that could incorporate professional dancers, local celebrities, a young of aspiring dancers, and swordfighters – all tossed together to a delightful score by a local composer.
“Gaspar is Tampa,” he explains. “It’s classical like Swan Lake or Nutcracker – but it’s not set in Russia; it’s here on the shores of Tampa Bay!” And the dynamic action, including swordfights appeals to all ages and types, not just the die-hard ballet fans. Fleming says it’s the perfect first ballet for children. Little boys love the swords and pirates, little girls love the graceful ballerina, and everyone loves the happy ending.
The very Tampa-ness of “Gaspar” is what kept it alive in locals’ hearts for many years. Participants from the original show contacted Fleming to ask if he thought revitalizing the show was possible; he jumped at the chance. A year-and-a-half of planning, scheduling, and rehearsing puts the show back on stage this January during the Gasparilla festivities.
In the 16 years since Gaspar ballet was last performed, Christopher Fleming has been hard at work choreographing and running companies in New York City, Philadelphia and elsewhere. He has created many ballets including the city-specific Edgar Allen Poe production that takes place in the poet’s hometown of Baltimore, and the Czech Republic’s ballet tribute to Anton Dvorak. He has worked in television, and he has been a much sought after judge and instructor.
While preparing for Gaspar’s return, Fleming taught free master classes on both sides of Tampa Bay. While that allowed him to share his love and knowledge with local dancers, it also gave him the opportunity to cast several promising dance students from both Gibbs and Blake High Schools and The Patel Conservatory in the coming production.
“Gaspar is a community-based event that will delight audiences, and benefit local charities. All proceeds from the shows will go to the Tampa Bay Chapter of the American Red Cross, Operation Homefront’s Florida Chapter, and Drew’s Shoes which provides dancewear and shoes to children in Tampa.
And the story-line is easy to follow. In typical boy-meets-girl fashion (Dad hates boy, wants to hang boy for piracy, etc.). Gaspar delights an audience that gets to clap and cheer for the hero! , the swashbuckling tale of true love and romance – set on the shores of Tampa Bay is returning.