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Cesar Corrales, left, Ethan Colangelo, centre, and Liam Redhead listen to instructions at the Toronto audition for Billy Elliot.
Cesar Corrales, left, Ethan Colangelo, centre, and Liam Redhead listen to instructions at the Toronto audition for Billy Elliot.

Four feet 10 inches of hopes, dreams and ambition Add to ...

Stephen Early, 13, flew up from Massachusetts with his mother and two dance teachers. Aidan Thies-Thompson, 11, left his Ottawa home with his mother, Jennifer, at 6 a.m to make the drive to Toronto. A third came in from Port Hope.

In total, about three dozen boys - all aged between 9 and 12 - turned up Saturday morning at a local dance studio to audition for Billy Elliot: The Musical - winner of 10 Tony awards a week ago and a hit show on Broadway and in London's West End.

They were responding to an open audition call made by the show's producers for the title character's role - a motherless, 11-year-old north England boy who dreams of becoming a ballet dancer in a macho, hard-luck society. Three Billys rotate the part in the New York and London productions.

The producers - aware that growth spurts, voice changes and puberty - will eventually rob them of their star performers, regularly hold auditions to keep more Billys in the development pipeline. Those chosen undergo months of training in acting, singing and dancing to prepare for the role.

However, even complemented by other theatrical skills, ballet is not enough. The producers are looking for boys not much taller than 4 feet 10 inches.

The show has not yet been staged in Canada, although Toronto's Mirvish organization has tried to entice its producers to mount it here.

There is speculation that they might do so for the 2010-11 season.

Several of those who turned up Saturday are already stars in the juvenile dance world.

At 10, Toronto's Callum Findlay-White has been immersed in the jazz, tap and classical genres for seven years and will soon audition for the full-time National Ballet School.

"I love doing it," says Callum, who has appeared in The Nutcracker the past three years. "It's hard work, but really fun. I'd like to eventually audition for the national company."

Stephen Early, who has been dancing for seven years, caught the eye of an American casting director affiliated with the show who advised him to attend the Toronto audition.

"Stephen is a triplet," explains his mother Camille, "and when his sisters started dance, so did he. He really took to it."

His dance teacher, Karen Carberry, said that "when Stephen's on stage, there's something about him that just makes you watch him."

Several of those auditioning are enrolled full-time in the National Ballet School, including Cesar Corrales, 12, the son of a professional dancer who once taught with Montreal's La La La Human Steps, Ethan Colangelo, 11, and Dash Grundy, 12. The three recently shared the lead role of Misha in The Nutcracker.

Ethan's mother, Laurie Colangelo, said she was apprehensive about the notion of her son having to go to New York or London for training. "It's sort of one step at a time, just come out for the experience," she said. "Dancing happened very fast for him. He'd only been dancing a short time when he decided to audition for the National. He was very determined. Ethan steers his own ship."

Rita Baiana, mother of 11-year Joseph, said she started her son dancing six years ago to help him develop self-esteem and motor skills. Now, it's a passion. If he ends up in Billy Elliot, she'd be content. "You have to follow your kids' dreams. If that's where it takes him, I will give it my all to be there with him."

In the musical, Billy must overcome the sneering derision of those who consider ballet for boys a sissy's art. Most of those who auditioned Saturday said that hasn't been an issue for them, although one mother did insist that "it's still very difficult to be a boy in dance," and that none of her son's friends knew that he took dance lessons.

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