Xuan Cheng dances title role in Oregon Ballet Theatre show, which stages Thursday-Sunday, Feb. 21-23 at Keller Auditorium

COURTESY: BLAINE TRUITT COVERT - Xuan Cheng dances the lead role in the first casting of 'Cinderella' by Oregon Ballet Theatre. She performed as Cinderella in 2015 with Brian Simcoe as the prince.Growing up China, Xuan Cheng knew all about "Cinderella" — contrary to the perception that China censors everything from the west.

"It was my first principal role. It means a lot to me," says Cheng, who's playing the fairy tale rags-to-riches character in Oregon Ballet Theatre's "Cinderella."

"This is my second time doing it for Oregon Ballet Theatre; I did it for the first time in 2015. It's always nice to revisit the role. I love story ballet, and I've always felt like I have a connection (to Cinderella), even though I don't have the same exact life story."

Cheng left her hometown at age 10 to attend ballet school in China. So there are the themes, as in "Cinderella," of missing parents and being lonely, and "sweeping the broom," meaning working hard, and "when you're young you dream of the future, and as a baby ballerina in China I dreamed about dancing in the west through different theaters around the world and traveling."

As part of the first casting of Ben Stevenson's "Cinderella," she'll dance in the 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 21, and 7:30 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 23, shows at Keller Auditorium. Ansa Cappizi dances as Cinderella at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 22, and Eva Burton performs her at 2 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 23.

The story: Cinderella suffers cruelty at the hands of her stepmother and stepsisters, but is loving enough to give a poor beggar bread, only to find out the beggar is actually her fairy grandmother who wants to grant her most fervent wish — to go to the prince's ball. Her magical night unfolds before a midnight deadline to tell the prince who she really is, or return to her cruel life. OBT's show is full of humor and romanticism.

Cheng, who joined OBT in 2011, says that "Cinderella" is popular in China. "We read all the fairy tales," such as 'Cinderella,' 'Sleeping Beauty' and 'Snow White,'" she says.

"When I was growing up, we got a lot of information from the west. I was born in the 1980s, and in ballet school you have to have an open mind. Ballet is from the west. We studied academic, and we tried to get as much videotape as possible. Visitors would always bring back information. I also had a teacher who was Russian."

Male dancers play the stepsisters in OBT's "Cinderella."

"It brings out the dramatic effect — they are mean and ugly," Cheng says. "That's how they make it, like, 'Oh, poor Cinderella.'

"She's actually really brave. And she's a woman, too (and not a child). There's always a degree of sadness, or she's dreaming about something. She's not just a little girl, she's a woman.

"It's fun to do it, because now I'm more mature and I have more experience," she adds. "I want to discover the role deeper and have more layers. It's always nice to work on something you already have done and see what new elements you can bring out and nuances."

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