Eric Pagnano's the underwater guy, the mouse and the rabbit understudy.

"My main role is the Aqua Prince, but I am also the dormouse and the White Rabbit double," said Eric, a Chatfield home school student who has studied ballet and will be part of the cast of Rochester Children's Dance Theatre's (CDT) production of "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" this month at the Mayo Civic Center in Rochester.

Eric explained how he evolved from a boy in the audience to ballet dancer.

"I became involved with dance in the summer of 2012 during a Rochester Children's Dance Theatre summer intensive," he explained. "That intensive was led by Allen Fields, the emeritus artistic director of the Minnesota Ballet. I really just needed something to do last summer, so I signed up, and from then on loved it. Allen Fields' enthusiasm really made it fun and has inspired me to dance."

Eric now studies privately under Fields, learning classical ballet. "Ballet is the key to all other types of dance. Ballet is the hardest and most difficult - if you can do ballet, you can do all other dance types," he added.

At 14, Eric has one of Minnesota's finest joining him for lessons in the family room each week.

Fields' served 15 years as the artistic executive director of the Minnesota Ballet in Duluth, Minn., retiring in 2007 to become artistic director emeritus. As artistic director emeritus of the Minnesota Ballet, he keeps his connection with the Ballet by teaching, consulting, and doing special projects.

Fields trained at the North Carolina School of the Arts and the American Ballet Theatre School in New York, becoming a principal dancer for the Cleveland San Jose Ballet and performing with the Ohio Ballet, Eglevsky Ballet, Atlanta Ballet, in Chicago and the Hubbard Street Dance Company. He has received many honors over the years and has served as the director for many popular performances.

In addition to studying with Fields, Rochester Children's Dance Theatre affords Pagnano the opportunity to participate in dance productions locally instead of having to travel to larger cities.

Fields complimented Pagnano and said he has progressed remarkably well in his dancing since September. "His natural gifts are going to put him in the top 10 percent of dancers and every time I teach him, he shows positive progression and the love for the art," he explained.

He is confident that Pagnano will accept the challenges of being on stage and will make the transition from studio practice to performing onstage very well. "Eric has a passion for the stage that was evident from the very first time I saw him on stage," Fields said. "The challenge for him is bringing his technical proficiency in line with his creative self."

The Rochester Children's Dance Theater was founded in 1987 with the express purpose of creating quality theatrical dance performances, and throughout the past 25 years has proudly fulfilled that mission. Dancers at the studio come from a wide variety of dance training and experiences, and are chosen for each production through auditions open to dancers ages 5 years old through 18 years. As a company, the theater explores the art of dance and shares this wonderful experience with others in a positive and uplifting well as the chance to experience the creative process that goes into staging a production.

Eric said he finds just about everything about dancing in a performance exciting. He specifically added "the people, the performing, and the hard work...without the hard work there would be no performing."

He learned of the CDT performance of "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" last summer while attending the CDT dance intensive, and was captivated by the choreography it would possess.

Eric related, "Dance is a performing art. In other words, the whole idea of dance is performing. This is what we practice for. My involvement in 'Alice's Adventures in Wonderland' is my first experience in seeing how a major production is pulled together."

He added that he is fascinated to see the involvement of so many people, all of whom are led by the creative genius that is Allen Fields.

"My entire reason for dancing in 'Alice' is to experience the world of dance theatre under the expertise of Allen Fields," Eric added. "And I like getting to know other people and learning through them."

He's particularly pleased to have the opportunity to portray different characters in different scenes and be able to explore his talents. He's intrigued by his role in "Alice" because "the role of 'Aqua Prince' has never been performed by anyone else." "What I like about my roles is the diversity of the different scenes. In some scenes, it's a lot of acting, while in others, it's a lot of dancing. Progressively, throughout the show, the audience will see dancing and acting coincide. Ballet, while it is about dancing, is also about telling a story through mime, body language, and acting. If you go, you will see the whole story of 'Alice in Wonderland' told exclusively through dancing and acting."

Eric describes himself as "new, but dedicated" to dance, and now that he's training and taking the stage in "Alice," he's set a career course for himself, an ambitious but rewarding endeavor that he hopes will take him across the nation and perhaps even around the globe.

"Dance is the job I want to do," he explained. "I would like to become a professional ballet dancer. It's a fun, but very demanding job. I'd get to tour the world for free if I get into a good company."

However, his other aspirations might still lead him into animal science since professional dancers' careers typically last until they're approximately in their mid-30s.

"I have for some time thought about pursuing a veterinary career," Eric explained. "I've always loved animals and thought I'd like to do something working with them. Most dancers go on to pursue other careers after they leave dance - so perhaps I will be able to do both."

Besides dance and animal science, Eric also said he's been interested in playing the cello, competitive Arabian horse riding and shooting sports.

But dance, especially the ballet, is his dream, beginning as the Aqua Prince, the dormouse and the White Rabbit double in a journey down Lewis Carroll's rabbit hole, into a land where the Cheshire Cat, Queen of Hearts and the Mad Hatter all wear dancing shoes.

"Alice's Adventures in Wonderland," featuring Fields' original choreography, will be presented at Rochester's Mayo Civic Center Presentation Hall, 30 Civic Center Drive, on Friday, March 8, at 7 p.m., Saturday, March 9, at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m., and Sunday, March 9, at 2 p.m. Tickets are available at the Mayo Civic Center Box Office at (507) 328-2220 or through Ticketmaster. Children 12 and under are $15 in advance or $16 at the door. Adults are $17 in advance or $18 at the door.

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