A Tampa Bay Treasure found in Gaspar: A Pirate Fantasy


The idea was sparked in 1993 when Christopher Fleming observed a cluster of pirate-revelers romping through his Hyde Park neighborhood. Little did he know, having just recently moved to Tampa, that the spectacle was in celebration of the Gasparilla invasion. Catching a whiff of community enthusiasm, Fleming went to work researching the event. On finding out Gasparilla lacked an artistic element, Fleming gave way to creating one.

“Something with that much interest, how could the arts not be involved?” Fleming said.

Fleming got to work writing a plot for a ballet. “The tale is already fictionist, so I had a lot of freedom in creating Gaspar”.

After seeking thumbs up from Dr. Golstein, Tampa physician by day — composer by night, the dynamic duo set to work writing a score and plot for the ballet. One year later, in 1994, Gaspar: A Pirate Fantasy premiered to a sold out crowd.

The ballet was envisioned as an annual event but was lost with the demise of the Tampa Bay Ballet Company. Gaspar would not see the hanging lights again for another sixteen years.

“The ballet was so beautiful, it haunted me,” said Sharon Sanchez, an original dancer in the production. “And no one remembered it except me. I couldn’t believe we’d lost it and I was determined to bring it back.”

It was as if the ballet knew its own magic. Things fell into place rather easily. Fleming, having just finished the first season with his company BalletFleming, was all aboard for leaving Philadelphia in the dead of winter. Accordingly, Goldstein happily agreed to update the music for free. Auditions were held, cast lists were posted, rehearsals started and last January, Gaspar: A Pirate’s Fantasy returned to the bay, raising $60,000 for local charities.

It was the first year of what Sanchez once again hopes will become an annual tradition of involving and also giving back to the community.

“We want this to be Tampa Bay’s ‘Nutcracker,’ ‘” she said.

See the ballet on Sun., Jan 29, at 1 and 6 p.m. at the Straz Center for the Performing Arts, Tampa. Tickets start at $19 and are available online at strazcenter.org or by calling 813-229-7827.

What happens when you blend together artistic talent, localism and Tampa Bay’s annual pirate extravaganza? You come out with Gaspar: A Pirate Fantasy. The swash-buckling, pirate-reveling, locally crafted ballet that's become an annual tradition and is set for production this upcoming January.

Fantasy is certainly one word to describe Tampa Bay’s original, pirate-filled dance piece. A dream-come-true was the description given by 12-year old Claire Franco during the Gaspar Ballet preview on Oct. 5 at Freefall Theatre.

Franco was cast in the ballet earlier this fall after impressing dance director, Christopher Fleming during a Master Class he was teaching at the St. Petersburg YMCA.

“She stood out to him. When he asked her to do a cartwheel round off, she put her hands on her hips and asked “How many”?" Kelly Marshall, YMCA’s dance instructor, told a handful of non-profit recipients.

Casting local Tampa Bay for the ballet is a shared vision among Richard and Sharon Sanchez. The couple joined forces in 2008 in creating the Sanchez Family Foundation as a Florida Charitable Trust. The foundation’s primary focus is providing benefits and artistic opportunities to underprivileged children in the Tampa Bay area but also providing financial assistance to various non-profit programs throughout Florida.

Most recently, the foundation has supplied the initial funding for the Gaspar Ballet.

“Gasparilla is the perfect event in adding a family-friendly dimension. We believe that dance has a place in telling how the city of Tampa was invaded by the brave, daring private and fell in love” Sanchez stated.

Sharon Sanchez, along with director Christopher Fleming, told a spirited rendition of the ballet’s origin before the ballet’s preview.

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