In the ballet The Snow Maiden, more than 90 young dancers have the opportunity to lose themselves in a world of Russian villagers, mythical creatures and woodland flora and fauna.
The University of Akron Dance Institute will continue its tradition of performing the fanciful story ballet this weekend at E.J. Thomas Hall, with performances Saturday and Sunday.
Out of the Russian tradition, two legends of the Snow Maiden have evolved. This ballet follows the story of childless couple Caterina and Pavel, who long for a baby of their own. As the couple walks from their home in the forest to visit friends, they come across a mysterious woman who gives a beautiful baby doll to one of the village children.
In a scene where villagers mingle in a festive atmosphere of snowball fights, street tapping and vendors, Caterina and Pavel learn from a gypsy that they will one day be parents. The mysterious woman asks them what troubles them and assures them that their desires will be fulfilled.
She is revealed to be the Snow Queen, who summons her fairies to create a child, the Snow Maiden, who is wrapped in a veil of ice crystals. The Snow Queen presents the lovely Snow Maiden to Caterina and Pavel as their new daughter.
In the traditional format of a classical ballet, The Snow Maiden includes a number of divertissements, or sections created solely for dancing opportunities. These moments include dancers creating the effect of Dusk, Moonbeams lighting the family’s way home, and creatures of the night rejoicing in the forest.
Caterina and Pavel try to keep their beloved child warm but she is frightened by the heat of wearing a shawl or eating a bowl of porridge. She falls asleep outside and her father lovingly carries her inside to place her next to the fire. Enter the Fire King and Firebirds, and the Snow Maiden becomes a puddle on the floor.
The couple is horrified and asks the Snow Queen for help. Seeing that their love for their child is infinite, she summons her fairies to re-create the Snow Maiden. After presenting her with many gifts, the fairies create the greatest gift of all: the heart of a child. The story ends with the Snow Maiden rejoicing with her family and the entire village.
“It’s a wonderful story and it’s an alternative to some of the very well-known full-length ballets, like The Nutcracker and Coppelia,” Institute Manager Christina Foisie said. “It’s wonderful for the audience because it’s so charming.”
The Dance Institute first performed The Snow Maiden in 1998, produced by former director Lana Carroll Heylock with choreography by Jennifer Antes, MaryAnn Black, Andrew Carroll, Richard Dickinson, Roman and Tatyana Mazur, Patricia Luthy and Luc Vanier.
The production has become a biennual tradition. Over the years, the bulk of the ballet has remained the same as the original production, Foisie said. This year’s restaging is done by teachers Foisie, Black, Leslie Sullivan DelPrince, Kay Eichman, Mary Kay Finn, Pauline Howe, Frank Kosik and Julie Schullo.
The ballet, set to music by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky and Alexander Glazunov, showcases the institute’s dancers performing the curriculum from each of their respective classes, from pre-ballet introductory level all the way through advanced level. In addition to taking their core ballet classes last semester, students have been learning their choreography in separate Snow Maiden classes. (After the production is over, that class time converts to jazz for the rest of the school year.)
It’s a way for the students to slowly build on their choreography before all the classes come together about a month before the show to start running through the ballet.
“Anyone who’s enrolled in our program in those classes is given an opportunity to perform” in The Snow Maiden, Foisie said. “It’s really crafted very nicely.”
Each ballet class presents its technical skills within the framework of the show, including a sweet, two-minute section of frolicking woodland bunnies from the Beginner A class. The tiniest Pre-Ballet boys and girls depict winter flowers as well as the fruits and vegetables sold by a village vendor.
The ballet is carefully planned so that the youngest children from four different classes are split up, with two Pre-Ballet classes performing on Saturday and two on Sunday.
Starring in this romantic tale are Morgan Lippert, 15, of West Farmington in Trumbull County, as the Snow Maiden, Meredith Edwards, 17, of North Canton, as the Snow Queen, Kathleen Mundy, 16, of Akron, as Caterina, and Ryan DeAlexandro, 17, as Pavel. DeAlexandro is a Dance Institute graduate who dances with Verb Ballets.
Costumes, created by Janet Bolick, include colorful gypsy garb, sparkling white stars and fiery ensembles for the Fire King, Firebirds and Flames.
Upper-level students have the opportunity to assume a variety of roles. Institute graduate Frank Suncire, for example, dances the parts of a villager, the cavalier in the Moon Pas de Deux, the Pied Piper in a tap dance section and the Fire King.
The Dance Institute promises that the romantic ballet will appeal to all ages. Nothing’s too scary: When the Snow Maiden melts, she crumples in the arms of the Fire King, who carries her off.
In a rehearsal at Guzzetta Hall on Jan. 12, the dancers playing the Snow Queen’s fairies created a beautiful moment as they unspun Lippert from a swath of sparkly white fabric, creating the Snow Maiden. Next, she danced in mechanical fashion as her character learned to move like a human being.
Teacher Julie Schullo led the rehearsal as she and other institute instructors demonstrated some dance sections to students. Several of the teachers will continue the tradition this weekend of appearing as villagers along with their students.
Snowflakes in white tulle and wood nymphs in purple and green cavorted while bluebirds in brilliant blue and silver as well as foxes and deer in monochromatic brown waited in the wings. The foxes were quick, funny and lively as they plotted to catch a baby chick with big plumes on her back.
Audience members should know this production isn’t all ballet. The Pied Piper section showcases the institute’s tap students. A tacit, or unaccompanied, portion of the dance features four advanced tappers — a chance to show off their mad skills.
Arts writer Kerry Clawson may be reached at 330-996-3527 or firstname.lastname@example.org.