Students join professional dancers in ‘Snow White’ at E.J. Thomas Hall

By Kerry Clawson
Beacon Journal staff writer

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Brooke Wesner is the stepmother in Neos Dance Theatre and the University of Akron's production of "Snow White and the Magic Mirror: A Grimm Tale" on Saturday, April 19 at E.J. Thomas Hall. (Photo courtesy Bryce Millkin)
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It’s not often that young ballet students get to play evil Minions — or Dark Reflections, for that matter.

Dancers from the Dance Institute as well as the University of Akron Dance Program will dance alongside Neos Dance Theatre professionals in the new Snow White and the Magic Mirror: A Grimm Tale, which doesn’t shy away from the fairy tale’s darkness.

The dance, dubbed magically modern by creator Bobby Wesner, will receive its world premiere in two performances Saturday at the University of Akron’s E.J. Thomas Hall. The collaborative piece has been two years in the making and will include 12 Neos dancers along with 35 students in Akron.

When Wesner, artistic director for Neos, describes his contemporary ballet, he uses the word “layering” quite a bit. That’s because he’s setting the dance in two different cities with two groups of students in both Akron and Findlay — the company’s largest collaborative venture yet. After Snow White’s world premiere in Akron this weekend, the company will reprise the dance April 25-26 in Findlay, where the company will work with about 40 young community dancers.

That means Neos is working with nearly 80 kids in total. Wesner, who described his dance as difficult both technically and emotionally, said the dancers in Akron and at the Findlay Academy of Ballet, who perform alongside the Neos dancers, are very well trained.

“A large part of our mission is just to stretch our arms out into the dance community as far as we can,” Wesner said.

This story ballet about overcoming adversity and finding redemption will star Stow native Jennifer Safonovs as Snow White, who ends up surpassing her Stepmother the Queen in beauty.

The envious Queen sends Snow White off to be killed by a Huntsman, who spares her. The Queen uses witchcraft to devise several forms of treachery against Snow White, who she sees as her rival. True love ends up saving Snow White, but the wicked Stepmother still wars against the young woman at her wedding, only to be punished by being forced to dance in burning shoes.

“I did not want to shy away from allowing the evil nature of the Stepmother, the true evil nature of the vanity of the Stepmother,” Wesner said.

Neos dancers are embedded along with the student Minions, who are like shadows coming out of the dark to entrap Snow White and the Huntsman. Seven dancers portray the Mirror’s Dark Reflections, which are evil forces that do the Stepmother’s will.

In this multimedia, interactive performance, the Mirror is a projection on the back wall of the stage.

“It takes on almost this other life of its own,” Wesner said.

Some of the fairy tale’s action will be revealed by dancers live onstage interacting with recorded projections of dancers on the back screen. The projections and mirror effects, designed by Lindsay Mulhollen and Andy Gardner, end up running like a full-length movie behind the dance.

The younger Dance Institute kids play animals and sprouts in the woods, while Neos dancers Erin Buck, Katie Edmonds, Mary-Elizabeth Fenn, Juliana Freude, Theresa Bonvissuto and Anna Trumbo play woodland fairies that are the equivalent of the dwarves from the Disney rendition of the story.

Borrowing from the Disney story, Wesner has the woodland fairies doing a dance around the diamond mine where they work. In this scene, called “The Diamond Act,” the style of dance is quite classical. Student dancers dressed in all white portray diamonds.

The scene where the Minions and Dark Reflections of the Mirror chase the Huntsman is a powerful grand allegro section with big jumps performed by advanced students, said Christina Foisie, manager of the Dance Institute and a UA dance teacher.

“It’s incredibly valuable for the students as part of not only their continued training and building that strength, but also artistically, working under the context of a narrative,” Foisie said. “It’s very creative and very fun.”

Wesner and his wife Brooke, co-founder of the company, have been guest choreographing at UA and guest teaching at the Dance Institute for a few years now. Company member Freude formerly studied at the Dance Institute and Buck is a UA dance graduate.

New to Neos in the last three to 12 months are Alec Guthrie as the Prince, Ethan Michael Lee as the Huntsman and Bonvissuto.

Costumes are designed by Inda Blatch-Geib, while lighting is designed by Dennis Dugan and set by Kevin Haring.

The dance will include diverse music ranging from calypso sounds to the music of Tchaikovsky and Barber. Recorded and live music will alternate throughout.

Live musicians will include UA Steel Drum Band members Colin Dees, Austin Ferguson, Jordan Morrison and David Singhaus; as well as pianist Megan Denman, violinist Allison Lint and sopranos Josephine Suwanpoh and Vandi Terrill.

Arts writer Kerry Clawson may be reached at 330-996-3527 or kclawson@thebeaconjournal.com.


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