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CULTURE MATTERS: Dancers’ stage fractured fairy tales
JACKSON HOLE, WYO – Most are familiar with the story of the “Princess and the Pea”: prince tries to find a bride by testing whether his suitors are real princesses by placing a pea beneath multiple mattresses, reasoning a true princess would be sensitive enough to feel the pea buried deep below the padding. Now add in Snow White, her seven dwarves, Cinderella and Alice from Wonderland and you have the Dancers’ Workshop version of the classic tale, “The Princess and the Pea: A Fragmented Fairy Tale.”
The story, written by Bob Berky, comes alive on the stage with 105 dancers ranging in ages from six to adults, said Erin Roy, Junior Repertory Director at Dancers’ Workshop.
Like the production itself, its origins are unusual, beginning with the costumes and the set. Staff at Dancers’ Workshop became aware of costumes and set pieces created originally for the Boston Ballet and currently owned by the Eugene Ballet. They fell in love. While they didn’t use the ballet company’s story, they rented their costumes and set pieces, including a 2,000-pound bed.
Berky’s version begins with a prince looking for his perfect princess. When one can’t be found, the court jester, played by Ruby Jones, is sent to the lands of other fairy tales to bring back a suitable bride.
The show features one speaking role, a storyteller, played by senior Ariella Spence. Spence, a dancer, had surgery earlier this year and was unable to take an active role, instead narrating and weaving together the story as it moves among fairy tales.
On their quest, they kidnap Cinderella, danced by Sadie Larsen, right before she meets her prince. In Wonderland Alice, danced by Maddie Peck, is courted as a candidate to take back to the prince. The searchers awaken Snow White, portrayed by Anna Bowdler, with a camera’s flash from a photographer played by Esther Grossman. Filling out the stage are the seven dwarves, mad hatter and evil stepsisters.
For Jones, a senior, the show is like revisiting her years at Dancers’ Workshop, when she performed in similar stories including taking the lead in “Alice in Wonderland.”
“It’s going back into the worlds we’ve created in the past years,” she said.
The production features several kinds of dance, including a number at the end that is almost hip hop, Jones said. Jones’ character dances in a modern style, a type of dance she hopes to pursue professionally. Jones will audition for dance programs this spring including Juilliard and the London School of Contemporary Dance.
The performance is typical of most Dancers’ Workshop productions in that it blends professional production qualities, including an appearance by Contemporary Dance Wyoming, as well as a variety of ages and abilities, allowing the audience to see how students progress. And while Jones performs a melancholy solo, overall the tone is positive, and the story has a happy ending.
However, the story takes its time getting there. “There’s quite a few twists,” Berky said. “You need a chiropractor to get through it.”
The bed and pea come late in the story, Berky said, but they play a crucial role in the story’s ultimate twist.
No spoiler here. Roy provides one hint, however. “If there is a moral to the story it’s that often what we are looking for is closer than we thought,” she said.
“The Princess and the Pea: A Fragmented Fairy Tale,” plays at 7 p.m. on Friday and Saturday, 1 p.m. on Saturday and 4 p.m. on Sunday at Center Theater in Center for the Arts, $25 adults and $15 students.