CUYAHOGA FALLS - The audience will have to take a deep breath to keep pace with the Ballet Excel Ohio dancers as they create the world premiere of “The Snow Queen” ballet to the fast-paced choreography by Tom Gold.
The story, based on the Hans Christian Anderson fairy tale that inspired Disney’s “Frozen,” will be performed March 14 and 15 at the Akron Civic Theatre. Members of Ballet Excel Ohio have been rehearsing “The Snow Queen” since August when leads were cast. Anyone who thinks ballets are slow, technical-heavy programs will be surprised not only by the complex dance steps and the speed of the movements, but also by the colorful costumes Gold designed for the lead roles and the headpieces designed in collaboration with Gold for all dancers.
The story begins with the King and Queen welcoming a baby girl, who becomes the Snow Queen. At her coronation, she removes her gloves and reveals her powers. The celebration turns to fear and anger as the townsfolk force them to flee. In the village are two sisters, Anna and Kai, who go to pick berries but become separated. The Snow Queen captures Kai, and Anna searches for her but is distracted by the Queen of Flowers. The Snow Queen has the Snowman help her celebrate her new powers but freezes Kia. Anna begs for her sister’s release and cries over her frozen form. The Snow Queen’s cold heart melts and the sisters are reunited.
Mia Klinger, Ballet Excel Ohio artistic director, said she’s worked with Gold, a 21-year member of New York City Ballet, many times and she wants the ballet choreography to be challenging and have something for the dancers to work toward for show night. Gold saw a couple of the younger dancers twirling and incorporated the bounce and spin into the dance, which turned out to be one of the more difficult steps for the group of younger girls to accomplish, she said. Dancers range from 8 to 18 years in age and train at Nan Klinger’s Excellence in Dance Studio at 2315 State Road in Cuyahoga Falls, founded in 1975 and celebrating its 44th season.
“Tom’s choreography is very fast and musical, and the dancers have to understand the music instead of counting the steps,” Mia Klinger said. “The kids love it and rose to the occasion.”
The week of the show dancers will go to the Akron Civic Theatre Tuesday and take two days to place the sets and make transitions and block the dance, Klinger said. By Thursday they are ready to dance through the ballet. On Friday they perform a sensory-friendly dance for children who may not be able to enjoy a regular performance. They keep the music softer and have different lighting to prevent over-stimulation.
“We want them to have the opportunity, and we want the dancers to give back to children who don’t normally have the dance experience,” Klinger said. “I love dancers with a warm heart, and it’s part of their training to give to the community.”
The cast of dancers are from the local communities with various years of training and extra studies. Many describe the show as “magical” and look forward to performing at the Akron Civic Theatre.
Jonathan McCray, 13, attends Miller South and portrays the King and the Snow Queen Cavalier which requires him to act regal while dancing.
“The parts are very challenging at first, but I’ve worked hard on the dancing and the characters,” Jonathan said. “The story is great and the costumes are beautiful.”
The ballet has fast dancing throughout and Jonathan admits he is tired after performing all the jumping and dancing required for the parts.
Vivian Gray, 14, of Cuyahoga Falls, attends Miller South and portrays the Queen and Queen of the Flowers.
“With two different characters I have different reactions and interact with others,” Vivian said. “I’ve learned to pick up choreography quickly. Tom [Gold] did a great job with this ballet. The audience will enjoy the show, the music, and the costumes.”
When Vivian saw a performance at the Akron Civic Center, it made her want to become a dancer.
“I want to inspire new dancers,” Vivian said. “It’s a good experience and you learn a lot of things. I have a great group of friends in this company, and it’s like a second family.”
Maggie Stone, 15, attends Cuyahoga Falls High School and portrays the adult Snow Queen.
“The Snow Queen is supposed to be mean, and I have a hard time playing mean,” Maggie said. “I have a lot of hard steps but it’s a fun role. It’s been a good challenge this year.”
She said she loves performing and looks forward to performing at the Akron Civic Theatre, a once in a lifetime experience.
“I love to show this art form to people,” Maggie said. “Getting to play a lead role teaches you how hard you have to work and as a leader, you help the other players do their parts.”
Elizabeth Coughlin, 14, attends Revere High School and portrays Kai, the sister taken by the Snow Queen. Elizabeth didn’t dance during rehearsal because of an injury but hopes to be ready for the performance. Emma Simms, 16, of Stow-Munroe Falls High School, danced the part of Kia and her own during rehearsal.
“In this role, there is a lot of fast parts, especially with her sister, Anna,” Elizabeth said. “I interact with the other characters a lot, and they’re my best friends in real life so it’s fun.”
Everyone has worked hard to perfect the dancing and add personality to the characters, she said.
“We work all year for it but you can never make ballet perfect. There’s always more to add,” Elizabeth said. “I love making people happy doing what I love. It’s a fun show and entertaining.”
Lex Zorich, 13, of Cuyahoga Falls attends Miller South and portrays the Snowman. Lex said he has to pay more attention to the character and learn the personality of the Snowman as well as different kinds of comedy.
“I have to be funny and there are lots of fast turns,” Lex said. “It’s a fun-filled dance telling a story about the friendship of two girls, and it’s really heart warming.”
Rebecca Banig, 13, attends Tallmadge Middle School and is a flower, snow attendant and palace attendant. She said she’s excited to see the show come together after everyone’s hard work and looks forward to the performance.
“The nerves go away when you hit the stage and you don’t worry about it being over because it was a great time,” Rebecca said.
Jade Blankenship, 13, attends Hudson Middle School and portrays Anna.
“It’s been a challenge but I’m able to dance with passion,” Jade said. “I don’t just do the steps. I perform how the character feels and portray the part.”
Jade performs a solo dance where she searches for her missing sister and is desperate to find her.
“Performing is always the best part of all the work,” Jade said. “The experience is amazing.”
Ellie Ferry, 13, attends Immaculate Heart of Mary and portrays the young Snow Queen.
“I like throwing snow out to represent her powers and when the gloves come off, it’s magic,” she said.
Ellie said she’s good at picking up stuff and gets better every year with the training at Ballet Excel Ohio.
“I feel like the ballet is magical and brings the story alive on stage,” Ellie said.
Other studio dancers portray the court, villagers, flowers, bumblebees, snow attendants, snowflakes and palace attendants and include Lilyann Arnold, Jenna Harris, Hannah Kennell, Nadia Lanham, Ariana Moneskey-Jones, Wendy Moreno-Garcia, Madeline Pierce, Ellie Pildner, Darya Olefir, Madison Teets, Brooke Wagner, Clara Woods and Adalyn Zorich. Apprentice dancers include Isabel Banig, Toney Kight, Anastasia Moirano, Layla Motley, Uniqje Tavnello, Savannah Wyatt and Teruko Hayashi. Guest dancers are Caroline Bhujel, Anamei Kulieke and Maddy Epps.
In addition to the performance of “The Snow Queen,” dancers will perform “I Love Shapes” choreographed by Tom Evert. Scholarships are available to students through Reach out and Dance and the non-profit organization welcomes donations.
More information is available at www.balletexcelohio.org
Gannett reporter Laura Freeman can be reached at 330-541-9434 or firstname.lastname@example.org