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Whidbey Island Dance Theatre showcases versatility
The dancers of Whidbey Island Dance Theatre are ready to spread some enchantment with their production of Cinderella during the annual Dance & Choreography Showcase.
From Friday, April 26 through Sunday, April 28, the company will show its versatility in the beloved story ballet, as well as in eight short pieces ranging from jazz to contemporary styles.
“Whidbey Island Dance Theatre has been hard at work since we closed the curtain on our 20th anniversary of The Nutcracker, and we’re really proud of this year’s Cinderella and Dance & Choreography Showcase,” said Amy Lehman, assistant artistic director. Lehman is in her second year at the helm of the company alongside long-time artistic director Char Brown.
Audiences, Lehman said, will be impressed with the body of work that will be shown.
“I’m amazed at how versatile our dancers are at ending one ballet and immediately switching gears to another,” she said. “It’s like there’s a switch in their brain that turns off Nutcracker-mode, and turns on Cinderella-mode. This is great training for any of them that want to continue in the dance world, as most professional companies perform several works throughout the year, but it’s great to see our young dancers handling it so well.”
The dancers, most of them still in middle or high school, spent countless hours preparing for the spring concert that has them going from contemporary or jazz to classical ballet in no time.
“Their brains and bodies are being pushed to the max,” Lehman said. “Char and I are quite proud of the fact that the large majority of our company doesn’t neglect their schoolwork and gets good grades which is no small feat, considering how many hours they spend taking classes and rehearsing.”
WIDT has been developing its production of the ballet over the last few years.
The ballet to the score by composer Sergey Prokofiev has everything audiences expect: evil stepsisters, a pumpkin carriage, the glass slipper, and of course Cinderella will go from sweeping floors to sweeping the price off his feet.
“This year’s show is special because we have Asha (Asharaine Machala, who was instrumental during the early Nutcracker years) back choreographing on the company again,” Lehman said.
She choreographed a brand-new court scene, as well as a pas de deux on Cinderella and the prince.
“She had taken a very long hiatus,” Lehman said, “and probably thought she was out of the Whidbey dance scene, but is now back, working her magic on the company once again. She’s a phenomenal choreographer, and just seems to have a knack for knowing how to make dancers look good, while still creating a work of art.”
Machala, who returned to choreographing for WIDT after ten years, is inspired by what the latest generation of dancers brings to stage.
“They are such strong dancers: I call the girls Amazons sometimes — with love — because they tackle movement so strongly … All in all, I am blessed to be able to do this once more, again,” she said.
Lehman said this year the leads are danced by experienced company dancers and guest artists. Longtime company member Elliauna Madsen is Cinderella. Cornish College of the Arts senior Will Christopher is the prince and alumna Brittany Falso returns as the Fairy Godmother.
“We are fortunate enough to have William Christopher joining us as the prince, and the pas de deux between him and Cinderella is technical and challenging, but yet still charming and sweet,” Lehman said.
“Charlene and I watched them in rehearsal a few weeks ago, and they have a natural chemistry between the two of them — after the rehearsal Will gave Elli a hug and told her what a great job she had done … a very sweet moment between dance partners,” she added.
Cinderella is eager to bring it to stage.
“What I really like most about ballet is how steps that seem so complicated can come together and form this elegant and simple form of art,” Madsen said.
Madsen has been part of the Cinderella production from the beginning.
This will be her final performance at WIDT — for now.
“I have enjoyed all the years that I have spent performing with WIDT. It’s like my home away from home. Doing this last production of my high school years is going to be difficult and I’m really going to miss it.”
Small adjustments have been made to the roles of a couple of other beloved characters.
“We have changed the role of the stepsisters a little bit this year, to bring out the naturally hilarious combination of senior dancer Caitlin Christensen and freshman dancer Faith O’Brochta,” Lehman said. “They just so happen to be the tallest and shortest dancers in our full company, and our choreographers have done a great job playing up the natural oddities between the two of them.”
The showcase portion of the show, which features short pieces of choreography showing many styles of dance will underscore the depth of the company.
“We have eight showcase pieces this year,” Lehman said. The show will feature work by resident choreographers Lehman, Machala and Jamee Pitts; guest choreographer Lara Littlefield; an emerging work by Madsen; and a restaging of a piece by Ayesha Fuentes.
The annual alumni dance is set by Karli Hunter and Pitts to the popular songs “Thrift Shop” and “Harlem Shake” and promises to become another audience favorite.
Both the ballet and the showcase are evidence of what Whidbey Island Dance Theatre is all about: developing outstanding young dancers and choreographers.
Lehman said choreographer Pitts is a prime example of this. Pitts who took her first dancing steps at her mother Char Brown’s dance studio has become an acclaimed teacher and choreographer herself.
“She’s Char’s daughter, and seems to have gotten the dancing gene in the family, but has made a name for herself by growing up into an amazing artist,” Lehman said about her friend. “We had an outside adjudicator (Kristen Legg of Redd Legg Dance of Seattle) come and evaluate our company in February, and she had extremely high praises for Pitts’ choreography.”
Furthermore, many of the young dancers performing in the WIDT shows go on to study dance and perform all over the country as professional dancers.
Don’t miss the talented dancers in action during the four shows. To rub elbows with the performers, the company invites all to a Sunday Brunch, April 28 catered by Whidbey Institute Chef Christyn Johnson. Cinderella characters will roam the dining room and be available for photos.