One of the main thrusts of “The Snow Queen” is about what one friend will do for another.
South Whidbey dance gurus Asharaine Machala and Charlene Brown have been friends ever since they founded Whidbey Island Dance Theatre in 1991. That friendship explains Machala’s current predicament of coming out of her quite-satisfying retirement to revive “The Snow Queen,” a theatrical ballet she conceived and choreographed for the first time 18 years ago.
At a recent rehearsal at Whidbey Island Dance Theatre’s space in the Langley Middle School building, Machala answered the looming question: “Why now?”
“Well, I didn’t want to do it,” she said flatly. “I was retired.”
Here she smiled and grabbed her red, pixie-cut hair in a gesture of: “I don’t-know-why-the-heck-I’m-doing-this-again!”
“Finally I said ‘Yes’ and I don’t know why,” she said, laughing. “Well, Charlene asked me. That’s why.”
“The Snow Queen” is based on Hans Christian Andersen’s coming-of-age story about friendship and innocence, love and strength in the face of hardship. The 90-minute show opens at 7:30 p.m. Friday, April 4, at Whidbey Island Center for the Arts in Langley and plays through Sunday, April 13, in the first collaborative production between WIDT and WICA.
Machala moved to the island in 1989, and came out of retirement — the first time — when she and Brown brought the dance world to the South End. Eventually, Machala said she needed a change from the company’s mainstay, “The Nutcracker,” and created “The Snow Queen” in 1996, which became the first production at the then-brand new Whidbey Island Center for the Arts in 1998.
“When I did it originally I was cognizant of what the needs of the company were,” Machala said. “Now Charlene has a fairly young company of girls. They don’t have a lot of experience, so I’ve adapted everything for them.”
Machala takes advantage of the youth of the ensemble and has created playful, theatrical movement that is fun to watch, as are the supernumerary characters, played by a gaggle of adult actors who add a theatrical corps playing demons, townspeople and other characters necessary to the high-stakes drama of the story.
This classic tale focuses on the disappearance of a young boy named Kai — Zane Vanderwood — who falls victim to the troll-mirror, a magical mirror that splinters glass fragments of ugliness and evil on all those who come under its spell. The Snow Queen — Amy Berto-Lehman — promises to free Kai if he can spell “eternity” with the pieces of ice in her palace. Kai’s best friend Gerda — Faith O’Brochta — is heartbroken and goes out to look for him. This is her quest.
In addition to the younger dancers, Machala is lucky to also have several experienced dancers to fill the larger soloist roles. During this rehearsal, Chelsea Mathews Jensen, playing “The Spirit of the Rose,” and O’Brochta as Gerda were running through the paces of a wonderful, fast-moving duet; it was full of lightness and extension and the urgency of Gerda’s journey to find her friend.
“Faith’s got this organic drama in her,” Machala said of O’Brochta. “She’s also got a great memory; a great kinesthetic sense, too,” she added.
Vanderwood, the excellent hip-hop and tap dancer, takes his first romantic lead as Kai. The choreographer said he does a stand-up job as the boy who has been cursed by the demonic mirror.
“He becomes involved in the perfection of the world,” she said, explaining how easy it is for the Snow Queen to take Kai to her elemental world of snow and ice, and how he could be there forever unless Gerda rescues him. It’s Gerda’s job to bring Kai back to his emotional self, the boy who was her friend.
“The only way she can save him is with her tears and love,” Machala said.
The choreographer said that besides Brown’s prodding, other people in the community had mentioned a revival time and again. Brown said the timing was right.
“WICA had asked me if I had anything for April and coincidentally I had just recently pulled out the backdrops from “The Snow Queen,” which had not been unrolled since 1998. They were beautiful; no cracks or anything. It just seemed like it was meant to be,” Brown said.
Even though she had to come out of retirement again, Machala said that she sees the production as a gift to the community.
“Dancers who were in it years ago would come up to me and tell me how much it affected them,” Machala said. “That was so cool — that it would be that meaningful to people. You always hope that what you give to people will be carried forward again.”