Special to Writing Dailey’s Organized Rambling!
A review of the Crooked Tree Arts Center School of Ballet’s production, Snow White.
This past Friday, I had the pleasure of experiencing a bit of snow in June. Blessedly, not the cold, crystalline, white flakes that seem to hamper Northern Michigan for more than 50% of the year–at least that’s what it feels like–but a very different kind of snow.
For their spring production, the Crooked Tree Arts Center School of Ballet elected to present their interpretation of the Grimm Brothers’ Snow White, incorporating all its students, ages 4 to 18, in the on-stage telling.
At the culmination of each school year, the CTAC School of Ballet creates a full-length ballet for the community to enjoy. I’ve had the pleasure of attending Trumpet of the Swan, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Cipollino, Le Petit Prince, and Flow, among others. And don’t get me started on how many times I’ve been an audience member for the annual Nutcracker performance. So, needless to say, I’m familiar with the caliber of work put forth and am always impressed by the students’ dedication and the direction of Artistic Director Heather Raue and instructor Karrie Benedict.
Snow White is an absolute classic, and honestly, the first story that comes to my mind when someone says ‘fairy tale.’ And like practically every fairy tale to grace this earth and our ears, there are many versions of Snow White to enjoy, but most follow the same premise with individual variations.
Normally, I would proceed under the assumption that we’re all acquainted with this story, but to make sure we’re all on the same page, let’s recap the most readily known adaptation: Walt Disney’s 1937 animated feature film Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (I really want it to be ‘dwarves,’ but that’s my preference for Tolkien coming out.).
Young princess Snow White is beloved by animals and humans alike, except for her stepmother, the Evil Queen–the vainest of the vain. A huntsman is tasked with dispatching Snow White at the Queen’s behest (because, jealousy), but he allows the princess to live and run away into the forest. Snow White ends up at the home of seven jewel-mining dwarfs, who take her in as their new cook/maid/mother hen. Naturally, the Evil Queen learns of Snow White’s still-beating heart, so she disguises herself as an old hag and gives the cottage-cleaning beauty a poison apple for a snack.
Long story short, Snow White succumbs to a death-like sleep, the Queen’s victory is short-lived because she falls to her death, the dwarfs honor their princess with a glass coffin, and a prince shows up and breaks the spell with love’s first kiss–de facto, we get a happily ever after (which, oddly enough is the title of another animated Snow White film from 1989).
This Disney-fied storyline is not wholly in line with the plot points of the 19th-century German version collected and recorded by the Grimm Brothers. The original Sneewittchen included intended cannibalism, attempted murder by suffocation, poison imbued through a hair comb, and a jostling of Snow White’s coffin, which dislodged the poison apple piece from her throat, thus, bringing her back to life–no kiss necessary. (Author Admission: I did have to go back and re-read the Grimm Brothers’ version as a refresher.)
Last weekend’s production at the Harbor Springs Performing Arts Center did an excellent job maintaining elements from the story Jacob and Wilhelm assembled while also inserting unique aspects to keep the retelling fresh.
An eclectic combination of classical and contemporary music set the performance’s overall tone, and sparse set pieces and props allowed audience members to focus on the dancers’ movements, which embodied grace, strength, athleticism, and creativity.
Over the years, I’ve watched many of the now upper-level students progress from the beginning and intermediate classes to the Pre-Professional Program, and their skill and dedication are astounding. Each dancer impressed me, but Payton Beckering’s portrayal of the Evil Queen was wickedly divine. Even with body language being her only mode of communication, you didn’t once question the emotion expressed. The Evil Queen’s vanity, rage, and conniving mind were palpable from my second-tier vantage point through Beckering’s deliberate moves, phenomenal kicks, and attitude-filled stage presence.
The juxtaposition between classical ballet and modern dance is always a joy to witness in the CTAC School of Ballet productions, as both are stunning forms of creative expression and deserve equal attention. My favorite scenes were of the Queen’s Court (fantastic synchronization and bold 1960s-esque mod music) and the miners traveling through the mines (complete with headlamps and drip-dropping sound effects). Both scenes leaned heavily into modern dance and were embellished expansions of the story devised by the CTAC School of Ballet and not readily (or ever?) depicted in live-action or animated versions.
Another favorite part (because surely you’re dying to know)? The Spring Flowers and Song Birds–roles filled by some of the youngest and tiniest dancers. The upper-level students are always phenomenal, and I love that these productions combine veteran dancers of the program with the new. The beginners’ timing is usually a tad off (after all, they are four to six-year-olds), and they get distracted easily by one another, which is adorable. And some love the spotlight so much that they require graceful guidance off stage right or left. Including all ages and skill levels in these productions makes for a great snapshot of the overall dance program that CTAC is known for.
Something else I find clever is incorporating the visual arts with the performing arts. For every June production, a local artist is approached to create an original work of art that embodies the presented story, which will then be featured in a silent auction to raise money for the School of Ballet Scholarship Fund. For Snow White, artist Robert Scudder created an oil painting entitled “Temptation.” Depicted on canvas is a ruby-red apple with a singular bite taken out of its white meat–if that doesn’t symbolize “Snow White,” I’m not sure what else will. Scudder’s skill with the brush tempts the viewer to reach out and take hold of that deliciously deceptive fruit.
I know I’ve been talking about all the things I love, but there’s one more thing I need to mention. What I admire most is the group effort that goes into bringing these productions to life. Snow White required the hard work of 50 student dancers, the fantastic minds of five professional choreographers, the assistance of parents and volunteers, and countless hours of rehearsing over four months. And in the opening night performance, every bit of effort paid off.
For those of you who missed the snow in June, Alpine Media was on-site Saturday to record one of the two performances of Snow White, and USBs will be available for purchase by contacting Crooked Tree Arts Center in Petoskey.
Coming up next:
Monday, June 20: “The First Anniversary of My Last Day”