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‘Silver & Snow’ at the NACC March 11-12
Preview by Joshua Maloni
Further establishing it’s not “The Nutcracker Company,” but rather the Greater Niagara Ballet Company, the GNBC and its artistic directors have prepared an intricate spring show that is whimsical, ambitious and fun.
“Silver & Snow” partners “The Twelve Dancing Princesses” with “Les Patineurs” (“The Skating Party”) for two shows: 7 p.m. Saturday, March 11, and 2 p.m. Sunday, March 12, at the Niagara Arts and Cultural Center, 1201 Pine Ave.
Co-Artistic Director Mary Schnepf said, “This is the premiere of ‘The Twelve Dancing Princesses’ with the Greater Niagara Ballet Company. It has only been performed in its entirety once before with Buffalo Dance Ensemble. BDE was founded and is directed by GNBC’s Molly Vine (the other co-artistic director).
“ ‘Les Patineurs’ (‘The Skating Party’) hasn't been performed by the company in over 20 years, and it has not been performed in Niagara Falls since that time. For most of the audience and our dancers, this will be the first time they will get to experience these particular ballets.”
GNBC shared “The Twelve Dancing Princesses” is based on the fairy tale of the same name by the Brothers Grimm. “The GNBC premiere of this production features a cast of both children and professional dancers, as well as local area actors and dancers.”
“Les Patineurs,” meanwhile, “is a joyful divertissement ballet in one act and has been a staple of the GNBC repertoire since 1971. This year’s production is directed by Mary Schnepf and features both local and professional dancers.”
Here, “The townspeople gather for a Victorian skating party at a nearby pond on a winter’s evening. This happy group of young people dance together in various combinations, gliding, jumping and spinning across the ice until snow begins to fall. Twilight envelops the skaters as they realize their winter festivities must come to an end.”
‘The Twelve Dancing Princesses’
Vine said she sought to do something “fresh, and really new to the company.” With “The Twelve Dancing Princesses,” she could “put my own choreography on dancers.”
“The main challenge for me here has actually been the number of kids because, when I set it on my own company back in 2018, I had probably 20 to 30 dancers, and now I have like 50 in my show,” Vine said. “I had to create a few more roles, move things around. But I think the end product is going to be so cool.
“There's a couple scenes that have everybody in it. And we just fill the stage; and our costumes are all different, and very colorful and very magical.”
She explained, “The story is about 12 princesses who sneak out and go dancing every night; and nobody can figure out where they're going. So, the king puts out a proclamation. …
“The ballet starts with a poor soldier coming home from the war. And he meets this old lady who lives outside the castle. And she tells him the story, and how nobody can solve this mystery, and she's like, ‘Are you up for the challenge?’ And he's like, ‘I think I can do it. Why not? I've lived through so much.’ ”
The journey involves a castle, a king, “magical lands” where, Vine said, “there are silvery moonlight fairies, magical deer, magical birds, magical butterflies, flowers, mushrooms and mermaids. Everybody dancing all together. It's very cool. And the soldier, he's got his cloak of invisibility on the whole time. So, he's kind of wandering through and nobody's noticing him.”
Vine said, “In the actual fairy tale, this takes three nights, but we wrap it all up in 45 minutes.”
“We are excited,” Schnepf said of “Les Patineurs.” “It was one of the company's staples for a long time. … I'm excited to be able to put it back on the stage again. It's a favorite of mine; and it's an old company favorite” – but now with a brand-new crew. “Nobody in the cast has done this show.”
She explained, “It is just a really fun show. It's fun to dance. The music is wonderful. And it's a very uplifting, upbeat, happy ballet. There is no story to it. It's really a nice complement, I think, to ‘The Twelve Dancing Princesses.’ That's a big, storybook ballet. And adding on ‘Skating Party’ to complete the performance, it just seemed like a nice complement to have another upbeat, lovely ballet for people to enjoy.
“It’s fun to dance; it’s fun to watch; the music’s fun to listen to. It's been a nice process to work with the dancers with such a great ballet.”
Partnering with The NACC
GNBC fans know “The Nutcracker” is staged at the Niagara Falls High School Performing Arts Center. Spring shows have been staged there, too, but this year there was a scheduling conflict.
Since the GNBC students already study at the NACC, it only made sense to expand the partnership for “Silver & Snow.”
“We quite often actually have ‘Nutcracker’ rehearsals on the stage at the NACC, too, so we're a little more familiar with the space,” Vine said. “I think the theater there is really beautiful. The auditorium is really beautiful. It's kind of got like this older feel.
“Spacing wise, I feel like it's about the same. We're working with a very decent-sized stage, and I'm excited.”
Schnepf said, “It's a fully functional theater. And what we’re excited about is we are partnering with the NACC on the show. We are putting it on together with the NACC, so that's a very new venture for us.”
She added, “We love working with the NACC. They have been wonderful. They're doing some exciting stuff.”
“This new partnership that we've been working on has been, all-around, a great experience.”
Schnepf added, “We are also offering scholarships now, in partnership with the NACC, for our classes.”
NACC Development Director Kelly Buckley said, “The NACC is honored to partner with the GNBC. After the amazing success of the opera ‘La Bohème’ last season, we were inspired to bring additional classical performances to the Niagara Region. Thanks to a grant from the New York State Council on the Arts, and the generous supporters of the GNBC, we are able to help bring the people of the region an opportunity to experience the wonder and grace of a traditional ballet at an affordable price.”
In addition to directing, Schnepf and Vine are dancing in “Silver & Snow.”
“It's challenging,” Schnepf said. “It is much easier to do one or the other.
“We are both in ‘Les Patineurs’ (‘The Skating Party’), but we're not doing lead roles. We are filling in as townspeople to fill out the cast a little bit. Molly is dancing also in ‘The Twelve Dancing Princesses.’ ”
Vine said, “I put myself in the magical woodland scene, because there's so many little kids. And we had a shorter rehearsal span. So, my thought was, ‘Well, if I'm one of the silvery moonlight fairies, I can just kind of be in the background and zip around, and be like, ‘Remember this cue is coming up’ – and it will look completely natural to the ballet.”
“Usually directing and dancing is just nuts (laughs),” she said. “But it's definitely manageable here.”
Also nice for this show: “Once you’re in your costume, you’re in your costume,” Vine said. “There’s no crazy back and forth and changing.”
Of course, ballet challenges are nothing new for Schnepf and Vine, who took over “The Nutcracker” directing duties from longtime, iconic choreographer and teacher Beverley Feder in 2021.
The new artistic managers reported the student cast sizes have doubled in the past year.
“I think the kids are having fun,” Vine said. “I mean, everyone's leaving with a smile on their face, and we haven't had anybody really missing rehearsals.”
Schnepf said, “I think they like getting to do different stuff. It's much different putting on a ballet that's not ‘Nutcracker,’ for them. These are new ballets for them. ‘Twelve Dancing Princesses’ is so new.
“But everything we do for the spring, most of these kids don't get a chance to do that otherwise. They do get to perform, and they get to compete, but we offer this additional opportunity for them to do.
“I also agree: They look like they're having fun; and they're working really hard. We're really proud of them.”
For tickets or more information on “Silver & Snow,” visit http://www.greaterniagaraballetcompany.org/silver-snow.
Greater Niagara Ballet Company dancers and teachers prepare for the spring “Silver & Snow” show at the Niagara Arts and Cultural Center. (Photos by Mark Yerger)