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Collaboration key to UA, Neos Dance Theatre’s ‘Snow White’

4/17/2014 - West Side Leader
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By Roger Durbin

Brooke Wesner (Wicked Stepmother), at left, and Jennifer Safonovs (Snow White) star in “Snow White and the Magic Mirror: A Grimm Tale.”
Photo courtesy of Bryce Millikin
DOWNTOWN AKRON — Collaboration is the name of the game for Neos Dance Theatre Artistic Director Bobby Wesner’s story ballet “Snow White and the Magic Mirror: A Grimm Tale” that will be performed April 19 at 2 and 8 p.m. at The University of Akron’s (UA) E.J. Thomas Hall.

Wesner, co-founder of Neos, created an elaborately conceived version of the famous Grimm fairy tale in collaboration with the fine arts divisions of UA. Wesner choreographed this full-length work for Neos and a cast of students from UA’s Dance Program and Dance Institute, according to UA officials. Appealing to all ages, the production also will feature musicians from the UA School of Music and throughout the area. Neos dancer Jennifer Safonovs will dance the role of Snow White, while Brooke Wesner, co-founder of Neos, will be the Wicked Stepmother.

UA, among other things, according to Wesner, is providing rehearsal space for the company to create this new piece of choreography. Additionally, UA dancers, musicians and technical staff will join with Neos and its dancers and other artistic staff for lighting and stage handling.

Wesner is combining live and canned music in his production. UA sopranos Josephine Suwanpoh and Vandi Terrill will sing dance duet sections for ballet dancers in both acts of the ballet. UA violinist Allison Lint will play. Musicians for those portions will be on stage with the dancers, which will be a great opportunity for the dancers to perform with live music, according to Wesner.

Additionally, members of the UA Steel Drum Band also will perform in a certain section of the work, said Wesner during a recent rehearsal interview in one of the studios at UA.

Music varies from rock and roll through English folk tunes to classical ballet music. And it all works, for the music Wesner chose fits either character or theme in his work.

In rehearsal, it was interesting to watch how Wesner was choreographing the various groups of dancers. He apparently had rehearsed sections with his Neos dancers and at the rehearsal was incorporating them into scenes with UA students and Dance Institute dancers for the first time.

Wesner would call out “UA students” and “Neos” to bring the two groups to center stage, where he would arrange them and test out how the dance interlude would proceed. Each time went well. The dancers knew their stuff and got the choreographer’s idea in one take.

Dance Institute students perform in roles as animals, Wesner said, with older dancers serving as characters called “Minions” and “Dark Reflections” for sections of the work dealing with the malicious intentions of the Wicked Stepmother.

Neos dancers, he added, will dance more complicated roles as Woodland Fairies in Wesner’s take on the story.

Costumes will range like the music, from glimmering rhinestones and other beads during Snow White’s hallucination scene after the Stepmother pricks her with a poisoned comb to Woodland Fairies with twigs in their hair and a scruffy, earthen look about them on to the Stepmother dancing in red pointe shoes in a frenzy as she goes up in flames — with the image of the fire being shown on the back wall of the theater while she literally takes a dive into the fire.

Wesner’s version of the tale begins with a scene depicting the birth of Snow White, who took her name from her alabaster-looking skin. After the mother dies, Snow White’s father remarries — and thus enters who will become the Wicked Stepmother.

The whole narrative turns on the vanity of the Stepmother over her looks. As in other tellings of the story, she has her mirror to validate her beauty. (It also serves as a magical vehicle to show the woman what is happening throughout the kingdom, and that becomes important in all of the plot twists to discover and get rid of the younger Snow White).

When the mirror tells the Stepmother that Snow White has outstripped her in beauty, the action really begins. Wesner choreographs a few chase scenes in his work — first the Huntsman after Snow White to kill her on the Stepmother’s orders, then the Stepmother after the Hunstman to get him to lead her to Snow White so she can do the job herself after he let her live by abandoning her in the forest, and finally, everyone after the Wicked Stepmother until she goes out in a blaze of dance glory (fire scene included) — all as a kind of logical progression to lead to the happier outcome of the tale.

Wesner is good at choreographing the set. Movable walls do the trick. Exiting dancers — along with some stage hands — pull the walls in and out as they enter and exit the story. The walls also manage to function as places to wait for the dancers’ entrances and probably for some last minute, split second costume adjustments.

Tickets range from $13 to $28. They are available in advance at the Thomas Hall Ticket Office, by calling 330-972-7570 or at www.ticketmaster.com. Tickets also will be available at the door as long as seats remain. To provide an intimate viewing experience for the audience, seats will only be sold in the orchestra section of the hall.


Roger Durbin is professor emeritus of bibliography at The University of Akron and board director of the Dance Critics Association. To contact him, email r.durbin@sbcglobal.net.

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