With more than 130 actors, dancers and stage hands of all ages, the Lawrence Arts Center’s production of “The Snow Queen” will bring magical fairy tale action to the holiday theater scene.
This year marks the third presentation of the ballet/drama, with Ric Averill as the playwright, director and composer, and Deborah Bettinger as the artistic director and choreographer.
Although this is the arts center’s third production of “The Snow Queen,” it has not been staged there since 2007. The past two holiday seasons have shown another dance/drama with original elements by Averill, “The Kansas Nutcracker.”
“The Snow Queen” is a Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale, which Averill has adapted to comprise both dance and dramatic acting, alongside an 11-piece orchestra playing music composed by Averill and arranged by Jeff Dearinger.
“Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tales are so quirky and can be so dark, with allegorical elements,” Averill says. “Our show has a spiritual element, but it’s not specific to any religion. The idea is that when you’re ready for the right teacher, the right teacher will appear.”
In the fairy tale, a young girl, Gerda endeavors to rescue her friend, Kai, who has been swept away by the Snow Queen to the north. In typical fairy tale fashion, Gerda encounters a cast of characters who distract her from her mission.
“It’s a wonderful story with a strong female protagonist. She learns self-reliance as she faces obstacles along the way,” Averill says. “She learns that doing good work and being loving are the best path to adulthood.”
The part of Gerda is played by Deerfield School sixth-grader Delaney Rettele, who is performing in “The Snow Queen” for the third time, at the tender age of 11. This is her first time playing Gerda, and her first time dancing a pas de deux, in a scene with a reindeer.
“It’s kind of an opposite role for me, because she’s just so different from me, but it’s fun,” Rettele says. “I like the dance with the reindeer, because it has lifts in it.”
The variety of ages and experience levels of the dancers and actors makes performing a production of this nature unique, beginning with rehearsals.
“We have people from ages 7 to 70. The students learn so much from working with the professionals,” Averill says. “You can see that in the acting and in the dancing. Some actors dance. Some dancers act. It’s an incredible learning experience for the cast as well as a good performance for the audience.”
Bettinger, the artistic director and choreographer, credits Averill with creating a production that has a broad appeal.
“When you can bring the audience into a production like this, people think they don’t like dance, but when they see it, they find that they do,” she says. “There is a lot of comedy and some very touching moments. That’s kind of Ric’s genius: He can make you cry, he can make you laugh.”
Bettinger says that having a live orchestra raises the caliber of the entire production and is a good experience for the dancers, particularly the younger ones.
“The live music is organic, and to perform with live music, you have to really use your skills of listening and applying your movement. It demands more out of the dancer,” she says.
All of the music in “The Snow Queen” is original, and Averill drew on his previous experience composing and his training at Kansas University. He worked closely with Bettinger, whom he has known for more than 30 years, as he was composing.
“It was a wonderful experience for me to be able to work with a composer that intimately,” Bettinger says. “It allowed me to create a vision within the story.”
In addition to all of his other responsibilities with “The Snow Queen,” Averill has a dancing role as the Hobglobin King.
“I started taking ballet when we first did “The Kansas Nutcracker,” because I saw Deb with the dancers, and I liked the mutual respect,” Averill says.
Bettinger emphasizes that the cast this year is particularly talented and the dances will be a little more complicated.
“The story is captivating for all ages, and the dance is rich through the whole show,” she says. “I encourage people to come see all this talent and the wonderful outcome.”