Summit County dancers land roles in Children’s Dance Theatre production
When the Children’s Dance Theatre brings Barbara Helen Berger’s children’s novel "Gwinna" to life at the Capitol Theatre on April 8 and 9, three dancers with Summit County ties will be among the performers.
While Lilian Aikin lives in Salt Lake City — her father Michael lives in Wanship — both Hazel Catley and Sophia Wakefield live in Park City full time. Aikin portrays a white bunny in a segment called "Brothers and Sisters," and Catley and Wakefield are in a selection called "Music of the Wind."
All three spoke with The Park Record and said they were looking forward to the concert. They also said they love to dance.
"Dancing makes me feel happy," said Aikin, 8. "When I go to class I do my best and it gives me time to think about what I can do better."
Catley, 12, a sixth grader at Ecker Hill Middle School who has been dancing for nearly eight years, said she enjoys the different lessons she learns from dance.
"I like all of it, especially the expression," she said. "It has also taught me how to work with other people.
"[In this production] you have a lot of duets and group dances, so, you have to explain and work things out," she said. "I have to put the performance before my own feelings."
Wakefield, an 11-year-old student who attends Weillenmann School of Discovery, has been dancing since she was 2 and said dancing is her favorite activity.
"I feel free when I’m dancing," she said. "I also like learning new things and trying to figure out the best movement to do and learning new movements."
"Gwinna" is a story about a girl who has the ability to fly but doesn’t know it and is summoned to the court of the Mother of Owls to find her true self, according to Children’s Dance Theatre Artistic Director Mary Ann Lee.
"I learned about the book many years ago from one of our dancers’ families," Lee said. "They brought it to me in our Parent Tot class and I read it."
Since it was a chapter book and not a picture book, Lee didn’t think it would work for the company’s annual production. So, she and the production’s composer Tristan Moore continued their search.
"Tristan and I had been looking for an Irish tale to do for our concert," Lee said. "We attended the Timpanogos Storytelling Festival and talked with several Irish storytellers, but couldn’t find something that would work for us that wasn’t too gruesome and had enough content for us to create 12 dances."
That’s when a friend suggested the book to Moore.
"The book really isn’t Irish, but has Irish folktale ideals in it and Barbara’s illustrations emote Celtic influences," Lee said.
Moore contacted Berger and the publisher and with their permission, pared down the story into a workable stage script.
"Barbara has been so generous with us," Lee said. "She’s an amazing author and illustrator who lives in Bainbridge Island, Washington, and we’re so happy that she’s coming to the performances."
Catley remembered her first day rehearsing the "Music of the Wind" segment.
"Miss Mary Ann told us to go outside and feel the wind and then asked us what we felt," she said. "We all talked about cool breeze, warm breeze and the wild wind."
Lee started the session by asking the dancers to think of a place in nature that made them feel exuberant and at the same time reverent.
"I was struck by how deep their feelings of nature are," she said. "It’s so exciting for me to know that our children are still in touch with nature."
During the rehearsals, Wakefield found how hard it was to emulate the wind through movement.
"Miss Mary Ann told us that we had a lot of space for jumping, so we could act like the wind, but we still had to move naturally," she said. "The wind dance had to be smooth. And that helped with the state of mind when you’re doing the dance."
When Aikin found she was going to be a bunny, she knew she had to work hard at the role.
"The funnest part is getting to be funny and fast," she explained. "I also have to dance like a bunny, so people know it’s a bunny and not just a white thing. So, I have to put a lot more energy in jumping on the stage or else the audience will think you’re just bouncing around instead of jumping."
All three dancers said preparing for the production has helped them become better dancers.
"The teachers really push you to go outside your comfort zone and do something you’ve never done before," Catley said. "Each teacher teaches us different kinds of dances."
"It teaches you about confidence, especially when you do it for the first time," she said. "I like the performances because we get to dance at schools, theaters and other settings."
Aikin’s mother, Nancy Fong, emphasized what a wonderful opportunity she has to perform in the production.
"I think performing is something that needs to be learned and there aren’t a lot of opportunities to do that," Fong said. "As a parent I did not dance like this when I was younger, so it’s fun for me to see her grow and develop. She’s enjoyed being able to express herself."
Likewise, Lee is grateful for the dancers’ commitment to the production, but said the real commitment lies on the parents’ shoulders, especially those who taxi their children up and down Parleys Canyon.
"They drive to the University of Utah at least twice a week, rain or shine and sometimes in the middle of a snowstorm," she said. "We are so grateful to them."
The Children’s Dance Theatre will present "Gwinna" at the Capitol Theatre, 50 W. 200 South in Salt Lake City on Friday, April 8, at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, April 9, at 2 p.m. Tickets can be purchased by visiting http://www.arttix.org.
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