First premier ballet at FRT takes a risk

Knill

Knill

Jackie Jahfetson

“East of the Sun, West of the Moon” embodies a new level of performing

Which lies “east of the sun and west of the moon?” The land of the trolls, they say. A place where an evil queen resides and where a prince remains trapped in the imprisonment of her lair. The White Bear, or prince, suffers from the enchantment casted upon him and he only assumes his human identity during a full moon. With only witches and four winds, will a girl risk it all to find the kingdom and save her prince from the wicked Troll Queen?

In an original ballet production called “East of the Sun, West of the Moon,” the Scandinavian story will pirouette this weekend at the Forest Roberts
Theatre (FRT).

Adapted from the Norwegian fairy tale collected by Peter Christen Asbjørnsen and Jørgen Moe, the production is the first full-length ballet to take the FRT stage starting at 7:30 p.m. tonight. The ballet, directed and choreographed by NMU Instructor and Dance Minor Program Director Jill Grundstrom, will feature original music composed by local composer Griffin Candey. Grundstrom and Candey have been “harvesting” the idea for five years, and it’s finally about to take flight, Grundstrom said.

“It has this lovely heroine who meets adversity in her path and powers through and I think it’s such a lovely story for right now of course. But at the end of the day [with] all of the characters in the story, it’s about taking a risk,” Grundstrom said. “It was the same kind of idea for Griffin and I. This was a risk. [But] it presented itself as a wonderful opportunity.”

With over an hour of music to fill, it was a “big endeavor” for this piece to be as flawless as possible, Grundstrom said. Actors are used to having their words, but ballet uses pantomime which generates actions through the accompaniment of music, alone. At the moment, NMU does not have a class that teaches this, so this production presented itself with a lot of “firsts,” Grundstrom said. This was a challenge for the cast because not only were the actors stripped of their words, the essence of time was no longer at their disposal, she said. The movements have to stay with the music in order to keep the storyline moving forward, she noted.

Though rehearsals began at the end of October, the holiday break put a damper on things, she said. The entire cast of 34 dancers, the chamber orchestra of 12 musicians and the rest of the crew had only 12 days to put this together, Grundstrom said.

But this production is the “full package,” she continued. There’s nothing more complete than how live music and dance can complement each other and what that experience can deliver to an audience, she said, adding, theatrical technology was another component to this process and it shows what the FRT is capable of doing.

“Because it is in fact a world premiere and the heritage of the story ties back in very strongly to a lot of the culture in the Upper Peninsula. And also that idea of being strong and persevering here in this disastrous weather. I mean it takes a strong kind of person to want to be here, right?” Grundstrom chuckled. “The fact that it’s original live music and dance, that’s something we don’t get every day. So I think that’s an outstanding opportunity.”

For junior Sadie Knill, majoring in neuroscience and double minoring in dance and chemistry, playing the role as “The Girl,” Grundstrom was paramount considering her years of experience and artistic abilities as a choreographer. From the age of three, dancing has always been a part of Knill’s life and has been involved with ballet since 10th grade.

It was obvious to Knill that dancing would continue when she came to Northern when she signed up for a beginning ballet class taught by Grundstrom. And after doing shows together over the past two years, Grundstrom brought the idea of doing a ballet, and Knill was right on board. Even though Knill had years of ballet experience, this production presented new obstacles.

“I think the biggest challenge for me has been working with the live orchestra pit which is super unique. But it’s very different because the music sounds a little bit different from the tracks we’re used to rehearsing with. We’ve been rehearsing so long, and we just got to start with the pit on Sunday,” Knill said. “So we only get a few days with them before we open the show which is kind of tough getting the tempo set and everything.”

This story is about taking a risk and seeing it pay off, and that’s what this production is about, she said. After months of rehearsals and now finally putting on the costumes and makeup for dress rehearsals, it’s really something special, Knill said.

Saturday afternoon will showcase a “Theatre for All” performance, and through a generous grant by Wells Fargo, tickets for families who have sensory issues have been paid for, Grundstrom said. The FRT began this initiative last year to create a more accessible theatre for individuals who fall under the autism spectrum by adjusting the sounds and lights of the performance.

“With Tarzan last year, it was cool to see families and how it impacted them,” Knill said, adding, people should go not only because it is the first ballet production with a sensory-free performance, but its roots run locally.

“The story is very unique. The music was written by someone local from Marquette and performed by local Marquette artists. Everybody that’s in it is from around here. It’s just a really big community coming together and putting on an amazing event that everybody can love,” she said.

The ballet will begin at 7:30 p.m. from tonight until Sunday, with a 1 p.m. Theatre for All performance on Saturday, Jan. 26. Tickets are $15 for the general public, $10 for students and $5 for NMU students.