Ballet Theatre Company revives ‘Snow White’ ballet for The Bushnell

In her nine years as artistic director of the Ballet Theatre Company in West Hartford, Stephanie Dattellas has only repeated one of her productions: A “Cinderella” which she brought back this year. That’s unusual for dance companies, a lot of whom like to maintain an active repertoire of established pieces.

Now Dattellas — who has transformed BTC into a professional company with resident dancers that stages several dance performances events each year — is bringing back a “Snow White” ballet she created four years ago, this time at the 900-seat Belding Theater at The Bushnell Performing Arts Center. This rendition will be very different, since the original version was created as a streaming production during the COVID shutdown.

“It’s a big adaptation,” Datellas said. “It was difficult to adapt it back to theater. It’s been interesting for me as a choreographer. It’s been fun.”

The online version filmed different scenes from the classic fairy tale at historic landmarks and state parks throughout Connecticut. The Evil Queen’s dances, for example, were shot at Old New-Gate Prison & Copper Mine in East Granby. The garden scenes for the film version were shot in Topsmead State Forest. In the stage version, those backgrounds will be represented by flower pots and stone benches.

The Witches of Ballet Theatre Company’s “Snow White,” as portrayed in the original video version filmed at Old New-Gate Prison in East Granby. (Ballet Theatre Company)

Whole new effects have been created to bring fresh magic to the “Snow White” ballet. The magic mirror that tells the Evil Queen that she’s the prettiest one of all is now “a 10-foot structure, almost like a movie screen,” Dattellas said. There are film elements involved in the mirror effect, but they’re not the ones from the video version. A professional New York-based film production company shot the new footage.

All the members of BTC’s resident dance troupe are in the show. The lead male roles are being played by guest artists. Zane Winders, who plays the Prince, dances with the Oklahoma City Ballet. There are also around 50 students from Ballet Theatre Company’s school playing bluebirds, bunnies and villagers, as well as most of the dwarves. The production is separate from the school programs, Rehearsals are not done during class time, and the students had to audition for their roles.

Snow White is danced by company member (and Wethersfield native) Jo-Anne Burke, who danced a very different “fairest one of all” as the Evil Queen in the streaming version.

“She’s featured in a completely different light,” Dattellas said. “Her musical theme is soft, modest, like a lullabye.”

This time, Berglund is in the title role and the Evil Queen is Sarah Berglund.

Jo-Anne Burke dances the title role in "Snow White" for Ballet Theatre Company April 20 and 21 at The Bushnell in Hartford. When the company last did "Snow White" Burke played the Evil Queen in a streaming version made during the COVID shutdown in 2021. (Thomas Giroir)
Jo-Anne Burke will dance the title role in “Snow White” for Ballet Theatre Company April 20 and 21 at The Bushnell in Hartford. When the company last did “Snow White,” Burke played the Evil Queen in a streaming version made during the COVID shutdown in 2021. (Thomas Giroir)

The choreography has also changed a lot, since “Snow White” is no longer being danced in fields and forests and on stone walls. “The steps have been modified and improved,” Dattellas said. “We’re not performing on uneven ground. There are things I can do onstage that I couldn’t do then.”

Beyond that, the early COVID era necessitated distancing and isolated rehearsals.

Even the costumes have gotten an upgrade. The outfits worn by the Evil Queen, the three witches and the dwarves are all new.

One element that wasn’t altered much is the story. Dattellas based her adaptation largely on the one that the famed folklorists The Brothers Grimm used in their 17th century collection of stories, rather than the more basic variations done by Disney and others. The Grimm version has more characters and subplots. Dattellas also added her own personal flourishes. In the Grimm story, the dwarves don’t have individual names. In this dance they are known as Brainy, Timid, Smiley, Grouchy, Snoozy, Sniffly and Muzzy.

“There’s something in it for everybody,” Dattellas said. “The dwarves are so funny. The Queen brings an element of darkness, but it’s appropriate for kids.”

Another distinction of “Snow White” is that there’s not a standard famous ballet based on that fairy tale. There have been many ballet versions of the story of the beautiful forest dweller, the Evil Queen who sent her away, the seven helpful fellows Snow White runs across and the handsome prince with the resuscitating kiss. But unlike two classic Tchaikovsky ballets, “Sleeping Beauty” and “Swan Lake,” there’s no instantly recognizable ballet version of “Snow White.” The best known might be French composer Arseny Koreshchenko’s 1812 composition “Le Miroir Magique.”

Without a single well-known score to work from, Dattellas said she pulled from several classical ballets. The result is a sort of classical music jukebox musical, featuring “greatest hits” melodies from “Swan Lake,” “Coppelia” and other famous works.

“The choice of doing ‘Snow White’ again,” Dattellas said, “was to revisit the pandemic period and how we were able to get through it. We wanted to look at the growth of our company in such a short amount of time.”

BTC is already looking ahead to its next show, a May 17 event marking the company’s 25th anniversary, featuring special guests Skylar Brandt and Luigi Crispino of New York City’s American Ballet Theatre dancing the pas de deux from Prokofiev’s “Romeo and Juliet” as well as new and recent works developed by BTC itself.

Ballet Theatre Company’s “Snow White,” choreographed by Stephanie Dattella, has performances April 20 at 2 p.m. and April 21 at 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. at The Bushnell, 166 Capitol Ave., Hartford. $56-$89.

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