Magical music, enchanting dancing and a generous helping of spookiness inspire the two short ballets chosen as treats for the Halloween season. Ithaca Ballet dancers take the stage at the State Theatre for two performances, 2 and 7 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 25.
First performed in the mid 1960s, The Pied Piper of Hamelin, choreographed to Edvard Grieg’s Peer Gynt, tells the story of the terrible consequences of ingratitude. Trenton Loughlin dances the dual roles of Trueson, the trusted schoolteacher in love with the mayor’s daughter Mara, and the inexorable Pied Piper. “I performed this role about 10 years ago, and it’s been enjoyable to revisit this role and do it again,” he said, explaining that in the intervening years he’s studied dance performance and choreography. This last has given him a particular appreciation for the Pied Piper ballet as choreographed by Alice Reid, founder of the Ithaca Ballet.
“I’ve fallen in love with this piece of music, and the choreography goes seamlessly smooth with the music,” he said. “It’s rare you come across a dance piece where everything goes so well with the music and it’s so in synch with your body. It’s really enjoyable to watch.” To tell which role he’s playing, look for the hat—when it’s on Loughlin’s head, he’s switched from schoolteacher to piper.
Cindy Reid, director of the Ithaca Ballet, said the costuming and backdrop, both designed and executed by her mother, Alice, are exceptionally beautiful. Set in a medieval village, the scenery features a clock tower in the process of construction—it’s finished during the dance. As for the costumes, she said, “They’re special, made of flannel in interesting colors. They have this funny elegance, it’s weird they can be so rough and tumble and really elegant. It’s a very attractive ballet.” Cindy Reid updated and expanded the story, adding dimension and additional choreography to what was originally a much shorter recital piece.
“But I left a few things the same,” she said. “There’s a really goofy councilmen-and-mayor dance, and I didn’t touch the part where the Pied Piper leads the children to the hall of the mountain king. It’s spooky.”
For this reason, Alice in Wonderland is the second half of the program, she said, because it’s a silly story and a bit lighter in theme. This ballet is one the company has performed in a variety of venues, including outdoors, where Alice falls asleep and, in her dream, follows the White Rabbit down a rabbit hole into a series of fantastical adventures. For this performance, the outdoors is re-created with a backdrop of giant mushrooms Cindy Reid can remember her mother painting, painstakingly copying her designs from a book on mushroom identification.
Among the personages Alice, danced by Kateri Lickona, encounters are the bad-tempered Queen of Hearts, danced in drag by company dancer Allen MacNeill, the Mad Hatter, danced by Anatto McMillan, the broadly grinning Cheshire Cat, danced by Keara Soloway and the dormouse danced by Ayla Naghsh, who also dances Mara, the Mayor’s daughter in the Pied Piper.
“I think the story is very mysterious,” said Kateri Lickona. “Every time I go in, I think about who I want Alice to be in the story. She’s got to be a little bit naïve and also very brave. I love playing Alice, trying to find out who she is and interacting with the characters.”
Naghsh said she loves both her roles, though for a classical dancer, the dormouse can be the bigger challenge. “It’s a lot of acting, a cute, wonderful part,” she said. The dormouse, who falls asleep in her tea at the Mad Hatter’s tea-party, is still experimenting with how to fall asleep onstage while remaining mouse-like. “I’ve never played an animal before,” she said.
Colibri McMillan, who dances the White Rabbit, joked he’s trying to experience his role by eating a lot of carrots. Said his twin brother, Anatto, “We kind of jumped into it without knowing what to expect – but it’s fun.” •