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Genoa dance school creates ‘Storybook Ballet’

(Curtis Clegg -
Northern Illinois University graduate student Austin Wood makes adjustments to an oversized storybook while setting up the set decorations for "A Storybook Ballet" at the Egyptian Theatre on Friday.

GENOA – It was, literally, a tall order.

Last summer, when Beth Fowler was deciding which ballet she wanted her company to perform this March, she considered “Alice in Wonderland,” but rejected it.

“I just felt it was too slow moving and wouldn’t keep the audience interested,” she said. “So I thought, ‘What can I do to keep an audience on the edge of their seats?’ I wanted it more fun and colorful.”

What the artistic director of the Beth Fowler School of Dance – which she formed 30 years ago when she was just 15 years old – decided to do was create her own original ballet, “A Storybook Ballet.”

The story takes place in the bedroom of a little girl named Marie. In it, four fairy tales come to life in her dreams: “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,” “The Little Mermaid,” “Aladdin” and “Beauty and the Beast.”

“We had to find a way to introduce each story,” choreographer Samantha Gaul said.

“She’s trying to save the victims, but she can’t because she wasn’t part of the story and can’t be seen,” Fowler said. “That’s kind of a neat little trick.”

The trick for set designer Sahin Sahinogly was creating the 10-foot high, 12-foot wide book from which the characters emerge.

“It is a lot of scenery,” he said. “It’s taken a lot of effort and sweat.”

Once drawings were approved, technical director Libby Winchester had to “figure out how to build them,” including hidden doors in each of the pages.

“I have a full-time job so we had to work at night,” she said. “Finding space for everything and planning for the things that people don’t see (on stage) was the biggest challenge.”

Creating a variety of original costumes for 400 dancers, from age 3 to adult, was a big challenge for Madlyn Steffey and the other costume designers. 

“This is probably the most costumes we’ve ever needed,” costume designer Candi Jackman said, adding characters such as knives and forks had to be recognizable to the audience. “It’s fun and exciting to see it all come together.”

“We are hoping that people will want to see a new production they’ve never seen before,” Gaul said, adding that the production is based on familiar stories, which should make it easy for children to follow.

“I like taking audiences on a magical journey,” Fowler said. “You can find that in the theater, not in real life.”

“We didn’t have a base to work off of,” 15-year-old Mary Rose Fair, who plays Marie, said. “I think in a way that’s cooler. It’s like our own thing.”

Performances this weekend will be held at the Egyptian Theatre at 7 p.m. Friday, 2 and 7 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday.

Tickets cost $22 for adults and $17 for children ages 12 and younger. Premium tickets cost $27 for adults and $22 for children ages 12 and younger. Tickets can be purchased at the door or in advance at or 815-758-1225. They also can be purchased at the box office an hour before the performance. Discount tickets are available for nonprofit groups.

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