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Vashon Dance Academy Brings Never Never Land to the Island

Dancers rehearse for Peter Pan. From L to R: Anna Hicks, Aiden Rees, Isa Sanson-Frey, and Lizzy Schoen,      Photo: John Osborne.
Dancers rehearse for Peter Pan. From L to R: Anna Hicks, Aiden Rees, Isa Sanson-Frey, and Lizzy Schoen, Photo: John Osborne.

Peter, Wendy, Tinkerbell, and Nana the Dog, along with over 100 additional dancers, take the stage in Vashon Dance Academy’s 15th annual performance, Peter Pan, Friday, June 24 – Sunday, June 26, at the Vashon High School Theater. Show times are Friday and Saturday night at 7:30 PM with matinee performances at 1:30 PM on Saturday and Sunday. Tickets are available at Books by the Way.

While the story of Peter Pan is familiar to most, Vashon Dance Academy is known for its creative interpretations and imaginative characters. This year’s cast lives up to the studio’s renown, with dancers performing the inventive roles of Pirate’s Treasure, Pan’s Music, Mermaids, Water, Stars, Never Wood and Never Birds, Tinkerbell’s Little Sisters, Tiny Indians, and Forest Folk, among others. The cast, featuring dancers as young as age 3 ½ is composed of 120 Vashon students, weaving the story while showcasing choreography they helped develop this Spring.

The entire performance is the brainchild of Cheryl Krown, Artistic Director of Vashon Dance Academy, who believes the show will be enjoyed by all. “Peter Pan is a wonderful story about growth and trust and friendship, yet sill with enough conflict and excitement that anyone will be entertained.”

Co-instructors Julie Gibson and Francois Serre y Berga were instrumental in developing choreography and storylines and in preparing the students. In the lead roles are Chloe Zimberg and Laura Hicks, performing the role of Peter; Wendy is played by Allison Spencer and Lizzy Schoen; Tinkerbell is performed by Leanne Anderson and Anna Hicks; and Tiger Lily is danced by Gianna Giusti and Maria Osborne.

Sam Lanier, co-producer of the show, explains how the choreography is developed. “The show this year will be different from the one in 2004 as the choreography is created specific to the dancers and their skill level. There is a lot of kid input, which keeps them happy; they are developing the dance too. Their input is listened to and honored.”

Principal Gianna Giusti furthers, “With each dance show I have learned a lot about communicating with other people and believing in myself. With choreography, everyone has their own ideas of how they imagine the scene, and it takes a lot of compromising to get to a final product. We all have crazy ideas, but we are encouraged to say them anyways. I’ve learned that it’s important to hear everyone out. Last year we said, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool to make a human staircase!’ We all laughed for awhile, and then seriously made a human staircase which was breathtaking – and back cracking! – in the show.”

A handful of dancers in this year’s show recall performing in the 2004 Peter Pan show. Chloe Zimberg says, “Peter Pan is my favorite story of all time and getting to watch it come together when I was younger and to now have the opportunity to really be a part of that, especially with the role of Peter, is really special and rewarding. A highlight in 2004 was being old enough to pay attention and know the sequence of the show and to know the older girls' dances and to idolize them at the same time. This time around I get be in some of the dances that I absolutely adored when I was in fourth grade. That has been a blast. This year has also really pushed me in my dancing. The choreography pushes the edge in a lot of places.

“Patience, dedication, hard work, and daring are all major things that I have gotten from dance. Dance has shown me how much is possible. One year we decided to 'build a human tree' and another it was 'build a human staircase'. Never would I have imagined that possible had I not been a dancer.”

Says Lizzy Schoen, “In 2004 I actually had some really great parts for a little kid: I was a little Indian, a little pirate, and I got to be the Shadow. It was really neat being the Shadow back then because I was the very first person to go on stage after the flamenco ladies were done. That was definitely a high point!

“This year is pretty wonderful because playing Wendy is great. Last year (in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory), as Mike TV I got to play around with being a very boyish character, but as Wendy I finally get to dance like a pretty girl. And since we have a lot of input on our own choreography I get to do movement I love to do.

Co-producer Annette Spencer adds, “A huge part of the show each year is seeing the kids who have been dancing with Cheryl for many years rise through the ranks -- from starting as a creative movement dancer to taking on a principal role. It’s really special when you see the kids who were younger in prior years achieve the level of the dancers they always looked up to.”

Says Krown, “As a teacher, a personal highlight for me, and there are many, is to see a child grow through this process in confidence from year to year and to be able to watch them be able to embody different characters and to express that character to the audience with such grace. That is what motivates me as a teacher.”

Principal Allison Spencer recounts the emotions of performing, “After your first show, Friday night, you just get this feeling, and after the last one you think ‘I just did all of that for five months and that’s all I lived and breathed with no time to do anything else, and it’s over and I’ll never do those dances again, and they will be put to rest after doing each step perfect, just to do the show four times.’ After Sunday, it’s over!”

Krown furthers, “The enthusiasm the kids have to be taken on this creative journey is contagious. They are SO excited to find out every year what role they will be exploring and how their part, large or small, influences the rest of the story. Their energy is what gives me energy.”

Principal Maria Osborne sums up the outcome of all the hard work, “Dance has been absolutely invaluable to me. It's taught me, among other things, a meticulousness and patience that have been key in other aspects of my life. Dance has shown me that hard work and commitment can pay off in enormous ways. It has also brought out a kind of confidence in me that I would have never discovered without it. It has shown me the inevitability of making mistakes, and helped me learn to persevere in the face of setbacks. Really, dance has taught me how to navigate life gracefully, both literally and figuratively speaking.”

Dance! Vashon is the producer of the show, providing support for costumes, set, volunteer coordination, tickets, and other production details. Lanier acknowledges the vast help from the community, as well as parents. “Businesses like Granny’s Attic are generous with lending us items to use as props. The receipt programs at Vashon Thriftway and Vashon Market contribute significantly to our scholarship fund, which more and more families rely on.

“We have a tradition that everybody pitches in. We can find some kind of job for anybody, and people always know there is some little piece they can add to make the show happen. In this way we have almost 100 percent family participation in making the show come together. Planning happens six months ahead, and the show would not be possible without the help of everyone pitching in.”

At the Saturday matinee show, there will be a dessert auction, with beautiful and delicious gourmet desserts available to bid on. The lucky winner will take home their dessert that day. At the Sunday matinee show, Krown will announce the winners of the 2011-2012 scholarship. Tickets to Peter Pan are available now at Books by the Way, $13 for adults and $11 for children.