Ballet Fantastique’s Babes in Toyland: A Holiday Story

 After last year’s success, Ballet Fantastique’s Babes in Toyland: A Holiday Story is back for another Thanksgiving Weekend, Nov. 25–26, in the Hult Center’s Silva Concert Hall, where audiences can enjoy this newest holiday tradition in Eugene.

“It’s gutsy for a ballet company, anywhere in the world, to do a holiday ballet that’s not The Nutcracker,” says Hannah Bontrager, Co-Choreographer Producer. “But this is so BFan. We’re bringing ballet out of the box, reimagining a lost classic with new dance theater and great live music. We love taking a holiday weekend and giving people a wonderful immersive new experience and celebration.”

With their original jazz ballet Babes in Toyland (as featured in Pointe Magazine), Ballet Fantastique mother-daughter team and Choreographer-Producers Donna Marisa and Hannah Bontrager reimagine a lost holiday story with new choreography, classic jazz, and a retroglam holiday aesthetic. Hot big band jazz—played in Silva Concert Hall with live guest vocalists—and splashy, genre-defying dance. The project is generously funded in part by a grant from the Nils and Jewel
Hult Foundation. 2023 presenting support is from Dave Kammerer of Summit Funding. Ballet Fantastique’s 23-24 Season is presented by Alpha IT.

“I wanted to do this story because it brings back memories from my childhood, growing up in the early 1960s. It’s an era I remember and relate to. I literally watched the ‘Mouseketeers’ every day after school,” says Ballet Fantastique Artistic Director Donna Marisa Bontrager. “Babes in Toyland is a forgotten holiday classic, which gives me so much storytelling and choreographic freedom. The story is filled with joviality and lovable, familiar storybook characters.”

“This is what Ballet Fantastique is all about: All-original new ballet theater, live music, great storytelling,” adds Hannah Bontrager, Co-Choreographer Producer.

To create their original 75-minute original contemporary ballet, Donna and Hannah spin past renditions of the story (including Victor Herbert’s original 1903 operetta, the 1934 Laurel and Hardy film, the 1961 Disney film, and an old storybook brought in by two Academy of Ballet Fantastique young student dancers, who first suggested the idea!), as well as re-writing aspects of the tale to create their new ballet. This year they are very excited to be adding a live narrator playing the role of a Grandfather who will be telling this bedtime story to his granddaughter. The granddaughter will be played by one of BFan’s very own academy students.

Ballet Fantastique’s originalBabes in Toyland libretto In Rhyme I (Act I), it’s Christmastime in Candyland. Though very busy watching her garden grow, Mary, Quite Contrary (Ballet Fantastique’s Isabelle Bloodgood) Tom, the Piper’s Son (BFan’s Joshua Webb—England) are also preparing for
their upcoming nuptials. Their friends: Little Bo Peep (BFan’s Ashley Bontrager) and Boy Blue (Gustavo Ramirez—Colombia), Jack (BFan’s Tavari Groesbeck—Cuba) and Jill—(BFan’s Jenavieve Hernandez), and Little Red Riding Hood (BFan’s Brooke Geffrey-Bowler) and the Wolf (BFan’s Lucy Pearce). Enter villainous Barnaby Barnacle, Lord of Licorice and Landlord of Candyland (BFan’s Preston Andrew Patterson), who not only wants to ruin Christmas for everyone, but also plans to marry Mary to steal her hard-won agricultural fortune! Barnaby Barnacle plots the kidnapping of Tom. Plans foiled at the Chocolate Swamp, Tom away does run. One catastrophe thus averted, Tom and Mary fall asleep in the Candycane Forest as the snowflakes start to fall and the Gumdrops (BFan’s Ana Brooks, Nicole Brown, Elizabeth Chapa, and Madeline Kiesel) swirl.

In Rhyme II (Act II), we find ourselves in Toyland on the morning of Christmas Eve, as Tom and Mary wake up to meet the Toymakers (Ana Brooks, Tavari Groesbeck). Tom and Mary work together to fix the broken Toy Machine in time to save the Toys: The Jack-in-the-Box and the Mechanical Dolls, Toy Soldiers (Lead Lieutenant Gustavo Ramirez), Princess Lollipop (Ashley Bontrager), and the Gingerbread Kids (student dancers from The Academy of Ballet Fantastique)! A fantastic Toyshop battle with Barnaby and his sidekicks ensues. Tom & Mary fix the Toy Machine, the Toys save Toyland, Barnaby is turned into a tiny teddy bear. Christmas Morning can come!

Original project designs “To create an original ballet, Ballet Fantastique’s creative team does a lot of things all at the same time! At the same time as we are writing our libretto, we are deciding on the characters and the narrative arc of each scene,” says Hannah on the creative process. “Once we’ve crafted our story and have decided who’s on stage, we work with our creative team to hand-pick songs (usually about 14-20 pieces of music) that will help tell each part of the story. We’re also simultaneously
working on scenic and costume design plans and choreographing with our team of 15 Ballet Fantastique professional dancers.”

ABOVE: Original backdrop design for Ballet Fantastique’s Babes in Toyland, by artists Kelle DeForrest and Erin Ferrell.

Ballet Fantastique’s Babes in Toyland world premiere project brings together a formidable team of artists: Ballet Fantastique
Choreographer-Producers Donna and Hannah Bontrager are joined by international costume designer Allison Ditson (Thailand, Portland), Primadonna Tutus (LA), headpiece designers Mitra Gruwell (Eugene) and Laura Boyle (Brimfield, MA), set designer Kelle DeForrest (Disney Imagineering), and Ballet Fantastique’s resident librettist-historians and creative team, Deborah and Genevieve Speer (Eugene). A dramatic new custom backdrop was painted for Ballet Fantastique’s 2022 Babes in Toyland specific to the Silva Concert Hall stage dimensions (30’ high x 60’ wide) at a workshop in Georgia, featuring art created by artists Erin Ferrell (Macon, GA), and Kelle DeForrest.

Donna’s artistic color palette is lots of red, lavender, mossy green, gold. “I love the idea of doing a story that has this soft nostalgia. I want to bring back the feel of glamorous 50 and 60s Hollywood, with its bright, lavish, uptight fashion and technicolor.” Sets are whimsical, a nod to a 1950’s Candyland board game. “And our jovial characters also need completely
over-the-top sets and props to help tell the story: Twelve children come out of a giant shoe, Barnaby Barnacle needs his crooked house where he can make his dreadful plans,” she adds.

“This performance is a magical new spectacle, and we can’t wait to share it with our community,” says Hannah Bontrager.

This article was provided courtesy of Ballet Fantastique.

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