The idea for a new dance version of Hans Christian Andersen's The Snow Queen kicked around in choreographer Doug Bentz's mind for nearly a decade before he managed to mount his production for Point Park University's Conservatory Dance Company last December. The problem, says Bentz, was streamlining the story enough so that the show didn't cost millions to produce. In taking quite a few liberties with the source material, the Point Park dance professor created a unique and modernistic version of Andersen's fairy tale that both fit his budget and turned out unlike any other.
Set to an original and varied score by Israeli composer Nizan Leibovich -- to be performed live by an 11-piece orchestra and three vocalists -- Bentz's The Snow Queen: A Modern Fairytale for Our Time tells the story of young Kai, who is captured by the evil Snow Queen, and Gerda, who goes on a quest to free him.
"It's a tale of unconditional love," says Bentz.
Beyond that premise, Bentz's full-length, two-act ballet differs mightily from Andersen's tale. Bentz has Kai and Gerda travel to a world where a glamorous, cold-hearted Snow Queen and her gladiator minions oversee a land of dead souls, capturing new victims through a giant revolving mirror that acts as a kind of time-portal. (Andersen imagined the shards of a shattered mirror, blinding the Snow Queen's victims.) Through the portal pass a host of characters including hip-hop dancers, a 1950s beauty-pageant contestant, several runway models and a group of goth punk kids. Among other Bentz additions: a Greek chorus of masked "fairy-tale fates"; dancing toys; some elves; and a magician raven in a tuxedo.
A cast of 37 Conservatory dancers will perform the mostly modern-dance multimedia work Dec. 12-21 at the Pittsburgh Playhouse. The production features Art Deco sets, by Iosef Yusupov, and modernistic costumes, by Igor Roussanoff. This year's production also includes several revamped and new scenes.
"Last year, we were in such a rush to put the work onstage I didn't fully get to explore Leibovich's score," Bentz says. This time 'round, Bentz re-worked some scenes to better match phrasing in Leibovich's syncopated music, and added two new solos -- for the elf king and queen -- as well as a new forest scene.
"This isn't the same old Nutcracker production people are used to seeing this time of year," says Bentz. "This is a completely new and original dance work that is not being performed anywhere else. Its dark humor and action will appeal to adults, while kids will be mesmerized by its characters, plus the whole thing wraps up neatly with a happy fairy-tale ending."
Conservatory Dance Company of Point Park University presents The Snow Queen: A Modern Fairytale for Our Time Fri., Dec. 12-21 Pittsburgh Playhouse, 222 Craft Ave., Oakland. $18-20. 412-621-4445 or www.pittsburghplayhouse.com