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Narnia onstage: Ballet@the Lucas
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While Savannah Danse Theatre has performed a Narnia-themed ballet for several years now, 2005’s cinematic release of The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe will no doubt raise the local production’s profile this time around.

However, the hit movie hasn’t changed things much for SDT Artistic Director Suzanne Braddy -- if anything, it’s convinced her to stay the course.

“When I saw the movie, I felt really good about our decision to stay with the storyline,” she says. “The movie just made me even more enthusiastic about the project. I thought, I can make this even better because we did stick to the storyline pretty faithfully last year.”

A longtime fan of C.S. Lewis’ famous series of novels wherein British schoolchildren are transported to a wonderland called Narnia, Braddy says the movie helped her vision gel:

“The costuming and scenery were so exciting. It was very inspiring to sort of see that come alive.”

In addition, the movie helped Braddy flesh out the ballet’s characterization more effectively.

“I really loved the way they portrayed Mr. Tumnus. Tumnus and Lucy’s meeting really starts the whole story. He’s so trusting, and the way he’s portrayed really opened my eyes.”

Tumnus the faun is danced by Brittni Linton in SDT’s production.

Other changes Savannah Danse Theatre brings to this production involve casting and production values.

“One thing that’s definitely different is I’ve got professional dancers doing the leads,” Braddy says, referring to Karen Burns, who plays the White Witch, and Serguei Chtyrkov, who dances with the Columbia Ballet and portrays Aslan in this production.

Braddy says despite the movie’s emphasis on digital effects, its portrayal of the lion/Christ figure Aslan was powerful enough to influence her casting decisions as well.

“Even though he was really made with a computer, he was so strong and yet so gentle and loving,” she says. “Seeing how the lion acted enlightened me as to the dancing role. It really inspired me to cast Serguei in the role. He’s a very strong dancer, yet very caring because he does dance with children as well as with adults.”

In addition to the leads, Braddy as usual has cast “all of my school in it.”

Portraying the four Pevensie children are Alexa and Chaney Bridges as Lucy and Susan and Kyle Merritt and Chip Hicks as Peter and Edmond.

“Alexa and Chaney are sisters, and newcomers to our school,” Braddy says. “They’re from Houston, and I’m so proud they could come here. Their first show with us was last year’s Nutcracker.”

As for the two boys, Braddy says “they came to us from local theatre.”

Other members of Braddy’s Islands Dance Academy fill out dozens of other roles, including Nymphs, Wicked Lies, Mermaids, Mr. Tumnus, and all the other whimsical characters from The Chronicles of Narnia.

Another especially unique aspect of this year’s SDT Narnia ballet is the addition of a show on Friday night specifically for underprivileged youth, sponsored by the Downtown Business Association.

“I helped them out with a throne at Christmastime for their Santa to sit in, so they honored me at a luncheon last month,” Braddy recalls. “I was so moved by what they’re trying to do to make downtown area safer. So after I left the meeting I went to the president, Elizabeth Patterson, who owns The Tinderbox downtown, and asked if they were interested in me donating a show to the DBA if they would sponsor it.”

It works like this: To raise funds for the DBA’s Savannah Teen Outreach Program, businesses are able to sponsor the attendance of the ballet by underprivileged youth. A $100 contribution allows ten youth to attend.

(While the youth are attending the Friday night show for free, that performance is open to the general public for the standard admission price.)

Will the special youth shows continue with subsequent ballets?

“It really will depend on how well received it is this year. We wanted to have one show so that kids who had never been to a theatre could see the dance,” Braddy says.

“Also, the whole story itself is about good and evil. I thought it was a good tie-in.” w

Savannah Danse Theatre performs The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe this Friday and Saturday at the Lucas Theatre downtown. Friday night’s Downtown Business Association benefit is at 7 p.m. Saturday’s shows are at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. Tickets are $30, $24 and $16. Call 525-5050.