Children’s Theatre Perfects Performance and Partnership

Stages Theatre Company presents its second collaborative production with Escalate Dance and Theatre Studio of Maple Grove.
Liliana Felton spreads her wings as the owl in the beloved story, "The Mitten."

You won’t want to miss the upcoming production of The Mitten,beginning January 17, part of Stages Theatre Company’s 30th anniversary season. This ballet inspired stage version of Jan Brett’s beloved storybook is an audience favorite andthe second collaborative production presented by Stages Theatre in Hopkins and Escalate Dance and Theatre Studio in Maple Grove.

Last year, Stages Theatre in conjunction with Escalate Dance brought Owl Moon to the stage. Audiences adored Owl Moon, a beautifully interpreted story of a father andchild’s magical walk in the woods. And now, a reimagining of The Mitten is sure to be as lovely and accessible a performance for the entire family.

This year’s performance of The Mitten will be more musical and feature more singers and dancers depicting the story of Nicki who drops his white mitten in the snow. Nicki goes on without noticing the missing mitten and one by one, woodland animals find the mitten and crawl inside. The story unfolds with each animal having its own theme music. The music and dance combine to create a beautiful palate of sound and visual enchantment that leads to thedelightfuland comical culmination of Brett’s treasured tale.

Sandy Boren-Barrett is artistic director at Stages Theatre Company. She has a background in theater and dance and has performed with national tours before discovering how much she loves the joyful experience of directing, especially children’s theater. Barrett came to Stages Theatre Company in 1990 and has been with the organization ever since.

“I’m always looking for unique ways to tell stories and connect kids to the arts,” Barrett says.“The opportunity to collaborate with Escalate is one way to do that. It also provides the actors and dancers a greater opportunity for artistic exploration.”

Barrett notes that a dance show seems to add more creative energy to the set and provides designers another way of working. “Working together with Escalate is a wholly positive experience for everyone involved,” she says.

Ann Marie Omeish is owner and director of Escalate Dance and Theatre Studio. Her background includes musical theater, ballroom dancing, choreography and choir. Her inspiration to open Escalate Dance nearly 10 years ago was to incorporate musical theater into traditional dance programming.

Earlier in her career, Omeish was a resident artist choreographer at Stages Theatre Company. That is where she met Barrett. “We’ve known each other for years,” says Omeisch. “And we began talking a few years ago about how we could combine Stages’ actors with Escalate’s dancers in a collaborative show. Owl Moon was our first endeavor. We didn’t know how it would go. But it went so well, we’re at it again.”

Auditions for The Mitten were conducted at both Escalate and Stages.Eighteen dancers between the ages of 9 and 17 years old will perform in The Mitten after weeks of rehearsals. “The dynamic of working together allows us to bounce ideas off each other and share our hair-brained schemes,” Barrett says. “And we love working with young performerswho are willing and eager to try new things. Kids are limited only by their imaginations.”

In this year’s production of The Mitten, Barrett hopes to deliver a stronger Norwegian flavor through costuming and design that will ring truer to the book. And the partnership with Escalate means choreography can be more difficult and more experienced dancers will be featured. Omeish is excited to choreograph different types of dance for all the animal and fairies in the story. Barrett adds, “This collaborative production of The Mitten will be beautiful but completely different from Stages’ earlier production of this show.”

An added element of excitement for Barrett and Omeish is seeing Omeish’s 17 year old daughter Jordan assist with choreography. “I’ve known Jordan since she was little,” Barrett says. “Last year, Jordan had a lead in Owl Moon and performed one of the most beautiful dance numbers I’ve ever seen.”

Jordan is a senior at St. Paul Conservatory for Performing Arts. When Barrett learned Jordan’s school schedule prevented her from being part of The Mitten cast, she invited herto assist with choreography instead.

With Ann Marie for a mother, Jordan has never lacked for dance or theatrical training. She began dance lessons at age 3 and assisting teachers at Escalate by age 13. Jordan says she’s excited but nervous about helping choreograph The Mitten. “This is my first real attempt at choreography,” says Jordan. “Stages is a lovely place and I know many of the dancers already, which helps. But I don’t want to disappoint anyone.”

As a performer, Jordan understands what it takes to try to portray the ideas of a choreographer. She says, “I think the chance to see what I envision as a choreographer come to life on the stage in someone else’s body is going to be cool.”

By taking Jordan to the theater as a child, Ann Marie opened a door of possibility to her daughter. Now Jordan hopes to leverage this awesome opportunity to learn as much as she can before she graduates from SPCPA and heads off to college to study dance.

“My mom is one of my best friends,” Jordan says. “I’ve already learned so much from her and she’s helped me discover my passion for dance, theater and choreography. Now I’m part of her team for The Mitten and that is so great.”

By taking your children to see The Mitten, you may or may not kindle a similar passion in them for theater arts. But one thing is certain. You’re sure to enjoy a delightful performance created by a dedicated, talented and enthusiastic team of collaborators.


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