GREENFIELD — At the crossroads of dance, art and theater is the “Little Things” ballet, the collaborative artistic endeavor of Dance East Academy’s Dana Hart and artist Chris Sickels.
Hart and Sickels paired public domain music with an original story line to create “Little Things,” an original ballet. Hart provides the choreography and dance training, while Sickels lends his artistic skills to create a thematic continuity that runs through the entire production, from the set pieces and props to the costumes.
The partnership began in 2013 when Hart consulted with Sickels in some brainstorming sessions about creating a ballet. Two of Sickels’ children were enrolled in the Dance East Ballet Academy, and he was happy to be involved.
Hart provided a rough outline for the kind of story she wanted to create for the ballet stage, but it wasn’t until Sickels submitted drawings of character sketches and costuming ideas that the story for “Little Things” really began to flesh out.
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“Little Things” is the story of a young girl, Sophia, who travels with her family by train to visit their grandmother. Sophia receives a special gift that goes missing in the night. She goes looking for it and becomes trapped in a secret room behind the bookcase, where she meets a variety of characters who lead her on a magical adventure.
“We’re offering something that’s unique here,” Sickels said. “It’s not just another version of ‘The Nutcracker.’”
Sickels drew everything — the set, the props, the costumes — from conversations the pair had about the story. The personalities of the characters are dependent on how they appear, and the drawings gave much more depth to how they are portrayed on stage, Hart said. Sickels’ drawings sometimes even defined how the characters on stage interacted with each other.
“For example, Brockenbecker,” Hart said. “He’s an evil character, but in Chris’ drawing, he was also humorous, dimwitted and goofy — and the little brother. Chris drew him with his tongue sticking out, so he became the bratty little brother.”
Hart spent hours sorting through and compiling the music in search of pieces with the right emotional feel to fit the characters and the story line.
She needed short pieces for ballet variations and music that moved naturally with the characters.
As for Sickels, working with the kinetic art of dance was a different experience than working with still images.
“Telling a story with a continual line of movement is a very fascinating aspect of storytelling,” Sickels said.
A recent addition to this creative team is actor Dennis Cole. An advocate for the arts, Cole, who is playing two roles in the show, has worked with most of the arts groups in town, including the CrazyLake Acting Co., Hancock Arts, the Hancock County Children’s Choir, the Hancock County Children’s Theatre and KidsPlay Inc., but he is a newcomer to the world of ballet.
“I told her that if I was going to be in her ballet, she was going to have to teach me to dance,” Cole joked, “Otherwise, I’d steal her show in the wrong way.”
Cole, like Sickels, was challenged by the idea of telling a story through dance.
“Telling a story in dance without saying anything is really different from acting,” Cole said. “I needed to know what my motivation was and why the other dancers were doing what they were doing on the stage.”
Hart appreciates the theatrical skills Cole brings to the production. He has helped the younger kids with their character development, Hart said.
“Little Things” is a show the company expects will grow and change as it is produced again in years to come. As the company grows, the production grows, Hart said. The younger dancers grow from ensemble roles into solo roles. The show evolves from year to year based on the dancer resources of the company.
Hart and Sickels have already laid the groundwork for new characters for next year’s ballet.
“Every year, it gets bigger and better,” Hart said.
WHO: Dance East Ballet Academy presents “Little Things”
WHEN: December 18 at 7 p.m., December 19 at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m.
WHERE: HJ Ricks Centre for the Arts, 122 W. Main St., Greenfield
TICKETS: reserved seats are $10 for adults and $6 for children at the door or call 317-318-9266 to order