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Published: Thursday, 3/11/2010

Arts groups join forces to thrill with ‘A Narnian Fantasy'

BY SALLY VALLONGO
SPECIAL TO THE BLADE

Something very old and something very new are in store for music and dance lovers tomorrow and Saturday at historic Trinity Episcopal Church in downtown Toledo. Two concerts represent a major collaboration between Sono Novo Chamber Orchestra and Ballet Theatre of Toledo.

At 7 p.m. tomorrow and 2 p.m. Saturday, the world premiere of “A Narnian Fantasy” by Toledo composer and SNCO founder Wayne Anthony will share the program with a freshly choreographed version of that perennial favorite: Antonio Vivaldi's “The Four Seasons.”

Nigel Burgoine, founder and artistic director of the Holland-based BTT has set both musical numbers for his company dancers.

Violinist Cecilia Johnson will solo in all four movements of Vivaldi's famed suite. And, while she's whipping through the “Summer” segment, her daughter, Linnea, will be onstage dancing.

“I am so excited about this performance because Linnea and I get to share the experience of exploring the partnership of music and dance,” said Johnson last week as she neared the culmination of months of work on the challenging classical work.

The SNCO-BTT partnership began in the spring of 2009 when Anthony conducted an all-Copland program highlighted with a performance of “Appalachian Spring” complete with Burgoine's choreography.

The principals were so pleased with the outcome that they decided to continue working together. Initially, they agreed to collaborate on the Vivaldi.

“I have loved this music from the first time I heard it and have always wanted to choreograph to it,” Burgoine said recently. “Vivaldi had such a fluid and striking way of composing.”

Just as the Venetian composer captured season changes, Burgoine continues, “I have tried to do the same thing with classical ballet and let the dancers be the seasons and bring their inner feelings of the seasons out with their dancing.”

Inspired, Anthony, a popular composer who has written for the Toledo Symphony, Sing-Out Toledo, the Trinity choir, and other instrumental and vocal ensembles, decided to pursue another dream: writing a score to interpret one of his fave works of fiction: the Narnia series by English writer C.S. Lewis.

“The Narnia piece is a loose interpretation of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe,” said Anthony. “It deals with the ideas of betrayal, sacrifice, and redemption in five movements.” The work calls for nine strings, five winds, and piano, he notes, adding, “with color the main consideration in the actual scoring.”

When Burgoine first heard the completed score late in 2009, he was delighted. First, the style reminded him of one of his favorite composers — Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov — evocative, rhythmic, and with plenty of lyrical lines.

He also was able to utilize the strong motifs Anthony had created for characters such as Aslan and the White Witch.

“Another great help was the fact that every dancer knew the story, so I did not have much explaining to do,” said Burgoine. “Watching their responses to the music was equally enjoyable as was watching their characters build during rehearsals.”

Rehearsals have been especially rich because of the many layers of partnerships, notes Johnson, who also created and runs an after-school program featuring the arts at a central city church.

“I am truly honored to be playing these solos for the collaboration of these two beloved artistic organizations,” she said, adding, “Seasons pass quickly and we must savor every moment.”

Tickets for the concerts are $15-$20 at the door or in advance at 419-861-0895. Seating for each concert is limited to 250, with about half the tickets already sold.

Contact Sally Vallongo at svallongo@theblade.com.



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