Island Moving Company breathes life into The Steadfast Tin Soldier
by Johnette Rodriguez
THE STEADFAST TIN SOLDIER. Directed by Miki Ohlsen. Presented by Island Moving Company at Rogers High School in Newport through December 10.
You may have had enough Nutcrackers to last you a lifetime, or you may
never get enough of Christmas ballets and plays. Either way, Island Moving
Company's production of The Steadfast Tin Soldier will satisfy your
craving. Adapted by artistic director Miki Ohlsen more than a decade ago (and
revived this year after a six-year break) from Hans Christian Andersen's
classic tale of the same name, this ballet draws on Island's expressive company
members for major roles and on more than a dozen of its young students for
In addition, Ohlsen has created at least another dozen roles for tiny aspiring
ballerinas, making approximately 20 children in each performance. That's a lot
of ringleading for Ohlsen and her co-choreographer Rachel Whitman. But they do
it marvelously well: not only do the young dancers make all their entrances on
time, but the simple steps set on them give a sense of flow and movement to the
whole ballet that's an integral part of the simple story.
This is, after all, a love story between toys, a tin soldier and a ballerina
doll, with the inevitable villain in the person of the Jack-in-the-box and the
inevitable love-conquers-all ending (minus the tragedy of the fire in the
original). Guest artist Bernie DelGado is the handsome and upstanding tin
soldier who woos and wins the heart of the beautiful ballerina (portrayed by
Danielle Genest). She resides in the nursery with a Spanish doll (Eva Marie
Pacheco), a Siamese doll (Mary Beth Murphy) and a clown (Marvin Novogrodski).
Novogrodski, a 15-year member of the Everett Dance Theatre, with years of
clown training also under his belt, is the audience favorite of the first act,
since he juggles, places a large ball on the end of a stick on his chin and
does the balancing trick of holding three cigar boxes end on end and switching
them mid-air. Made up in white face with a large neck ruff and a tall pointed
hat, Novogrodski strikes the mood of a European clown, and his height works
well when he jumps or spins with the Siamese and Spanish dolls on either side
Murphy and Pacheco are in fine form, as they give us short solos to indicate
their characters, slightly haughty for the Spanish doll, slightly sultry for
the Siamese. In the second act, when the two portray underwater sea witches,
they are particular effective with angular gestures and poses.
And angular might be Michael Bolger's middle name. He uses his limber
virtuosity to great effect as the long-leaping, high-kicking Jack. He curls his
fingers and hunches his shoulders in archetypal evil pantomime.
DelGado, in contrast, throws his shoulders back, holds his head high and keeps
his torso vertical, as he dances before his ballerina love. Genest uses her
fine, delicate style to convey the ballerina's emotional changes in
heart-rending detail: her infatuation and passion, then her longing and
When Bolger as Jack storms in to break up this romance, he lifts the
ballerina, and Genest is as flat-footed and stiff-armed as a doll, responding
with reserve and anger toward him. But when she once again dances with the
soldier, her movements are soft and liquid, almost as playful as when she
dances with toy friends in the nursery. Genest is a captivating dancer -- it's
hard to take your eyes off her.
And then there are the kids. They play soldiers, with march-like movements;
goblins who skitter around Jack and try to scare the other dolls; naiads, who
wave their huge blue cloaks like ocean waves (the tin soldier ends up there for
a bit); fish, who flap their fins as they scurry across the stage; mermaids,
who brush their hair as they stare into hand mirrors; sea horses who gallop and
canter hither and yon; flickering flames of fire, whom Jack summons to threaten
the lovers; and fairies who comfort the ballerina.
The fairies en pointe were my favorites of the young dancers, though the
swirling naiads were a close second, and I was charmed by the stage presence of
all the children performers. The costumes (by Eileen Stoops, Janna Pederson and
Patty Zimmer) were excellent representations of the roles. I'm not sure if
kudos for the giant umbrella-like jellyfish and the large fish go to this trio
or to the set designers Dan Powell and Mary Anne England, but they were a
delightful part of the underwater scene.
Miki Ohlsen and Island Moving Company have brought together many elements that
should please everyone who sees The Steadfast Tin Soldier: lively
choreography that characterizes the fairy tale characters and dramatizes their
story, polished professionals who translate that choreography into emotional
substance and lots of young dancers who are learning by doing. Treat yourself:
go chuckle at the clown, sigh with the ballerina and boo the villain. You'll be
in good company when you do.