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It's a Wonderful...Dance?
Odyssey Dance Company Adapts a Christmas Favorite
By Karen Anne Webb

Dance Preview:
'It’s a Wonderful Life'
Odyssey Dance Theatre
Kingsbury Hall
(University of Utah)
Dec. 16 to 24, 7:30 p.m.
and 2 p.m.
Tickets cost $15 to $35, half off for children, $5 off for those who bought tickets to ODT’s “Thriller.”
Call the Kingsbury Hall box
office at 581-7100 or visit

Like November’s “The Secret Garden,” staged by Imagine Ballet Theatre, Odyssey Dance Theatre’s “It’s a Wonderful Life” has been a long time coming. And like “The Secret Garden,” the new dance adaptation of the popular Christmas movie went from a big-bucks budget to one of far more modest proportions.

“But it will still look like we had a lot of money to work with,” asserts artistic director Derryl Yeager, when the show, which features a water tank weighing 24,000 lbs, premieres at Kingsbury Hall in Salt Lake City on Friday, Dec. 16.

“I’ve been drawn to the story for many years,” Yeager says. “In today’s world, there’s this culture of celebrity: kids are being taught that if you’re not a big star, you’re nothing… The story of George Bailey, the hero of ‘It’s a Wonderful Life,’ is so far-reaching. It tells you your life can have meaning if you’re just an ordinary person.”

Yeager says that he was struck long ago not only by the message of Frank Capra’s 1946 film, but by the sense that it could be converted to a dance production. There are, he points out, some dance elements already occurring naturally in the movie: most notably the big reunion dance at the high school gym, but other places where dance is easily suggested, like the flowering of the relationship between George and his eventual sweetheart Mary Hatch. Even elements like George’s plans to go to college and tour the world lend themselves to a dance interpretation.

“We have a scene with young George and his friends moving around a stage decorated with travel posters of different countries,” says Yeager. “They stop in front of the poster of Russia and dance a Russian dance, then in front of a poster about Egypt and dance an Egyptian-themed dance, then go on to Spain and China and so on.”

Yeager says the show’s libretto sticks fairly closely to the movie and includes a few judiciously placed voice overs that move the story along. It will look (and sound) very familiar to those who know the movie well, but should still be completely accessible to anyone who has never seen the film (if any such people exist).

To set the project in motion, Yeager created what he calls “a coalition of the willing.” The project was helped along when the management of Kingsbury Hall approached him earlier this year saying it would like a large-scale holiday-season production and had learned of his interest in staging the classic film as a dance production. Their assistance started him thinking in concrete terms about who he would like to help him with the show.

“I have what I think of as a true Dream Team,” Yeager says. “I knew, since the show would have an original score, that my first choice to compose it was Sam Cardon… He just has the right temperament and the right sensibilities.” Cardon agreed to use synthesizers for the first few years of the production, which greatly reduced the music budget.

“For sets, I didn’t want to do what we’d done with our Halloween production, ‘Thriller,’ which amounted to adding in sets bit by bit as we could afford them. This is an evening-length story piece, and the sets had to be complete from the get-go. Doug Ellis, the designer, and Lynn Clark of Scenic Service Specialists, the company that’s constructing them, were willing to work out a payment plan for us.”

At the three-week mark of the company’s rehearsal period, working with Cardon’s music as it comes in, the dancers are about 3/4 of the way through the show, and Yeager says most of his choreographic and staging ideas have worked so far.

Oh, yes—the water tank. It comes into play three times during the show, at the three most water-logged moments from the movie. (Remember the wingless angel Clarence hurling himself into an icy river to distract a distraught George from thoughts of suicide?)

“It’s a Wonderful Life,” whose choreography includes just about every style of dance known to modern man, also fills in a few blanks left by the movie: We actually see Clarence get his wings and the villain Potter his comeuppance.

“‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ is in a way the antithesis of the traditional holiday dance production of “The Nutcracker” (see page 6). It takes you on an emotional roller coaster ride. The story, rather than being an excuse to dance, is conveyed through the dance: each is an integral part of the other. And Cardon’s wonderful music supports the dramatic impact of each wonderful moment in the story.”


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