Dancing prancing wizards

By Jordyn Marcellus

The Harry Potter juggernaut has steamrolled through 2007 with no signs of stopping anytime soon. Children’s novel writers cower in fear of the glasses-wearing, wand-toting wizard-messiah-in-waiting. With a blockbuster fifth movie, an enormously popular end to the series and a devoted fanbase trying to interpret every little details throughout the book, Harry Potter will piledrive the entertainment industry for years to come.

Despite the effects extravaganzas and ornate books, a few fans of the novel series want to re-interpret the books for media besides paper and screen. The Alberta Dance Theatre for Young People production of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone is one such effort and ensures that wand-wavers everywhere will pack into the University Theatre on campus to check out their take on the teenage wizard saga.

“I did a lot of research on which parts people find most compelling,” says artistic director Emily Forrest. “Those are the parts that I chose to focus on the stage. I didn’t try to tell the story in a linear fashion. I knew I couldn’t do that in 75 minutes. I instead chose to focus on the culture in Hogwarts and in our society, paralleling the two cultures on stage throughout the whole production. That’s a very unusual approach, something I have never done before and something that people are really appreciating.”

It’s an ingenious combination: adding the mystical and fantastical elements inherent in Harry Potter and combining them into with the art of dance. The decision to come to the Harry Potter series wasn’t a hard choice and seemed a given the spectacular nature of the series.

“The way that I choose my stories is I read them and if I can envision them as a production within the first chapter, I’m inspired to do it,” explains Forrest. “I love stories that have adventure and fantasy. They inspire the young dancers and they bring a lot of production value to a show.”

The Alberta Dance Theatre for Young People is a company devoted to providing an opportunity for children of all ages to dance in a production on the stage. Working with youth is an experience that allows the audience to work with some of the most creative people–before that creativity is dashed upon the weary rocks of adulthood.

“Working with young people is very inspiring and extremely motivating,” says Forrest. “Young people are very creative when they’re given the opportunity. They’re way more creative than most adults. I find many ‘ah ha!’ moments in rehearsal when young dancers create a movement phrase for a certain character that’s just astonishing. I get the goosebumps all the time in rehearsal.”

The Harry Potter films have been huge blockbuster smash hits, raking in hundreds of millions of dollars in box office domination. However, because of the huge success of the films, the audience may not be able to experience such an intimate re-telling of their favourite books. With dance, you get a whole new perspective to the film according to Forrest–one that a fan may not be used to and may not even like.

“I was worried about whether or not people were going to manage their expectations,” says Forrest. “I think people know that the movies can offer things to the story that the theatre can’t, but the stage can offer things to the story that the movie can’t. I think that’s really important for people to understand they are coming to a different medium.”

The Harry Potter series is known for a near-obsessive fanbase that feels the canon of the books is almost sacred. Given the audience reaction to the few performances already under their belts, though, Forrest and her young crew don’t have to worry about the frothing-at-the-mouth fans.

“I think that Harry Potter fans out there can’t get enough of it, in any form,” says Forrest. “They enjoy it so much in all of its forms. We just came back from Lethbridge, where we just had four sold-out performances and an unsolicited review that was just phenomenal. So, now I’m not worried anymore.”

If you always dreamed of taking a magical ride on a hippogryph to Hogwarts School for Witchcraft and Wizardry, let the youths involved in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone put a spell on you.

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone runs Thu., Nov. 29 to Sun., Dec. 2 in University Theatre. Tickets are available at the Campus Ticket Centre.

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