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Mary Ann Stewart
Ben Evans, Eli Brink, Isla Homer and Summer Mitchell dance the part of swallows in "The Magic Lake."

SALT LAKE CITY — The costumes are nearly finished, an original musical score has been written and nearly 300 dancers ages 8 to 18 are ready to go.

For the past year, the University of Utah's Children’s Dance Theatre has been working toward this moment. Now, the hours of research and countless rehearsals are about to pay off when the cast performs “The Magic Lake,” a story based on an ancient Andean folktale, at Salt Lake City’s Capitol Theatre on March 23-24.

“The Peruvian feel is just amazing,” said Mary Ann Lee, director of the Children’s Dance Theatre for nearly 40 years. “It will be fun to see it come to life on the stage when you have all the bells and whistles.”

Back in the summer of 2017, the Children’s Dance Theatre staff was just in the early stages of developing the upcoming production. Inspired by author Jane Kurtz’s adaptation of the folktale, "Miro in the Kingdom of the Sun,” the company began creating their own variation of the story by changing the protagonist to a young girl named Chaska who embarks on a quest to save her brothers and the kingdom’s princess with magic water. The company's 13 choreographers began implementing dance numbers to tell the story starting in the fall of 2017.

“It’s a collaborative effort between the teachers and the dancers,” said Lee, noting that the dancers also have the chance to contribute their own choreography to the show. “Everyone has an opportunity to perform part of what they created.”

Lee, who also teaches for the University of Utah's modern dance department, added that giving the young dancers freedom to create is an important strength that also benefits them off the stage.

“That creative process really transfers to other parts of the children’s life. It allows them to think outside the box,” she said, adding that creating takes a great deal of discipline. “I think people in industry nowadays are really looking for people who have creative license and have that skill set.”

Derek Smith, Provided by University of Utah's Children's Dance Theatre
Dancers Fernando Ruelas, Alina Smith, Maddie Miller, Will Turner and Hazel Inoway-Yim pose for a photo in their costumes for the upcoming production, "The Magic Lake."

Lee said her staff also strives to make the art of dance an educational pursuit. From celebrating various cultures through literature to learning about DNA from science professors at the U., each year’s program incorporates a variety of material for the dancers to learn about, interpret and perform onstage.

“It’s this great opportunity for everybody to become immersed in a brand-new subject area and then we have original stories that people write,” Lee said. “We certainly have a vast array of things so we try and make it new and wonderful every year.”

The dances in “The Magic Lake” are interspersed with narrative and are a combination of soloists and groups of dancers who act out the protagonist’s journey. Resident composer Tristan Moore wrote an original score for the production, which musicians will perform live at the Capitol Theatre. The Children’s Dance Theatre will also be performing the same program at the Utah Arts Festival, Sandy Amphitheater and Weber State University in the coming months for a total of 10 performances.

Between the teachers, parents, designers and dancers, Lee said it can be a monumental effort to pull the production off, but the experience is always worth it.

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“It really does combine all of those higher thinking skills where you’re integrating the body, the mind and spirit,” she said. “We tried to make it very authentic. It’s a lovely opportunity to teach and understand a culture.”

If you go…

What: University of Utah's Children’s Dance Theatre’s performance of “The Magic Lake”

When: Friday, March 23, 7:30 p.m.; Saturday, March 24, 2 p.m.

Where: Capitol Theatre, 50 W. 200 South

How much: $18.50-$30

Web: artsaltlake.org/venue/capitol-theatre

Phone: 801-355-2787