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20 years later, ‘Snow White’ makes a comeback at the Syracuse City Ballet

Courtesy of Syracuse City Ballet

Claire Rathbun, a Syracuse native, will take on the lead role of Snow White during Syracuse City Ballet's original ballet of the classic fairytale.

Kathleen Rathbun grew up performing ballet. After dancing for several companies in New York, including The Julliard School, the Syracuse native returned home and taught ballet around the area. But Rathbun hoped for something more — to put together a ballet production. With no ballet company in Syracuse at the time, she decided to start her own company instead.

“I realized I wanted a studio where you can learn the art, but also have opportunity to be mentored alongside professionals and professional productions,” Rathbun said.

Rathbun opened the Syracuse City Ballet in 1997 with their first ballet production, “Snow White.” Now, 20 years later, the ballet company is coming full circle with a new production of “Snow White.”

This Friday and Sunday, the company will showcase an original ballet of the classic fairy tale at the Oncenter Crouse Hinds Theater. As the only professional ballet company in central New York, the Syracuse City Ballet also offers productions of “The Nutcracker,” “Sleeping Beauty” and “Swan Lake” throughout the year. It provides various outreach programs for over 3,500 Syracuse city school children as well.

In addition to celebrating the company’s 20th anniversary, Rathbun, now its artistic director, chose to showcase “Snow White” because of its universal appeal.

“I wanted to bring something that was kind of different, and would attract absolutely everybody, boys and girls, old and young alike,” Rathbun said. “So it’s one of those kind of ballets that, if you’ve never seen a ballet, you’re going to love it.”

Since its first show 20 years ago, this production of “Snow White” has added new music, different sets, costumes and more choreography. But the storyline of the show hasn’t changed.

Based on the Brothers Grimm fairy tale, this production of “Snow White” features the wicked queen, who transforms herself into three different witches to try and kill Snow White. After the seven dwarves save Snow White from her first two attempts, the queen finally succeeds — with the help of a poisoned apple.

Evelyn Kocak, a former soloist from the Pennsylvania Ballet, will be performing as the Evil Queen. Kocak said she’s excited to play a character “that is opposite of my actual personality.”

“I don’t think I’ve ever played a character that was evil — I normally do more of the nice, ballerina-type roles,” Kocak said. “So it’s fun to like explore being bad and wicked.”

Claire Rathbun, a Syracuse native, will take on the lead role of Snow White. Rathbun, who danced with the Washington Ballet, just finished performing in Tony-award winner Susan Stroman’s musical, “Little Dancer.”

The main cast also includes Daniel Baker as the prince and David Block as the huntsman, both of whom trained at The School of American Ballet. Baker, who is originally from Australia, also competed in the show “So You Think You Can Dance.” Other cast members of the production are from Syracuse, including two Cuban immigrant dancers and some of the company’s students.

With the main dancers away in New York City, Rathbun admits that rehearsing the show without the full cast “has been hectic.” All of the dancers have been rehearsing since January, but will rehearse together for the first time just three days before the show. Rathbun, however, said the dancers are all professionals, and trusts that rehearsals will go well.

“This isn’t like a production that’s touring and coming in, this is Syracuse’s own company,” Rathbun said. “I mean, these people are talented, and I think it’s important and so fortunate that we have this quality of ballet and dance in our community here.”

Rathbun is also hoping the stagehands backstage will be just as prepared. The production runs for two hours, but the nature of the ballet is fast-paced.

“One minute you’re in the dwarves’ house and the next minute you’re in the wicked queen’s castle,” Rathbun said. “It goes so fast that trying to make that all happen seamlessly is going to be interesting.”

As a full-scale production, the show will include hand-painted sets from Italy, and a magic mirror and dwarves’ bed designed by an artist from Syracuse Stage. Rathbun, who describes the production as “beautiful, scary, but funny,” is looking forward to the scene where the wicked queen orders the huntsman to kill Snow White. After he leaves Snow White in the forest, the brambles, disguised as dancers, starts moving and “come alive in the forest,” Rathbun said.

Kocak will be performing in Syracuse for the first time as a professional dancer. In addition to seeing her family attend the show, including her 5-year-old nephew who has never seen her dance, Kocak is excited to bring ballet into the community.

“It’ll be great to come because this show is so accessible to children,” Kocak said. “It exposes kids to ballet, to dance, and maybe inspires kids to want to dance even.”

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