A Look Inside Northwest Michigan Ballet Theatre’s “The Princess Peony”

Northwest Michigan Ballet Theatre’s Artistic Director, Thomas Morrell, gives us a behind-the-scenes look at the production of The Princess Peony. Show times: Dennos Museum Center Milliken Auditorium on Saturday, February 4 at 2 and 7 p.m. Reserved seating tickets are $15 for adults, $10 for students/seniors.


Producing an original ballet is a major undertaking. Before a single dance step is taught, there are literally weeks of research and reading done to find an appropriate story. Artistic Director Thomas Morrell enjoys creating ballets based on lesser-known fairy tales and folk legends. Since these are original ballets, there is no musical score written to accompany the dancing. It can take hundreds of hours of listening to music to build the score. In a few productions, the company has secured the talents of some of Northern Michigan’s finest musicians to play live at the performances. Finally, comes the choreography. For a youth ballet, it takes about one hour to teach one minute of choreography. So, for a two-hour full-length ballet, it can take up to 120 hours to teach the choreography.

We can’t send the dancers onstage in just leotards and tights, so costuming plays a big role in the production and is often the most costly component of the ballet. Then there are the backdrops, sets and props which must be built, purchased, rented or borrowed. Being a non-profit organization, we must set an annual budget, apply for grants, and solicit funding from corporations and individual memberships. And it is vitally important to have a strong board of trustees and an ambitious corps of volunteers. It really takes a concentrated effort from everyone involved. The end result is a magical evening for all ages and an opportunity to see a beautiful live performance by these talented young dancers.

The dancers are selected by open audition, regardless of studio affiliation, and range in age from 9 to 18 representing four surrounding counties. Company members must have achieved the intermediate level or above in ballet, pointe, modern and jazz. They rehearse 6 to 7 hours every Saturday but attend dance classes anywhere from 13 to 18 hours a week. The purpose of the company is to offer education, technical training and performance opportunities to talented young dancers and to introduce the community to original ballet productions, formal and informal concerts and elementary school touring programs. This year the ballet features 21 dancers, including guest dancer, Justin Koertgen, a faculty member at Interlochen Arts Academy. Maria Piché and Sarah James will share the title role of Princess Aya.

The Princess Peony, being a Japanese folk tale, we thought it would be fun and informative to have our dancers learn a little about the culture. Mrs. Misaeng Liggett came in and gave our students a lesson in Japanese language and showed them how to dress in an authentic Japanese kimono and taught them how to use chopsticks.

The Northwest Michigan Ballet Theatre was founded in September of 1997 by director Thomas Morrell and is housed at the studios of Ballet Etc. Dance Institute. NMBT is a Non-Profit 501(c)3 corporation.


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