Once upon a time, a train tap-danced through Katie Cook’s dreams.
The production includes 70 dancers in grades 1 through 12, an orchestra, a choir and, since you can’t tell the story of the Polar Express without it, a tap-dancing train.
“That idea came to me in a dream,” Cook, who is directing the production, said of the train.
Actually, the entire production is a dream for Cook, who first staged the show several years ago. “I had always wanted to do it again,” she said. “This year it’s time.”
The story, which was initially told in a book and later a popular movie, is certainly familiar to most of the young dancers. The 2004 movie is somewhat different from the book by Chris Van Allsburg, which was published in 1985. Both, however, draw upon the magic of the Christmas season and the vision of a train traveling through the snow to the North Pole.
“I definitely draw inspiration from the book,” Cook said. “I’ve created some of my own characters to carry the magic through.”
Choreography includes ballet, tap, pointe and jazz. Robert S.P. Gardner, who conducts the orchestra, wrote about half the music used in the production. The rest comes from the movie. Tryouts for dancers were held last May, and a week-long session in August familiarized the dancers with the choreography. Since then, rehearsals have been held every weekend.
However, those rehearsals for the dancers have taken place separately from Gardner’s orchestra, and from Sarah Goodman’s choir. Final rehearsals next week will finally pull all three groups together.
At that point, the dancers will find out what it’s like to perform with a live orchestra rather than recorded music.
“They have to be very aware, really listen,” Cook said. “I’ve tried to prepare them for that. Thankfully, we have three full orchestra rehearsals.”
In addition, the dancers are getting extra experience by giving outreach performances, including today at the Boys & Girls Club of Rochester and Saturday morning at the Rochester Public Library.
“We want to give back to the community,” Cook said. “We care about reaching out to people who wouldn’t necessarily be able to come to the performance. The show is magical and we want to share it.”
Of course, the dancers will give up a large part of their Thanksgiving holiday weekend to perform. But it’s the perfect time for the production, Cook said. “It’s a great family weekend,” she said. “People are ready to dive into the holiday.”