Audiences discover dance magic in Neverland

Published 7:05 pm Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Two weeks of on-stage rehearsals after months in the studio. Choreography to be tweaked. Costumes to be altered. Music to be adjusted. Props to finishing building and painting and backdrops to hang.  Turns out it takes a village to put on a big dance production like the ones Sonya Sims Rice puts on in early June each year.

Finally, it’s opening night.  Time for the magic . . . courtesy of a generous sprinkling of pixie dust and plenty of preparation.

Sonya’s Dance and Fitness’s “Finding Neverland,” the studio’s 21st annual recital in the Camellia City, brought J.M. Barrie’s beloved characters–from Peter Pan and the Darling family to Princess Tiger Lily and the Lost Boys—to life on the stage of the Ritz last Friday and Saturday nights.

For the first time in the studio’s history, the annual recital did not open with the studio’s advanced dancers performing. Instead, 37 members of the Beginning Jazz Class, levels one and two, entered skipping down the aisles in their colorful and cute newsboy-style costumes for the “In the Beginning . . . All Children, Except One, Grow Up.”

Amber Smith, who delighted audiences as Peter in “Peter and the Wolf” in December, returned to play another fictional fave, Peter Pan, a lithe and dashing figure in green who simply refuses to grow up. Kimball Nall was a charming Wendy, while Hannah Sellers and Hayden Fail ably performed as the gregarious younger Darling siblings. Xada Ingram was the dancer inside the furry guise of Nana, the Darlings’ adorable dog.  Riley Campbell proved most agile and amusing as Peter’s Shadow while Syndi Bowers was the epitome of the magical (and jealous) sprite, Peter’s ever-faithful Tinker Bell.

Lance Smith and Sarah Nichols proved a handsome and talented couple as Mother and Father Darling, displaying their considerable balletic and ballroom dancing skills on stage during “Mother’s and Father’s Night Out.”

As always, the younger dancers elicited “awwws” and chuckles a-plenty as they performed as ball attendees and mini-crocs (Pre-Ballet class, ages 4-5) and as shimmering evening stars and the Lost Boys (Creative Movement, ages 3 and 4).

Xada Ingram donned a fancy velvet frock coat and long black curls to perform as the notorious Captain Hook, with Lance Smith, his  amusing sidekick Mr. Smee. Hook’s crew of dancing pirates (the Intermediate Ballet class) brandished their cutlasses and cannon during “Yo Ho, Yo Ho! It’s a Pirate’s Life for Me.” 

Things took a more lyrical turn during numbers like “Neverland is Home to Lost Boys Like Me” featuring the Intermediate/Advanced Contemporary Class and “I’ll Think of a Mermaid Lagoon . . .” with the Beginning Ballet Class.

Alum dancer and guest artist Mary Hannah Miller charmed as a comical crocodile chasing the dastardly (and cowardly) Hook, this time performed by another alum dancer and guest artist Cory Rice, eldest daughter of Rice.

Two other former students, Rice’s younger daughter Courtney, currently artist-in-residence at her mother’s studio and Rice’s “daughter of the heart,” Wilmington, N.C.-based dance instructor Olivia Glenn, also performed. The two were a sizzling dance duo in “We Pillage, We Plunder, We Rifle and Loot.”

One of the highlights of the recital was a rousing rhythmic number “What Makes the Red Man Red?” performed by Riley Campbell as Princess Tiger Lily, the Indians of Neverland Dance Team and the Intermediate/Advanced Jazz Classes.

Rice praised all her dancers for their hard work and gave special accolades and goodie bags to her student assistants—Sydni Bowers, Riley Campbell, Xada Ingram, Mary Virginia Meadows, Kimball Nall and assistant-in-training Lily Boswell—for their help throughout the season. The studio owner also thanked alumnae dancers Kendall Burt, Tori Bailey, Kathryn Crocker, Clemmie Croley Cauthen, Erica McNaughton and Hayden Brown for their work behind the scenes for the recital.

Following Saturday night’s final performance, Rice and her daughters posed with some of the dancers as they proudly displayed  their new trophies, faces flushed with the excitement of the moment.

“These children keep me young and I so love my job,” Rice said with a smile.