A princess, an adventure, and a real life mystery.
Combining a dynamic fusion of drama, acrobatics, dance, music, gymnastics and cirque-like storytelling, the Cirque Theatre Company and Okanagan Rhythmic Gymnastics take to the stage for their annual production at the Vernon Performing Arts Centre next weekend.
This year’s show, Anastasia: The Mystery of a Russian Princess, has fascinated director Camille Martens since she visited the princess’ real life palace in St. Petersburg, Russia as a child.
“Her story has intrigued me for so many years. We started playing with ideas for this show in 1997 but I knew that we didn’t have a cast strong enough to pull it off,” she said. “It’s exciting to know that we are at a place where we have a team with such depth in both quality and quantity that we can take on a show of this scope.”
The story begins in the opulent Romanov family palace with Russia on the brink of revolution. While peasants starve outside, inside the palace, the royal family enjoy huge banquets and parties. Anastasia’s grandmother, The Grand Duchess (played by Gilian Kilgour), is horrified by her son’s disregard for the poor peasants of Russia. She decides to leave for Paris, but not before first bestowing a gift upon the youngest princess, a precious music box to remind her to be true to herself and to honour her compassion for those less fortunate.
Playing young Anastasia is 10-year-old Jaedyn Andreotti. Coach and assistant director Brie-Anne MacPherson has been blown away by the young gymnast.
“Her work ethic and dedication to the part have been truly exceptional. She has really worked on embodying the feelings of the young princess, torn between a family she loves and her desire to do what is right,” said MacPherson.
“It’s one of the funnest things I’ve ever done and I love learning all the parts,” added Andreotti.
Fuelling the revolution against the Romonovs is the Tzar’s advisor, Rasputin.
“The real life story of Rasputin is very dark and we were unsure of having an actor embody such an evil man, especially in a show geared for all ages,” said Martens.
The solution? A 12-foot puppet, complete with moving head and arms. Controlled by multiple puppeteers, this larger-than-life Rasputin is joined by an army of minions who literally flip their way over and across the stage.
The peasants of Russia storm the palace and Anastasia suffers a blow to the head, losing her memory. The royal cook finds the princess and takes her to an orphanage where she hopes Anastasia will be hidden from Rasputin and his minions.
Cut to an orphanage full of some very talented orphans. Leading this band of poor, deprived children is Martens herself as the grumpy, but lovable orphanage keeper.
“Interacting with the kids on stage is such a delight,” she said. “I just adore all these fabulous aspiring gymnasts and actors and getting to play such a fun role with them makes me smile inside and out.”
Skip eight years into the future and Anastasia is ready to set out on her own in search of the family she will not be complete without. The part of the grown up Anastasia is played by Canadian rhythmic gymnastics star, Jessica Krushen.
Youngest national champion ever, Pan Am Games gold medalist and Olympic Hopes finalist, Krushen is one of the most accomplished gymnasts in Okanagan Rhythmic’s history.
“It feels so amazing to be back. It’s very exciting to be a part of one of Camille’s productions again. Being in such a happy and creative environment brings me so much joy,” said Krushen.
Anastasia’s memory is returning as pieces of the puzzle begin to fit together while she journeys to Paris; although Rasputin’s minions are never far behind. Searching Paris for her grandma, Anastasia comes across many interesting characters including gypsies, a mime and a pack of pink poodles.
The dramatic climax of this show is sure to bring you to the edge of your seat as Rasputin and his minions place a spell on a 30-foot bridge that literally comes to life, said Martens, adding the bridge is just one of many outstanding touches built by master lighting and set designer Dave Brotsky.
Anastasia takes the stage at the VPAC Friday at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday at 2:30 and 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $25/adult, $20 senior/student, $16/child 12 and under (family pricing also available) at the Ticket Seller, 250-549-7469, ww.ticketseller.ca.