‘Disney on Ice’ a family tradition for skater

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What takes 40 skaters, 750 costumes, a set 42 feet high, and travels on four buses?

“Disney on Ice: Dream Big.” And it opens today (Dec. 12) and goes until Dec. 15 at the Times Union Center.

“It is an adjustment,” said skater Sarah Santee. “The show is a big difference compared to competitive skating. There are fewer nerves, more fun to be had and it’s nice to perform for a crowd and see the kids’ faces and get that energy.”

Santee was calling from Allen, Texas outside of Dallas on a U.S. tour that started in September and is expected to wrap up at the end of summer with the last few weeks with performances in Puerto Rico and Columbia.

It’s a massive undertaking. There are seven to twelve two-hour shows a week with each show taking twelve hours to set up. Besides the skaters, there are at least sixty more people who travel with the show including all the techies, dressers, someone who sharpens the skates and bus drivers who handle the thirteen trailers that transport the production and the equipment. 

The inspiration for the show focuses on Disney’s films that involved leading ladies, such as Rapunzel, Cinderella, Moana, Aurora, Ariel and Tinker Bell. Producer Kenneth Feld said in a press release that with three daughters of his own he realized that each of Disney’s princesses had a dream and the determination to make that dream a reality.

“We wanted to share that inspirational message with our audiences by celebrating the stories of these courageous young women and the friends that helped them along the way,” Feld said.

To capture the emotional responses that audiences had from watching the films meant that the show would have to have “glittering sets, dramatic lighting, breathtaking choreography and a few surprises.” Director Patty Vincent got her inspiration from the song “If You Can Dream” from Disney’s “Wishes” album. Costume designer Ilona Somogyi went directly to the films themselves as well as remembering how dazzled she’d been as a little girl when she dressed as her favorite Disney princess, such as Cinderella.

Set designer Robert Little wanted sets, which include Cinderella’s carriage and various chandeliers, to be beautiful and surprising with lighting designer Peter Morse working to complement these sets and make story transitions smooth. Choreographer Cindy Stuart chose to highlight each story with some of the skating routines for the soloists and pair skaters of almost Olympic Games difficulty.

“Some of the jumps for the men are high level,” Santee said. “And for the pairs — I’m skating as Jasmine with a man — have lifts that are competitive level.”

Santee has been skating since she was a toddler and after placing well in several competitions, joined Disney right after graduating high school three years ago. In a way, it’s part of a family tradition. Her parents skated in Disney productions during the 1980s.

“My mom was their first Cinderella and my dad did a lot of roles,” she said.

Once she was hired, rehearsals took about six weeks with any revamping taking an additional two weeks of rehearsal. She’s on the ice a lot even with two days off a week.

Besides having to get used to large ensemble numbers and navigating the sets, each venue’s size and condition of its ice has been something more to deal with.

“In each venue the ice is always different. . . its quality and density and the size of the arena,” Santee said. “It’s another adjustment but fortunately we get a lot of ice time to get comfortable.”

So far, her favorite times besides her segment are the opening, which she said was the best ensemble number especially with Tinker Bell, and Act II’s Coco number, which she said was a crowd favorite.


‘Disney on Ice: Dream Big’

WHEN: Dec. 12, 13, 14 at 7 p.m.; Dec. 14 at 11 a.m. and 3 p.m.; Dec. 15 at noon and 4 p.m.
WHERE: Times Union Center
HOW MUCH: Each performance varies from $28 – $272
MORE INFO: www.centeralbany.com; 800 854-2196



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