Evanston Dance Ensemble to bring audience into the magical world of Narnia in ‘The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe’


Photo courtesy of Matt Galvin

Evanston Dance Ensemble will perform its production of “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” Thursday through Sunday.

Kara Peeler, Print Managing Editor

After a three-year wait, Evanston Dance Ensemble will put on its seventh production of “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” Thursday through Sunday at the Louis Theater on Northwestern’s campus.

EDE Artistic Director Christina Ernst said putting on the performance meant coming “full-circle” and was “healing” for the ensemble.

This marks EDE’s first production of “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” since the run was canceled in March 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The EDE signature production first premiered in 2005. 

Based on the book of the same name by C.S. Lewis, “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” tells the story of a group of children who fled to the countryside from a war-stricken city. They enter a wardrobe to discover the magical world of Narnia. Through their adventures, they learn how to stand up against the dark energy evil characters bring to Narnia. 

“It’s sort of like any fairy tale,” said EDE founder Béa Rashid (Communication ’78). “There seems to be something from that fairy tale for every generation to come away with …. What keeps the appeal of those stories? Something that is passed down from generation to generation — it’s a similar thing with this production.” 

Annie Arnoult (Weinberg ’97) — who was also on NU’s dance faculty and is now an artistic director at Open Dance Project  — was one of the piece’s original choreographers. She said she remembers sitting and drinking coffee and tea with Ernst and Béa Rashid, imagining how to develop the story into a dance. 

For Arnoult, seeing the seventh production “feels a lot like watching a child grow up.” 

“It’s neat to know that the future of the dance field is connected to what (then) felt very new, but we now know that’s actually a little part of history,” Arnoult said. “It’s great to see that the piece has the depth and richness to last and to still feel very relevant.” 

With its 22-member cast for this production, EDE is a pre-professional dance group with more than 270 alums — many of whom go on to have successful careers, Ernst said. 

She said the project has a strong generational component for dancers. 

“Pretty much all the dancers grew up watching the show in the audience, and then as they’re growing up in our world …. (they’re) in it,” Ernst said. “I think that’s such a sort of full circle kind of thing.” 

The production also features an original score by Emmy-winning composer and musician Steve Rashid (Bienen M.M. ’83). He said knew he and Béa Rashid would be good collaborators because they had originally met working on a theatre project, so “apart from creating (their) lives together, the idea of working together on a project is always appealing.” 

He collaborated with choreographers to discuss their wishes and what each dance piece needed to represent — before drafting the music and adjusting, as needed. 

“It’s always moving for me to work with bands with other choreographers because I get to see what my music looks like,” Steve Rashid said. “My world is all audio, and so once I finished music, and then suddenly, it’s up on the stage and people (are) moving, it’s almost like I get to see the music.” 

Steve Rashid also said the dancers have worked hard, combining inspiration, athleticism and beautiful dancing. 

With projections, stage pieces and costuming including masks and headpieces for animals like wolves, the production draws in an audience every year. Arnoult said she is proud of how the production is “a beautiful piece of art” and that its continual community presence affirms EDE’s hard work. 

The play combines fantastical traits with human elements, according to Béa Rashid. 

“I want the audience to feel like they have gone through the wardrobe into Narnia,” Béa Rashid said. “That they have sort of experienced this world beyond our world, and that they have gone on the journey along with the kids, along with the dancers and are somehow changed in their hearts.” 

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Twitter: @karapeeler

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