Greek mythology, dancing aquatic life and more than 80 ballerina slippers.
These are just a few factors that have gone into GO! Contemporary Dance Works' ballet production of "The Search for Persephone," to be premiered Feb. 22 and 23 at the Bijou Theatre.
Known for "blending contemporary ballet and modern dance with daring athleticism," according to their website, the dance company will present an aesthetically rich representation of the rescue of Persephone, daughter of Demeter, the ancient Greek goddess of agriculture, from her abduction into the underworld.
Darby O'Connor, who has been dancing with GO! since their 2004 founding, believes the production has gone to great lengths to authentically portray its mythological roots.
"This ballet is quite true to traditional Greek myths, told in a more visual and sometimes abstract way," O'Connor said. "The costumes and set are very elaborate and ornate, which makes the scenes come to life."
Designed by director Lisa Hall McKee and her team of choreographers, costumes and scenery include depictions of both forest and underwater settings, complete with dancing flowers, pearls, and starfish. All designs were actualized by a volunteer group comprised mainly of the dancers' relatives. Given the size of the cast, this added up to a large-scale creative coalition.
"We have a huge cast, which can sometimes be a challenge," said Laura Patterson, a Knoxville Catholic High School sophomore who has danced with GO! for three years. "We have about 45 dancers in the show, but our choreographers handled the numbers very well and created a massive and powerful show."
Despite the complications posed by fitting such an extravagant production onto a smaller-scale stage like that of the Bijou, the dancers are ultimately pleased with the venue space, which is booked by GO! on an at least-annual basis.
"I have performed many times at the Bijou with GO! and it is one of my favorite venues in town," O'Connor, who will dance the roles of Gaea, Hades, and a pomegranate, said. "The best part is all of the history that lives there. I am constantly inspired by the energy of past performers that still resides in the space."
An aspect of the production probably not experienced by performers of yore is the incorporation of contemporary aerial dancing.
"We have a lot of aerial work, which can be dangerous if careful precautions are not set," Patterson, who plays the respective roles of flower, gatekeeper of hell, dolphin and deep sea creature, said. "It's always safe though, thanks to our responsible cast and crew."
O'Connor, who says the cast has been rehearsing since early December for sometimes as long as eight hours straight, thinks the aerial aspects make the story more authentic.
"The aerial dance really sets us apart from other shows and allows us to tell the story in a more real way by suspending dancers in the air," she said. "This company blurs the lines of ballet and contemporary dance, making it feel more accessible to me. I'm confident our audience will feel that same sense of accessibility."
Performances begin at 8 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 22 and 3 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 23. Advance tickets, which can be purchased on the Bijou's website, are $17 for students, $22 for adults, and $22 and $25 at the door.