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Harriet is on the hunt for the perfect Halloween costume

Emily Godfrey, Julia Kabernagel and Madelyn Brainard are ready to find Harriet a Halloween costume.
Emily Godfrey, Julia Kabernagel and Madelyn Brainard are ready to find Harriet a Halloween costume. (Courtesy of Jordan Williams, Baltimore Sun Media Group)

Harriet is in search of a Halloween costume. Actually, she's been in search of one since the mid-1980s.

Luckily for her, she finds one every year.

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"Harriet's Happiest Halloween," developed and staged annually by the Harford Dance Theatre, opens Thursday at Harford Community College and will run through the weekend.

"The basic story is something that really grabs audiences. The main character, Harriet, every year is looking for the perfect costume," the dance company's manager, Jordan Williams, said. "People like to come and see what Harriet is doing this year, that's why it's become such a holiday favorite."

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Performances are at 6 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 16, 5:30 and 8 p.m. Friday, Oct. 17, and 1 and 4 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 18, and Sunday, Oct. 19. The show is recommended for ages 5 to 12.

Tickets for Harriet's Happiest Halloween are $15 for adults, $12 for seniors and $10 for patrons age 17 and younger. Tickets can be purchased by visiting tickets.harford.edu, at the HCC Ticket Office in the Chesapeake Center, or by calling 443-412-2211.

"Harriet's Happiest Halloween" is one of four performances each year by Harford Dance Theatre, the resident community dance company at Harford Community College.

Besides "Harriet" every October, the company also puts on "The Nutcracker" every December. In the spring, they do a children's show, usually a narrated fairy tale, Williams said. Last year was "Pinocchio," and next April they'll perform "Alice in Wonderland." Company leaders are still working on the August performance. This year's was "Una," an original production, contemporary dance show.

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Suzanne Zantop wrote the first script of "Harriet's Happiest Halloween," with the help of Todd Mion, Gay Lynn Price and Eyvo Johnson. The first year, Harriet was in her attic hoping to find the perfect Halloween costume, and every October since then, Harford Dance Theatre has created a new script and storyline featuring Harriet and her friends.

Harriet, who Williams describes as a preteen, probably about 12 years old, wants to have a cool and unique costume and not necessarily do the same old thing. One year, she was sucked into the television. Another, she searched all over the mall.

"Different characters come out of that," Williams, who has been with the company since April, said. "Every year people come back because the storyline is the same, but how she gets to her costume is different."

All the characters developed, she said, are lovable favorites of Halloween, such as ghosts, bats, witches and skeletons.

This year, Harriet will incorporate superstitions into her search and the performance will include Harford Community College's new LED video wall, Williams said.

"Every dance is a superstition, a black cat crossing your path; if you break a mirror you have years bad luck – for that we have cool costumes with shiny broken glass pieces," she said. Another dance will be with umbrellas, which bring bad luck, if they're opened inside.

There are 15 superstition pieces throughout the performance.

The new LED video wall will include multi-media images and video to go with the pieces.

"The LED wall is transformed into Harriet's computer screen. It's in her bedroom, it's her screen; she'll be looking up superstitions, costume ideas online, doing a Google search. Technology makes it look like a big magical computer screen," Williams said. "That's a really new thing we're doing. And I think it's going to make it interactive and exciting and really fun for kids and adults, too, because it's something new."

Children attending the show are encouraged to dress up in a favorite costume.

"That makes it another really fun element, it makes them feel almost like they're part of the show," Williams said.

While the show is aimed at children 5 to 12, it has "cool elements" for all ages, she said.

Harford Dance Theatre

The company began in 1982 as a club featuring seven adult dancers. Today, it offers dance classes for students age 11 and older.

What makes the Harford Dance Theatre different from other companies is dancers don't have to take classes with them to audition for one of the shows, Williams said.

"We have open auditions. Everyone is invited to audition," she said.

This year's "Harriet's" cast includes dancers from a dozen or so other dance studios in Harford County.

"We are very inclusive and that's one of the cool things. We're at a community college, we're a community dance company," Williams said. "We really encourage dancers from any studios to come and take part in our productions."

"Harriet's" includes all kinds of dance - jazz, tap, ballet, hip hop and modern.

Modern dance, Williams said, is technical like ballet, but the movement is not as structured.

"It's more about using all aspects and angles of the body to make different kinds of curves and angles. It's a lot more organic," she said. "Hip hop is more grounded, more energetic, you're making sharper, more powerful movements."

"Harriet's" has about 40 dancers this year, as well as six voice-over artists who narrate the performance.

Each lead dancer role has a voice-over artist whose lines, read from the script, are recorded and are played during the show as the dancers act out what's happening.

Auditions for "Harriet's" were in July, and dancers have been practicing weekly since August, primarily on Sundays.

Each piece has its own rehearsal time, Williams said, all the cats for an hour, then the bats for an hour.

"There is overlap. Many dancers are cast in several things," Williams said. "It's a good way to stretch them."

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