What It Takes To Perform In ‘Disney On Ice’

This is “Disney on Ice.” But as you can see, there’s much more to
the show than skating. Bryan Santiago: One, two, three and four. Three, turn, five, six,
crossover, seven, eight. Narrator: We got to meet some of the show’s principal performers. Like Nelson Sanchez Leemet,
who plays the role of Woody. Maria Starr, who plays Elastigirl. And Nathan Miller and Sophia Adams, who star as Aladdin and Princess Jasmine. We went behind the scenes. Nelson Sanchez Leemet: I
feel like I’m a gymnast, not gonna lie. Narrator: To find out how
these athletic performers push themselves to limits they didn’t even know were possible. Maria Starr: Honestly, six
weeks ago, I don’t think that I could do these, and now I could do them and talk to you. Narrator: This is what it takes to perform in “Disney on Ice.” We caught up with the cast and crew of “Disney on Ice Presents:
Road Trip Adventures,” the brand’s newest show, just days before the company set out on a two-year, 67-city tour of North America. Cindy Stewart: Take a break. [clapping] Narrator: The show is created here, at Feld Entertainment
Studios in Ellenton, Florida, about 40 miles south of Tampa. Inside the 580,000-square-foot facility, the cast and crew have
spent roughly a year putting the show together, rehearsing and training six days a week, for eight hours a day, in a full-size rink complete with lights, props,
and high-end LED screens. Cindy: We’re in our final rehearsals before our first preview show. And we’re just tying up loose ends and making last-minute changes. Narrator: On the day of our
visit, friends and family of Feld Entertainment
employees filled the arena to witness a special preview performance of “Road Trip Adventures.” Along with familiar faces like Mickey, Minnie, Donald, and Goofy, the new show features segments from
recent Disney movies, like “Aladdin,” “Toy Story 4,”
and “Mary Poppins Returns.” Nicole Feld: We partner
with the Disney Company to understand what’s in
their content pipeline. What’s new and different,
what’s coming out. And from there we pick out the moments that we feel like are gonna resonate the most with audiences. Producer: You use these
skates for a long time, or? Maria: I never have them
more than 11 months. It’s, like, always 10 or 11 months. Bryan: All right, so, “Trip
a Little Light Fantastic.” The number overall is
looking really great, but there’s three sections I
really wanna clean up today. Five, six, seven, eight. One, two, three, four,
five, six, seven, eight. One and two. Narrator: The “Road Trip Adventures” cast features 53 performers. Bryan: Much better. Narrator: Feld Entertainment
wouldn’t share details about their salaries but did say that they are provided with healthcare. Judy Thomas: Most of the skaters
here have grown up skating, from young children through competitions. And we really do recruit and go out and really search the
talent through competitions as they’re coming up through
the different levels. Bryan: One, two, three, and four. Good. So, Nelson, just make sure that you’re heel together, lean back, lean forward. Nelson: I was born in the
Dominican Republic, so, no winter, no snow, no big rinks. Never even thought about figure skating until I was 10 when I moved to Canada. I didn’t really like the
competitive side of skating, I was more performing
and letting the audience enjoy the performance. So when it got too competitive, I kinda took a step back and I
looked at “Disney on Ice.” So I was like, I have to
do that, it’s my turn now. And here I am today. Maria: I skated competitively and did that until I
graduated high school. And then I just applied
for “Disney on Ice,” sent in a skating résumé and,
like, video of my skating. And I got offered a job. And I was here a month later. And I’ve been on the road,
this’ll be my 10th year. Nathan Miller: I’ve actually been skating for about 25 years now. When I was a kid, I
lived in Oklahoma City, and “Disney on Ice” always
came through at the state fair. And that was, like, a big
highlight for me as a child. And I always as a kid wanted to skate alongside Goofy, and, I mean, here I am, now eight years, and I still get to do it. Oh, it was everything I hoped it would be. It was so much fun. Sophia Adams: I was just a
competitive skater for the US. I’ve been training for my whole life. I’ve been to Nationals,
I’ve done the whole thing. But I really wanted to travel, I really wanted to earn a living off of what I do as a career. I’ve been with the company
for about five years. I’ve traveled around the world, almost on every tour possible. But what is also extremely great about this particular show is
I actually get to fly. Narrator: While the show
is called “Disney on Ice,” some performers spend a bulk
of their time in the air. In addition to skating, the show features complex aerial choreography. Nathan: Do the arabesque
death spiral release, and then we’ll stop here. Narrator: This requires
collaboration between the performers and crew members in charge
of operating the cables connected to their harnesses. Danica O’Neill: A lot of
the people that we have have never really flown
before or done any aerial work because they are naturally skaters. So where they’ve started and where they are now has grown so much. So we are able to do more the more that they are
comfortable with and can do. Sophia: So, we actually have
to have a close relationship with our operator when
we’re learning this process because, you know, there’s
only so much I can do. And so you have to get
together with our operator to give you more slack,
less slack, and tension. And help me spin and fly. So instead of just working with a partner, you’re also working with another partner. Narrator: Along with aerial
work, the show’s cast must develop other skills
that go beyond skating. Nelson: This is called a rollup. And it uses a lot of abs
and upper-body strength. It really works your back
and all these muscles that we never really
use as figure skaters. But we have to use it now. Narrator: Nelson’s upper-body strength is put to the test
during the “Mary Poppins” segment of the show. Nelson: Being able to hold on for grip for so long up there, all
my weight’s in my hands for the first time ever. You know, we’re used to being on skates on our own body; it’s all upper-body now. Narrator: The “Mary Poppins”
segment also combines feats of upper-body
strength with aerial work, which occurs when the
lampposts suddenly take flight. Nelson: We always have communication; it’s the most important part. If something goes wrong,
we have a few little waves, thumbs down means down, you know, feet like this also means down, like an emergency exit, in
case something goes wrong. At first we started low, but
the higher we started going, it’s definitely a little scary. Narrator: Not every
role in “Disney on Ice” requires quite the same
level of athletic ability. But each part contributes
to the overall experience. Bryan: Especially figure skaters, it’s a very solitary sport. We don’t grow up always working with, like, a large group together. Getting them to see the bigger picture, know that it’s not yourself
out on the ice by yourself, you’re a part of a huge unit that’s performing in front
of thousands of people. So, it’s kinda getting the mindset of your everyday figure skater into the mindset of a professional athlete. They’ve grown a really close bond, and they’ve become really good friends, and they support each other. It’s a really good group of
people that we have here. Nelson: When I go out there
and I see the audience react so well to us, and all
these families come together and share such a beautiful moment, it gives me so much joy. Makes me miss my family,
but they’re proud of me. I know they’re proud of me.

Antonio Breitenberg

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