Disney on Ice: Olympics choreographer works magic with Mickey, others

Disney On Ice • Sarah Kawahara won an Emmy for Salt Lake's opening ceremonies.
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Salt Lake City sparks some great memories for Sarah Kawahara, who choreographed the Disney on Ice show that will play at EnergySolutions Arena Nov. 14-18.

"I love Salt Lake," said Kawahara, who also choreographed the Opening Ceremonies of the 2002 Olympics. "That was one of the greatest experiences of my life. I spent a lot of time there, and it was fantastic."

She took away more than a lot of good memories. Kawahara also won an Emmy Award for outstanding choreography.

"That was a thrill," she said. "But the bigger thrill was to be in Utah for those Games and for those opening ceremonies. I will never forget it."

Five years earlier, she became the first skating choreographer to win an Emmy, for a Scott Hamilton special. (Hamilton, by the way, wrote in his autobiography, "I owe Sarah my entire professional skating career. She's a genius.")

Kawahara, who was herself a figure skater and headlined Ice Capades shows for several years, has been choreographing figure-skating shows — for tours, TV shows and even cruise lines — for more than 30 years. The 2002 Olympics were a highlight, but just one entry on her extensive résumé.

It's both very different and very much the same to choreograph Disney on Ice, according to Kawahara. "It's a big production with a lot of skaters," she said. "There are a lot of things going all at once."

And she's working with icons in the current production, "Disney on Ice Celebrates 100 Years of Magic." She put together segments that feature characters from "Finding Nemo," "Beauty and the Beast," "Toy Story," "Pinoccho," "Mulan," "The Incredibles" and "The Lion King." Another segment features half a dozen Disney princesses, while another spotlights Mickey and Minnie Mouse.

"We're always trying to add something new," Kawahara said. "This year, we're doing 'It's a Small World,' which is the first time we've ever adapted a [Disneyland] ride."

Of course, choreographing Disney on Ice presents a sometimes unique set of challenges. Like the "Aladdin" number.

"It's one thing to work with a group of young skaters and make sure everything goes as planned," Kawahara said. "It's another thing to do that when they're all wearing big blue Genie costumes."

spierce@sltrib.com —

'Disney on Ice:100 Years of Magic'

When • Wednesday and Thursday, Nov. 14-15, at 7 p.m.; Friday, Nov. 16, at 3:30 and 7 p.m.; Saturday, Nov. 17, at 11 a.m., 3 and 7 p.m.; Sunday, Nov. 18, at 1:30 and 5:30 p.m.

Where • EnergySolutions Arena, 301 W. South Temple, Salt Lake City

Tickets • $16, $20, $30 (VIP) and $48 (front row), select opening-night tickets $10; available at the EnergySolutions box 0ffice, all SmithsTix locations, 801-355-SEAT or 800-888-TIXX, and smithstix.com or www.energysolutionsarena.com.