Van Wyk started with an abstract sketch of Aslan and projected a transparency of the image on his makeshift canvas: a wall in his basement that he covered with white paper. On top of that, he layered transparencies outlining a lion’s anatomy. Then he traced, using one color of chalk for the real lion, another for the imaginary one, and a third for the hybrid, which was “what I started thinking of the puppet as,” said Van Wyk. “In between my wild, over-the-top sketch and a normal, down to the nuts and bolts, lion.”
After 180 hours of work, Van Wyk packed Aslan in his car and drove from his home in Wisconsin to the Washington Ballet studios in the District. It was three weeks before opening night, and there was still work to be done — as of mid-June, much of the fabric had yet to be applied to Aslan’s body — and choreography to master. “Let’s say that a dancer takes five minutes to figure out a move,” said Van Wyk. “I would say it takes triple that for Aslan, generally.”
Which is fitting, considering who Aslan is. “He’s wild,” said Van Wyk. “That was important in my head, that he was not easily tamed.”
* * *
The 10-minute lunch break is over and Aslan is still dead. Rosen and Ramsay slide their backpacks on and crumble to the floor. From where the audience sits, it is hard to make out Aslan’s face. Just his belly is visible, really. And the soft brown bottoms of his paws.
Then he starts to breathe. His chest moves, slowly at first, as he inhales and exhales, as Rosen and Ramsay inhale and exhale inside him. The music rises and so does he, shaking out one leg at a time, getting feeling back in his body.
Aslan stands all the way up on his hind legs and lets out a triumphant ROOOAAARR! He nuzzles Lucy and Susan Pevensie, who have witnessed his rebirth. It’s not possible, not even close, but that doesn’t matter because it’s happening anyway.
The scene is over. Aslan exits the stage, propelled as if by some otherworldly force, in giant, boundless leaps.
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
June 20 - Aug. 12, at Imagination Stage, 4908 Auburn Ave., Bethesda.www.imaginationstage.org. 301-280-1660.