Oklahoma City Ballet’s eclectic 2018-19 season to include ‘Alice (in Wonderland),’ ‘The Nutcracker’ and ‘La Sylphide’
An enchanted forest fairy headed for tragedy, a group of dancing goddesses, a heroic spellbound nutcracker and a magically mischievous vanishing Cheshire Cat are among the colorful characters the Oklahoma City Ballet will bring to the stage in its 2018-19 season. “I like that this year opens with a big splash with ‘Alice (In Wonderland),’ and then they (audiences) go kind of on a journey. They go though ‘Nutcracker’ and then they visit this extremely classic work ... with ‘La Sylphide,’ said OKC Ballet Artistic Director Robert Mills. “Then they come out at the end, and really the triple bill alone will take them on a journey.”
The venerable dance company will head down the rabbit hole into the new season Oct. 26-28 with the Oklahoma premiere of “Alice (In Wonderland),” based on Lewis Carroll’s often-adapted fantasy tales. The ballet will feature choreography by Septime Webre, who was last year named artistic director of Hong Kong Ballet.
When he was translating Carroll’s iconic 1865 novel “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” and the 1871 sequel “Alice Through the Looking-Glass” into a full-length ballet, Webre said he knew capturing the characters would be crucial.
“I knew that one of the keys would be the kinetic nature of the crazy characters Lewis Carroll presented. It was less about the storyline and more about the actual characterization. Our language of ballet is metaphorical; it’s not literal. Even when
we’re telling stories, it’s at its strongest when we’re describing character, emotion, atmosphere, ideas,” said Webre in a break while working with the OKC Ballet dancers last week. “It seems so simple and obvious, but it took me years ... to think, ‘Oh, right, I just need to understand how these characters move.’”
To create his stylish trip to Carroll’s wacky fantasy land, which debuted in 2012 with Washington (D.C.) Ballet, Webre worked closely with French Canadian costume designer Liz Vandal, who is best known for designing the costumes for the Cirque du Soleil show “Ovo,” and New York-based composer and violinist Matthew Pierce, who will be guest conductor and play first violin with the Oklahoma City Philharmonic for the local performances.
“When it (‘Alice’) debuted, we weren’t a company big enough to do it,” Mills said. “It’s interesting to see how our company’s growth now offers us the ability to do
greater productions on the stage.”
Including pre-professional trainees, OKC Ballet now boasts 115 dancers, with the core company numbering 32. Both the capital campaign for and renovations to the new Susan E. Brackett Dance Center of OKC Ballet are nearing completion.
“It’s a celebration year for us,” Mills said.
OKC Ballet will bring back its perennial holiday favorite “The Nutcracker” Dec. 14-23, with the Oklahoma City Philharmonic performing Pyotr Tchaikovsky’s cherished score live. The annual Nutcracker Tea in the Kingdom of Sweets will serve up even more seasonal fun Dec. 22.
As with the seasonopening jaunt to Wonderland, the dance adaptation of German author E.T.A. Hoffmann’s 1816 story “The Nutcracker and the Mouse King” is especially enchanting for children, and between the two productions, Mills said he is hopeful that many youngsters will have their first experience seeing ballet.
“When you’re bringing a child into the theater, the story is accessible. What
they see is going to be magical and exciting. And it does kind of develop your audience because they’ll always have a fond appreciation of ballet from that first experience,” he said.
The iconic Christmas story also becomes a touchstone for many young dancers at the Oklahoma City Ballet Yvonne Chouteau School. “There are girls in our school that are in our highest level that might be cast in ‘Waltz of the Flowers’ for the first time, and they get to dance in the corps de ballet with the professional girls,” he said. So, it’s like these rites of passage over time for a lot of children.”
The company will dance into 2019 with one of the world’s oldest surviving ballets, “La Sylphide,” Feb. 22-24.
Considered the first major ballet of the Romantic era, it centers on a young Scotsman who falls in love with a sylph, an enchanting forest fairy, on the eve of his wedding day. His conundrum attracts the attention of a wicked witch. “The ballet hasn’t been done in Oklahoma for over 25 years. I know that
because I was in the production that was done last time at Tulsa Ballet when I was a dancer in Tulsa Ballet,” Mills said. “So, I’m excited to remind people about this era of ballet.”
The production will showcase August Bournonville’s original choreography, and the OKC Philharmonic will perform Herman Severin Lovenskiold’s captivating score.
“In the Romantic era of ballet, women were in the beginning stages of developing how to dance en pointe. So, that’s the idea of sylphs. The use of the pointe shoe and women rising to the tips of their toes created an otherworldly, sort of ghostlike, sylphlike person,” Mills said. “It is a fun, historically interesting show ... but the ballet ends really quite tragically.”
In contrast, the season will close April 19-20 with “Visionaries: A Triple Bill,” a collection of three premieres, including a world premiere by award-winning newcomer Cayetano Soto Ramirez, who will create a new work on OKC Ballet’s dancers. “I put him on a program with two titans of American ballet, both
of which went on to international fame, because I feel like this is an artist that can have a future like that. I feel like he is really pushing the boundaries of what our art form is doing right now in so many ways,” Mills said.
The triple bill also will feature the Oklahoma premiere of Robert Joffrey’s “Pas de Deesses”
(or “Dance of the Goddesses”), presented with live piano accompaniment by the OKC Philharmonic’s Peggy Payne in honor of the 30th anniversary of the dance icon’s death, and the company premiere of “The Four Temperaments,” one of legendary choreographer George Balanchine’s earliest works in his signature neoclassical style. “I think that’s one of the reasons why we’re attracting really great dancers is our repertoire is varied. Our repertoire spans everything from their own artistic director’s work to 19th and 20th century short works from Balanchine,” Mills said.
“I think they love that they go so far out one way and then that rubber band just pulls them back somewhere else. That’s a really interesting thing. It can be hard on a dancer’s body because it crosses athletic extremes at times. But I think they love it. I love it, and I think our audiences love it.”
Principal dancer Alvin Tovstogray performs Monday during rehearsals for the Oklahoma City Ballet’s upcoming production of “Alice (In Wonderland)” at the Susan E. Brackett Dance Center of OKC Ballet in Oklahoma City.
BELOW: Charles Martin appears as the White Rabbit in a promotional image for Kansas City Ballet’s 2014 production of “Alice (In Wonderland).”