En pointe

Ok­la­homa City Bal­let’s eclec­tic 2018-19 sea­son to in­clude ‘Alice (in Won­der­land),’ ‘The Nutcracker’ and ‘La Syl­phide’

The Oklahoman (Sunday) - - SUNDAY LIFE -

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.

Mov­ing char­ac­ters

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.

Yule­tide fa­vorite

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.”

Old­est bal­let

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.”

Triple bill

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.”

[PHOTO BY CHRIS LANDS­BERGER, THE OK­LA­HOMAN]

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.

Brandy McDonnell bm­c­don­nell@ ok­la­homan.com [PHOTO PRO­VIDED BY KENNY JOHN­SON]

BE­LOW: Charles Martin ap­pears as the White Rab­bit in a pro­mo­tional image for Kan­sas City Bal­let’s 2014 pro­duc­tion of “Alice (In Won­der­land).”

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