OKC BALLET SOLOIST RELISHES RETURN OF ‘ALICE ( IN WONDERLAND)’
Alejandro González is eagerly going back down the rabbit hole. Newly promoted to soloist, the Oklahoma City Ballet dancer is jumping into the role of the White Rabbit as the company reprises Septime Webre's “Alice (In Wonderland)” Oct. 22-24 at the Civic Center Music Hall.
“The White Rabbit, he's very energetic, and in the story, he's basically leading into what's next,” González said. “He's always in a hurry, so that character, you have to put energy into the steps. It's sometimes very frenetic and going fast, fast, fast.”
Back by popular demand, Weber's colorful adaptation of Lewis Carroll's often trippy classic will open a milestone season for OKC Ballet.
“On this 50th anniversary season, it needed a big splash at the beginning of the year,” said OKC Ballet Artistic Director Robert Mills, who is in his 14th season leading the nonprofit arts organization. “You're talking about a production that premiered in 2012 at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., and has gone on to be performed around the world. ... Audiences love it, so it's perfect for our opening our 50th anniversary.”
In 1963, Oklahoma City Ballet first opened as the Oklahoma City Civic Ballet under the artistic direction of Yvonne Chouteau and Miguel Terekhov of Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo. Chouteau was one of the five Native American ballerinas from Oklahoma who rose to stardom in the 20th century and became known as the “Five Moons.”
“You're talking about an organization that began in pre-oil bust Oklahoma City and managed to survive through those kind of bleak years and continue to produce and continue to bring art to the community. ... When I took over in 2008, suddenly, it was at the beginning of the renaissance of this city,” Mills said.
“For me, that's what the 50th anniversary is a celebration of, the fact that the arts and culture of the city have been important enough to sustain and support. ... And it's lasted us 50 years. At this point, we're excited about a future that is, honestly, continuing to unfold into more possibilities and more growth.”
OKC Ballet is coming off a significant challenge affecting performing arts organizations worldwide. The company drastically reimagined its 2020-2021 season due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“There were ballet companies last year in the 2020 season because of the pandemic that went dark. ... We're very lucky in what we've been able to do during the pandemic. Oklahoma and Oklahoma City allowed that to happen by keeping the venues open,” Mills said.
Audiences are required to wear masks in the Civic Center, and the dancers will probably don them at least for “Alice (In Wonderland).” But Mills said OKC Ballet is returning to normal in some ways: It's performances again will feature live music by the Oklahoma City Philharmonic, along with guest conductor Matthew Pierce, the New York-based composer and violinist who created the score.
“It's such an iconic story that everyone knows and loves, but this ballet is a behemoth. It is big, and there's a lot to it,” Mills said.
Dancing in a dream
When he was adapting Carroll's 1865 novel “Alice's Adventures in Wonderland” and the 1871 sequel “Alice Through the Looking-Glass” into his stylish fulllength ballet, Weber tapped French-Canadian costume designer Liz Vandal — best known for designing the costumes for the Cirque du Soleil show “Ovo” — to devise the 535 fantastical costume pieces.
For González, performing as the White Rabbit means wearing a headpiece with two tall ears in his first role as a soloist.
“They're not heavy, but they move a lot. So, dancing with those is interesting,” he said.
“But this is like a dream come true. It's very nervewracking in the beginning, just because it involves a lot of responsibility. You're basically in the front of the room all the time with bigger roles. ... So, I'm taking this on with the most energy and trying to do a good job and be an example.”
A native of Caracas, Venezuela, González, 23, started with OKC Ballet in 2017 as a student in its summer intensive. He was asked to join the studio company for the 2017-18 season, offered an apprenticeship in 2018 and promoted to the corps de ballet in 2019.
“It makes me really happy to know that I've been all the way from the bottom and then slowly making my way up,” he said. “It's a really fun career because we get to do what we love. At Oklahoma City Ballet, it's more than a job; it feels like we are a family.”
“It's a really fun career because we get to do what we love. At Oklahoma City Ballet, it's more than a job; it feels like we are a family.”
For González, family and ballet just go together. The youngest of four children, he credited his sister Karina González, 33, a principal dancer for the Houston Ballet, with inspiring his career. As a youngster, he started out in gymnastics, but quit when he was 12 and took up dance on her advice.
“I grew up watching her dance. She was already a professional in a company in Venezuela. I remember seeing her in ‘The Nutcracker' and all these productions,” he recalled. “She told me, ‘Hey, why don't you give it a chance with ballet?' I tried the first time, and I was like ‘Yeah, this is what I want to do.'”
He started training at the Gustavo Franklin Ballet School in Caracas, where his sister had studied as a young dancer.
“She went back home for the holidays, and she saw me in a class. She was impressed that I moved really fast and I was learning really fast. So, she was like, ‘Let's give this a try,'” he said.
“Basically, I have this career thanks to my sister. She opened so many doors for me.”
González moved to the United States to study at Houston Ballet's Ben Stevenson Academy before applying for the OKC summer intensive.
“He's been exposed to some really great choreographers and really great ballets in his time with us. So, he's had the opportunity and the environment to grow ... and he has risen through the ranks,” Mills said. “Sometimes as an artistic director, the promotions are undeniable ... and it's been quite a trajectory for him in our organization.”