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Youth Ballet stages Alice in Wonderland

BY CLAIRE DIETZ | MAY 14, 2015 5:00 AM

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Many prestigious ballet companies such as the Royal Ballet, Covent Garden, and the National Ballet of Canada have performed their own take on Alice in Wonderland. Now, the University of Iowa’s Youth Ballet program aims to create an entirely new trip down the rabbit hole.

From Friday to May 17, the Youth Ballet’s spring concert will take Space/Place by storm in a production of Alice in Wonderland. The show includes many classic characters played by upper-level ballet students, such as the Mad Hatter, Cheshire Cat, Dormouse, Rabbit, Red Queen, and also a sassy lizard, because you haven’t lived till you’ve met a sassy lizard.

However, the ballet also includes younger ballet students playing the roles of the Queen’s Cards, a giant caterpillar, flamingos, a garden of live flowers, and a group of lobsters.

Kathryn Smith, the administrative director of the Youth Ballet, said that while the performance may be optional for those taking UI dance classes, it is incredibly beneficial.

“There are just things that rehearsals and performances teach you that classes can’t,” Smith said. “Alice in Wonderland was chosen because our upper-level teachers thought that the upper-level students needed to grow in characterization and performance over techniques.”

Artistic director Jason Schadt said the “primary mission is to provide high-quality education for dance as an art form for the community, but we also are a way for grad students in the department to get the opportunity to teach.”

There are elements being pushed in performances that cannot always be easily taught in the classroom, he said.

“One of our big hopes for the semester is to have our students working on how they can be characters when they’re dancing,” Schadt said. “They’ve been studying for years and are lovely movers, but we really wanted to give them a chance with this ballet to bring the intention behind whatever character they are to their ballet movement … The audience will know the lizard is a lizard because of the way she moves.”

Dana Powers-Klooster, an instructor and the choreographer of the “Red Roses” dance in the production, said the program emphasizes technical training in class but also allows the children to push their boundaries.

“I think that every child can benefit greatly from expressing themselves through an art form,” Powers- Klooster said. “Dance is unique in that they can stretch themselves creatively while simultaneously being physically active.”

Visiting Assistant Professor Kristin Marrs, a choreographer for the production along with Adjunct Assistant Professor Ellie Goudie-Averill, said the adaption will feature a variety of theater and design elements from numerous UI departments.

 “We are relying on some old-fashioned ‘theater magic’ to portray Alice’s descent into the rabbit hole and the growing and shrinking scene,” Marrs said. “The production will also include projections designed by graduate student and [Youth Ballet] teacher/choreographer Alexandra Bush and a delightful score of Latin-inspired music.”

The idea for an “evening-length ballet” centered on Alice and Wonderland was conceived by Goudie-Averill and Marrs. The two received great support from Schadt and the rest of their UI collaborates.

Goudie-Averill said the production has come a long way, and it has been “wonderful working together in this way and bouncing ideas off of each other.”

“We created the larger scenes together, such as the Tea Party, and each worked on different solos for the individual characters,” she said. “We have been rehearsing since January and are very pleased with how it has all come together.”


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