The Kansas City Ballet is off to see the wizard.
The company will celebrate its 60th anniversary with a world premiere based on the L. Frank Baum classic, “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz,” as well as Sergei Prokofiev’s “Romeo and Juliet,” “The Nutcracker” and many works new to the company, including — appropriately enough for its diamond anniversary — George Balanchine’s “Diamonds.”
The ballet will kick things off in October with “Romeo and Juliet.” Devon Carney, artistic director, will provide new choreography for the romantic classic. Carney has intimate knowledge of Prokofiev’s ballet, first dancing the role of Romeo with the Boston Ballet in 1984.
“ ‘Romeo and Juliet’ means an awful lot to me,” Carney said. “I don’t even know how many times I have danced the role of Romeo in several different productions. I danced it at the Kennedy Center when Boston Ballet took it there. I even did Lord Capulet with the Cincinnati Ballet after I retired as a dancer. It was a natural extension of all that experience to create a version from my point of view.”
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Carney says his production will be set in Renaissance Verona, with sets and costumes rented from Boston Ballet. They’re the same designs used when Carney danced in “Romeo and Juliet.”
“The sets were made new for that production in 1984,” he said. “So there’s a lot of history spinning around for me.”
In December, Carney’s “Nutcracker” returns for its third season at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts, but first it will be performed for a week at the Kennedy Center. The Kansas City Ballet’s multimillion-dollar production will give Washington, D.C., a taste of what the company can do.
“The Kennedy Center called us,” Carney said. “They heard about it and wanted us to bring it there, which is really cool.”
In April 2018, the ballet will celebrate its diamond jubilee with an Anniversary Dance Festival taking place over two weekends. “Diamonds,” from Balanchine’s full-length ballet “Jewels,” will be performed the first weekend.
“Jewels” — which is in three movements, “Emeralds,” “Rubies” and “Diamonds” — is one of the greatest ballet masterpieces of the 20th century. “Diamonds” is the most challenging to perform, and Carney said it was perfect for the ballet’s 60th anniversary.
“We have never had enough dancers here to do it,” Carney said. “But we’re really in a place now where we can do a ballet like this. It will max out the number of dancers we have, just like ‘Swan Lake’ did last year. And, you know, with ‘Diamonds’ now as the cornerstone, you would probably expect that somewhere in the future you might see the entire ballet ‘Jewels.’ If we can handle ‘Diamonds,’ we can do it all.”
The same program will include a world premiere by Matthew Neenan, as well as Jiri Kylián’s “Petite Mort,” with music by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Kylián, former director of Nederlands Dans Theater, is considered one of the finest contemporary dance choreographers.
“To have a ballet of his in our rep is extraordinary,” Carney said. “It establishes you at a higher level in terms of your stature within the dance community if you have done this particular work. So I just thought go big or go home.”
The second weekend of the Anniversary Dance Festival will feature three works new to the ensemble, including a world premiere by South African choreographer Andrea Schermoly. The other two works are “The Man in Black,” with recordings of Johnny Cash choreographed by James Kudelka, and “Play,” with choreography by Stanton Welch.
“ ‘Play’ is taking city life and making it into a ballet,” Carney said. “It addresses the big city coldness and how sometimes soulless a city can be. There’s a lot of intensity, but it’s a really cool work with music by Moby.”
The Kansas City Ballet will conclude its landmark season in May with the world premiere of “The Wizard of Oz,” a collaboration with the Winnipeg Ballet and Colorado Ballet. It reunites the team that created the Kansas City Ballet’s eye-popping “Alice in Wonderland” in 2014. With music by Matthew Pierce, choreography by Septime Webre and costumes by Cirque du Soleil designer Liz Vandal, “The Wizard of Oz” promises to be another fairy tale spectacular.
“The Tin Man, the Scarecrow, the Cowardly Lion, the Wicked Witch and the Good Witch of the North are there, and the storyline is generally there,” Carney said, “but the movie is not something we’re going to adhere to exactly. I don’t think that would be wise because the movie is a classic. To try to replicate that movie would be impossible.”
But inquiring minds want to know: Will there be Munchkins and flying monkeys?
“Wouldn’t you think there would be?” Carney said. Based on his previous ballet wizardry in productions like “The Nutcracker” and “Swan Lake,” if anyone can make monkeys fly onstage, it’s Carney.
Oct. 13-22: Sergei Prokofiev’s “Romeo and Juliet” with choreography by Devon Carney (Muriel Kauffman Theatre, Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts)
Dec. 7-24: Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s “The Nutcracker” (Muriel Kauffman Theatre)
Feb. 15-19, 2018: New Moves. (Todd Bolender Center for Dance & Creativity, 500 W. Pershing Road)
April 6-8: Anniversary Dance Festival. George Balanchine’s “Diamonds,” a world premiere by Matthew Neenan and “Petite Mort” with music by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and choreography by Jiri Kylián.
April 13-15: Anniversary Dance Festival. “The Man in Black” with recorded music by Johnny Cash and choreography by James Kudelka, “Play” with music by Moby and choreography by Stanton Welch and a world premiere by Andrea Schermoly.
May 11-20: World premiere of “The Wizard of Oz” with music by Matthew Pierce and choreography by Septime Webre.
Early Music on Baroque
When one of the world’s great early music ensembles performs works by some of the greatest composers of the Baroque, you’re in for a special treat.
The Friends of Chamber Music and the Performing Arts Series of Johnson County Community College present Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin in a program titled “Foreign Affairs — Characters of the Baroque” on March 18 at Yardley Hall.
This excellent German-period instrument orchestra will explore how Baroque composers portrayed foreign cultures in their music. Works by Georg Philipp Telemann, George Frideric Handel, Johann Sebastian Bach and others will be featured.