“I taught you to fight and to fly,” Peter Pan says to Wendy in the J.M. Barrie classic “Peter Pan.” “What more could there be?”
Devon Carney, artistic director of the Kansas City Ballet, has been hard at work, teaching his dancers to fight and to fly, and the results can be seen in “Peter Pan,” which opens for nine performances beginning Friday, May 11, at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts.
“Peter Pan” has had many iterations since the children’s tale was first published as a play in 1904. It has been made into a silent film, a Disney animated feature and a classic TV production starring Mary Martin. It’s also regularly featured as a pantomime in England during the Christmas season.
The Cincinnati Ballet made a ballet of the work in 1994. The choreography was by the company’s then-artistic director Peter Anastos, and the music was composed by Carmon DeLeone, who is celebrating his 50th year as music director there.
“Some people have said my ‘Peter Pan’ sounds very theatrical and like a movie score, as though you were watching a motion picture rather than live dancers,” DeLeone said. “It has that kind of breadth.
“Sergei Prokofiev’s ‘Romeo and Juliet’ and ‘Cinderella’ are some of my very favorite scores to listen to and conduct. I would hope that maybe a little bit of that rubbed off on me in terms of orchestration and approach to the musical style.”
DeLeone, who is also a jazz drummer and still occasionally plays jazz on the French horn, says there’s also a jazz influence in the score. In fact, there’s one particular moment in “Peter Pan” that he credits to Miles Davis.
Carney has extensive experience working with DeLeone from his days as ballet master and associate artistic director of the Cincinnati Ballet. They collaborated on a shorter fairy tale, “The Steadfast Tin Soldier,” and Carney choreographed DeLeone’s music for a pas de deux from a ballet about evangelist Billy Sunday, which DeLeone remembers being “a most beautiful thing.”
Carney is eager to bring his “Peter Pan” to life. He can relate to the title character.
“There’s a bit of Peter Pan in me,” he said. “It’s the story of a boy who never wanted to grow up. I’ve always wanted to do a ballet like this. The storyline is fun and adventurous and bold.”
A large part of the fun is in the flying, and Carney says his choreography will not disappoint.
“You will never have seen as much flying as you will see in this ballet,” Carney said. “In the final battle, where Hook finally meets Peter Pan and they fight it out, Peter is in the air the whole time. He’s doing flips, back flips, forward flips. He’s holding on to Hook while he’s flying. There’s a lot of stuff going on.”
Carney has wealth of experience to pass on his dancers in this regard.
“I’ve always loved flying,” he said. “As a dancer, I used to fly a lot because I played Drosselmeyer in ‘The Nutcracker’ many times, and that involved a lot of flying. I’m very comfortable up in the air. Just another reason I’ve been a kind of Peter Pan in my life as a dancer.”
The production is set in the Edwardian era, with sets and costumes that reflect the time period when “Peter Pan” was first published.
“The sets allow for a bit of whimsy,” Carney said. “I love the pirate ship, the Jolly Roger scene. It’s great. In a lot of productions of ‘Peter Pan’ you don’t see anything but the deck of the ship, but here you have billowing sails in the sky.”
But for Carney, DeLeone’s score is the star of the show.
“It’s absolutely the best music I could ever dream of for ‘Peter Pan,’ ” he said.
Several years ago, DeLeone was commissioned to write a commercial jingle for King’s Island, a giant amusement and water park in Mason, Ohio, that features a pirates’ lagoon. King’s Island ended up not using the jingle, but DeLeone recycled the tune as Peter Pan’s theme.
“It’s just so fun to hear this theme song that was written for an amusement park, a place for fun, a place where kids never grow up,” Carney said. “How appropriate is it that it would become Peter Pan’s theme?
“And that’s the message of ‘Peter Pan.’ You want to hang on to that childlike heart. You may grow up, but if you hang on to that childlike heart, life can be an awful lot more fun.”
7:30 p.m. May 11, 12, 16, 17, 18 and 19 and 2 p.m. May 13, 19 and 20. Muriel Kauffman Theatre, Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts. $34-$134. 816-931-8993 or kcballet.org.
Kansas City Chorale
The Kansas City Chorale conducted by Charles Bruffy will conclude its season with “Choral Music of the British Isles” Sunday, May 6, at Country Club Christian Church and May 8 at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church.
The program will feature a wide range of British music, from Elizabethan composer William Byrd to Victorian master Charles Villiers Stanford to beloved 20th century composer Ralph Vaughan Williams. There will even be some Beatles thrown in for good measure.
2 p.m. May 6 at Country Club Christian Church, 6101 Ward Parkway, and 7:30 p.m. May 8 at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, 11 E. 40th St. $10-$30. 816-235-6222 or kcchorale.org.
William Baker Festival Singers
The Allegro Con Vivo choir will help the William Baker Festival Singers conclude its 20th anniversary season with a concert Sunday, May 6, at St. Mary’s Episcopal Church. The program will include love songs by Norman Dello Joio, Morten Lauridsen and the Festival Singers’ composer-in-residence, Ed Frazier Davis.
There also will be sacred works by Anton Bruckner, Kim André Arnesen and local composer Geoff Wilcken, as well as William Baker specialties, music from the Sacred Harp and African-American traditions.
A wine and cookie reception will follow the concert.
3 p.m. May 6, St. Mary’s Episcopal Church, 1307 Holmes St. $5-$15. Tickets at the door or FestivalSingers.org/Concerts.
You can reach Patrick Neas at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow his Facebook page, KC Arts Beat, at facebook.com/kcartsbeat.