Performing Arts

‘Wizard of Oz’ world premiere will kick off KC Ballet 2018-19 season

“The Wizard of Oz,” a new work originally planned for May, will land instead in October to kick off the Kansas City Ballet’s 2018-19 season.
“The Wizard of Oz,” a new work originally planned for May, will land instead in October to kick off the Kansas City Ballet’s 2018-19 season.

Monkeys will fly.

Munchkin fans will be happy to know that “The Wizard of Oz,” which was originally scheduled to be performed this May, will kick off the Kansas City Ballet’s 2018-2019 season in October.

And that’s just the beginning of an exciting new season.

The Kansas City Ballet also will give its first performance of the full-length ballet “Lady of the Camellias,” based on the classic novel by Alexandre Dumas. The spring program features two exciting classics of modern dance that are also new to the company, and a work being created for the Kansas City Ballet by David Parsons. And, of course, “The Nutcracker” returns to provide holiday enchantment.

The idea of a ballet based on “The Wizard of Oz” is so intriguing that it was a disappointment when it was pulled from the schedule this season. But the production has so many moving parts that to finish it in time for a May performance would have meant excessive extra labor costs.

“We made the decision to move to a later date so we could spend our resources on the final product rather than on rush labor costs to bring the work to stage this year,” said Devon Carney, artistic director of the Kansas City Ballet. “We’d rather spend our money on what people will see onstage. This is all about giving the audience the best possible production.”

“The Wizard of Oz” is the creation of choreographer Septime Webre and composer Matthew Pierce, the team behind the memorable “Alice (in Wonderland)” presented by the Kansas City Ballet in 2014. A co-production of the Kansas City Ballet, Colorado Ballet and Royal Winnipeg Ballet, “Oz” promises to be another eye-popping extravaganza.

“The costumes are also by Liz Vandal, the same person who did costumes for ‘Alice (in Wonderland),’ ” Carney said. “So it’s got that flavor of a very whimsical world. Except I think they’re even more extreme. You really get a sense that you’re somewhere else with ‘Wizard of Oz.’ They are quite spectacular.”

“Alice (in Wonderland)” featured a huge dragon operated by seven people, and “The Wizard of Oz” also will employ puppets to provide cinematic razzle-dazzle.

“When the wind blows and the tornado whips up and everything’s flying in the air, there are all these puppets either hanging or being lifted up,” Carney said. “Even the dog is a puppet. As with ‘Alice,’ they’re being created by Nicholas Mahon. He was one of the designers of the incredible puppets for the Opening Ceremonies of the Olympics in Pyeongchang.”

Carney says the music will convey a sense of both the Wonderful Land of Oz and Kansas.

“It’s not country music, it’s not “Hee Haw” music, but there is a certain square dance feel at times,” he said. “It really gives a sense of country, of wide-open spaces, of a time gone by. Then he (Pierce) takes that and does a bunch of crazy stuff with it. It’s hard to explain.”

Carney says we shouldn’t expect the classic 1939 film version on the stage of the Muriel Kauffman Theatre.

“You cannot possibly consider duplicating the movie itself, so we’re being very careful about referencing the storyline but not being tied to it specifically in the music or visuals. It will give people an opportunity to jump off and imagine Oz in a little different way.”

Another big, new production next season is “Lady of the Camellias.” The story is by Alexandre Dumas, the son of the Alexandre Dumas who wrote “The Three Musketeers” and other classics. “Lady of the Camellias” might not be a widely read novel, but its influence is huge, serving as the basis for much better-known opera and film versions. The tragic story is one of the most enduring tearjerkers.

Choreographer Val Caniparoli created his ballet version in 1994 and set it, appropriately, to the heart-tugging music of Frédéric Chopin.

“Val is very inspired by things that are not ballet,” Carney said. “In this case he was inspired by the 1936 film ‘Camille,’ starring Greta Garbo, and also by the more recent movie ‘Moulin Rouge,’ as well as Verdi’s ‘La Traviata.’ They’re all generally the same story about a courtesan who finds herself in a forbidden love affair and tragically dies of consumption at the end.”

Carney says “Lady of the Camellias” is establishing itself as part of the ballet canon, with productions mounted by companies including Ballet West, Ballet Florida, Boston Ballet, Tulsa Ballet and Cincinnati Ballet.

“Most of them have done it more than once because it was received so well by the audiences,” Carney said. “It’s a striking work. If you’re not moved to tears by the end of it, then you have a heart of stone.

“And Val does a very interesting thing at the end of the ballet. In the last six or seven minutes, there is actually no dancing. It’s just dramatic movement. He loves to take chances like that, and I admire that about him.”

After the three full-length story ballets, “The Wizard of Oz,” “The Nutcracker” and “Lady of the Camellias,” the Ballet will end its season with bracing modernism. The spring program will feature two contemporary classics, Twyla Tharp’s “In the Upper Room” and William Forsythe’s “In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated.”

 ‘Upper Room’ is definitely a centerpiece of Twyla’s creative lexicon,” Carney said. “It’s one of those ballets that every dancer wants the opportunity to do, and this company hasn’t done it. And, darn it, we’ve got to do these kinds of works.”

Rudolf Nureyev commissioned “In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated” for the Paris Ballet in 1987. Set to a powerful electronic score, it is now regarded as one of the most revolutionary ballets of the past 50 years.

“I had an opportunity to have a conversation with William (Forsythe) in Boston two years ago,” Carney said. “I talked to him about what our company is like and what its style is like. I told him they’re hungry for works like his.

“We communicated by email after that and I asked to be able to do this work. It’s kind of like going for the gold ring to ask for the first William Forsythe work to be this ballet. I’m very happy that a choreographer of his stature was open and willing to let us do a major work of his.”

As if Tharp and Forsythe weren’t enough, the program also will include a work being created for the Kansas City Ballet by Kansas City native and internationally acclaimed choreographer David Parsons.

“I can’t think of a time David created a ballet for a company other than his own (Parsons Dance),” Carney said. “His work is very down in the ground, very playful, it’s strong and very theatrical, which I think is cool. He stresses that there has to be a strong connection with the audience when you’re dancing. I hope that he will bring that out in our artists, as well.”

Kansas City Ballet’s 2018-19 season

▪ Oct. 12-21: “The Wizard of Oz.” Choreography by Septime Webre. Music by Matthew Pierce performed by the Kansas City Symphony conducted by Ramona Pansegrau. (Muriel Kauffman Theatre, Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts)

▪ Nov. 30-Dec. 23: “The Nutcracker.” Choreography by Devon Carney. Music by Tchaikovsky performed by the Kansas City Symphony conducted by Ramona Pansegrau. (Muriel Kauffman Theatre)

▪ Feb. 15-24, 2019: “Lady of the Camellias.” Choreography by Val Caniparoli. Music by Frédéric Chopin performed by the Kansas City Symphony conducted by Ramona Pansegrau. (Muriel Kauffman Theatre)

▪ March 28-31, 2019: New Moves. (Todd Bolender Center for Dance and Creativity, 500 W. Pershing Road)

▪ May 10-20, 2019: Spring program. “In the Upper Room.” Choreography by Twyla Tharp. Music by Phillip Glass; “In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated.” Choreography by William Forsythe. Music by Thom Willems; world premiere by David Parsons. Title and music to be announced.

For more information, call 816-931-8993 or visit kcballet.org.

Joyce DiDonato

Joyce DiDonato is coming home to help the Kansas City Symphony celebrate the Leonard Bernstein centennial. The beloved Prairie Village native and internationally acclaimed mezzo-soprano will perform a selection of Bernstein’s songs, as well as Hector Berlioz’s gorgeous cantata “The Death of Cleopatra.” The program, conducted by Michael Stern, also includes Berlioz’s Corsaire Overture and Bernstein’s Symphonic Dances from “West Side Story.”

As DiDonato has demonstrated many times previously, her versatile mezzo is a perfect fit for either Broadway or classical. It will be a delightful study in contrasts to hear her sing the bright, bluesy and jazzy songs of Bernstein, as well as the voluptuous “Death of Cleopatra.”

8 p.m. March 16 and 17 and 2 p.m. March 18. Helzberg Hall, Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts. $30-$85. 816-471-0400 or kcsymphony.org.

The Staatskapelle Weimar of Germany

The remarkable history of the Staatskapelle Weimar begins in 1482 when an ensemble was created to serve the court of the Prince of Weimar. Over the centuries, that small group of musicians grew into a full-fledged orchestra that has been conducted by the likes of Johann Sebastian Bach, Franz Liszt, Richard Strauss and many other legends of classical music.

The Harriman-Jewell Series will present the venerable orchestra in an all-Beethoven program March 17 at the Folly Theater.

The concert, conducted by the Staatskapelle’s current music director, Kirill Karabits, will feature Beethoven’s Coriolan Overture, the Symphony No. 5 and the Piano Concerto No. 3 with Vadym Kholodenko as soloist. It’s a rare opportunity to hear some of Beethoven’s most iconic music performed by an orchestra steeped in hundreds of years of classical tradition.

7:30 p.m. March 17. Folly Theater, 300 W. 12th St. $20-$70. 816-415-5025 or hjseries.org.

Parker String Quartet

Beethoven also figures prominently on a concert presented by the Friends of Chamber Music March 16 at the 1900 Building. The Grammy Award-winning Parker Quartet will perform works by Mozart, Stravinsky and two pieces for string quartet by Beethoven, the String Quartet in B-flat, Op. 130 and “Grosse Fuge,” one of Beethoven’s most significant chamber music compositions.

When it was first performed in 1826, “Grosse Fuge” baffled audiences and critics alike, much to the disappointment of Beethoven, who is reported to have said, “And why didn't they encore the Fugue? That alone should have been repeated! Cattle! Asses!”

As is often the case, however, critical opinion has changed with the passing of time, and “Grosse Fuge” is now considered one of Beethoven’s greatest compositions. Stravinsky said it is “an absolutely contemporary piece of music that will be contemporary forever.”

7:30 p.m. March 16. 1900 Building, 1900 Shawnee Mission Parkway, Mission Woods. $35. 816-561-9999 or chambermusic.org.

You can reach Patrick Neas at patrickneas@kcartsbeat.com and follow his Facebook page, KC Arts Beat, at www.facebook.com/kcartsbeat.

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