WA Ballet mad about Septime Webre’s ALICE (in wonderland)

Chihiro Nomura as Alice and WA Ballet dancers with the Jabberwocky puppet. Picture: Andrew Ritchie d496724
Chihiro Nomura as Alice and WA Ballet dancers with the Jabberwocky puppet. Picture: Andrew Ritchie d496724

SEPTIME Webre found an ideal match in Aurelien Scannella’s WA Ballet company to co-produce his ambitious ALICE (in wonderland).

The Hong Kong Ballet artistic director (since 2017) and American choreographer has always had a desire to share stories and considers the dancers at WA Ballet to be natural storytellers.

“I went to Perth in April to cast the ballet,” Webre said from his Hong Kong office.

“My repetiteur Johanna Wilt is in Perth right now working on the ballet and I’ll be coming over for the production week.

“Unlike a freelance choreographer, because of my artistic director ‘day job’, it’s hard for me to spend as much time as I would want with dancers, so for 20 years now I’ve had to get comfortable with giving over to others the authority I would ordinarily keep for myself.

“Casting is key because if a dancer understands the work and there is a sensibility there, I know the ballet is in great hands.”

Chihiro Nomura as Alice and WA Ballet dancers with the Jabberwocky puppet. Picture: Andrew Ritchie d496724

Webre comes from a family of nine siblings, born seventh but the first in the US after his Cuban mother and American father moved the family there following the Cuban Revolution.

He started dancing at age 12 when his only sister, two years younger, began taking classes.

“She was especially bad and it turned out I was pretty good,” he said.

“At that time I thought I was going to be a lawyer and my sister wanted to be a dancer. It turned out that I became the dancer and she’s now a lawyer.”

Chihiro Nomura as Alice and WA Ballet dancers with the Jabberwocky puppet. Picture: Andrew Ritchie d496724

Hong Kong Ballet is Webre’s third directorship following six years at American Repertory Ballet in New York and 17 years at The Washington Ballet in Washington DC where he first started working on ALICE (in wonderland) in 2012.

“About 15 years ago I began exclusively making full-length ballets based on great works of literature,” he said.

ALICE is this flamboyant story with so many outrageous characters who are so kinetic they beg to be choreographed to.

“It takes a village to create a whole ballet but the two collaborators who were really at the heart of it were costume designer Liz Vandal, who has designed several shows for Cirque du Soleil, and composer Matthew Pierce. Liz’s costumes both fulfil expectation while at the same time completely surprise you.”

Webre worked with Pierce for a year before choreographing a single step to figure out the right sound for every character, from Alice’s violin of vulnerability yet strength and the Cheshire Cat’s bluesy alley cat jazz to Middle Eastern music for the Caterpillar and Starsky and Hutch-inspired disco for the ‘bromance’ between Tweedledee and Tweedledum.

Chihiro Nomura as Alice and WA Ballet dancers with the Jabberwocky puppet. Picture: Andrew Ritchie d496724

Webre said he loved to challenge dancers beyond their technical level expectation, wanting them to finish the production stronger dancers than when they started.

He has achieved this in ALICE with the most difficult pas de deux he has ever choreographed between Alice and the Cheshire Cat.

“There’s so much partnering in this ballet between different characters and the Caterpillar never touches the ground because male dancers hold her aloft,” he said.

“There’s an explosion of virtuosity with pirouettes, big jumps and fouettes. The dancers in Perth are strong technicians so I feel good.”

Beyond the choreography, Webre said he wanted audiences to be inspired by the tale of a girl going on a journey, returning knowing herself better.

“She’s faced adversity in a way that was nonplussed and showed a sense of adventure when adventure was there to be had,” he said.

“That’s a really great way to live; being open to unexpected things and taking advantage of the moment.”

THE ESSENTIALS

What: ALICE (in wonderland)

Where: His Majesty’s Theatre

When: November 21 to December 15

Tickets: www.waballet.com.au

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