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Anticipation surrounds RWB's Tharp ballet

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This is an exciting weekend for the Royal Winnipeg Ballet, even though a partner company is getting most of the attention.

The Princess and the Goblin, a new story ballet co-commissioned by RWB and Atlanta Ballet from legendary choreographer Twyla Tharp, had its world première by the Georgia company on Friday.

RWB artistic director André Lewis and executive director Jeff Herd were both to be in Atlanta for the opening.

The full-length ballet, which includes 13 child dancers, runs until Feb. 19 at Atlanta's Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre. RWB will dance the Canadian première in Winnipeg from Oct. 17 to 21.

The Winnipeg auditions for child dancers will be in August or September, Lewis said, and may be open to students of both the professional and recreational divisions of the RWB School.

Tharp's assistant will teach the ballet to the Winnipeg cast. But the choreographer herself will also be here in the fall for as long as six weeks, Lewis said, and the ballet will undoubtedly be revised.

"She's always refining what she does," he said. "It will evolve."

Tharp, 70, is a New York-based dance giant who has created more than 135 works, choreographed for movies and created Broadway shows to the music of Billy Joel, Bob Dylan and Frank Sinatra. RWB performed her ballet In the Upper Room last season.

The Princess and the Goblin is high-profile enough to have merited a lengthy story in the New York Times on Feb. 3. Reporter Gia Kourlas wrote that in the last decade "most new story ballets have fallen flat with critics and audiences alike" and that it's a daring move for Tharp to base a ballet on a story unfamiliar to American audiences.

Adapted from a 19th-century tale by Scottish fantasy writer George MacDonald, The Princess and the Goblin is described as a story of courage and forgiveness. When a town's children are kidnapped by a goblin and the adults -- including the king -- fail to take action, young Princess Irene (played by an adult dancer), her great-great-grandmother and a male friend journey to the goblin kingdom to rescue the children.

The music, to be played here by the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra, is by Franz Schubert. The costumes are by RWB's Anne Armit.

While Atlanta is in the Tharp spotlight, RWB has been touring Moulin Rouge -- The Ballet widely in the United States and preparing to stage the supernatural classic Giselle at home for the first time in a decade, March 7-11.

Putting a dance spin on the Winnipeg Jets' White Out crowd tradition, the company is urging the opening-night audience to dress in white because Giselle is a "ballet blanc," a "white ballet" with a stage full of ghost brides in the second act.

Principal dancer Vanessa Lawson, who has not yet performed this season because of a knee injury, has recovered and will star as the opening-night Giselle. The company is bringing in a guest artist to partner her as Prince Albrecht: Texas-born Jared Matthews, a soloist with New York's American Ballet Theatre.

RWB has revised the programming for its Pure Ballet mixed season-ending program, May 9-13. Choreographer Jorden Morris (Peter Pan, Moulin Rouge -- The Ballet) will première The Doorway, a 17-minute ballet for about 10 dancers set to Leonard Cohen songs and poems. It may be expanded in future into a longer work.

Part of the Cohen score will be sung live by two Winnipeg vocalists whose names are still to be announced. It's expected that the live songs will be Hallelujah and Bird on the Wire.

The Pure Ballet program also includes Mauricio Wainrot's Carmina Burana, Peter Quanz's Luminous and a pas de deux called Adagietto by Oscar Araiz, all to recorded music.

In a sad piece of news for RWB, renowned Dutch choreographer Rudi van Dantzig, former artistic director of the Dutch National Ballet, died of cancer on Jan. 19 at age 78.

The Winnipeg company, which had a long relationship with van Dantzig and his partner Toer van Schayk, sent official condolences to Amsterdam, Lewis said. Van Dantzig ballets in the RWB repertoire include Romeo and Juliet and Four Last Songs. Lewis worked closely with van Dantzig on staging Romeo and Juliet for other companies.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 11, 2012 G7

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