August 12, 2020

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A flock in the park

New-to-city dancer excited to debut with RWB on Lyric Theatre stage in popular, decades-old summer tradition

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 23/7/2019 (386 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Sarah Joan Smith says she’s been "fully warned" about Winnipeg’s winters. For now, though, the new Royal Winnipeg Ballet corps de ballet member is trying to soak up her first Winnipeg summer.

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DancePreview

Ballet in the Park
● Lyric Theatre, Assiniboine Park
● Wednesday-Friday, 7:30 p.m.; program runs 93 minutes
● Free admission

Smith, 25, joins the RWB from the Kansas City Ballet. Her upcoming performance in Ballet in the Park, which runs 7:30 p.m. nightly July 24-26 at Assiniboine Park’s Lyric Theatre, will be her first with the company.

"The summer really is beautiful here," she says over the phone before her morning rehearsal. "I’m trying to enjoy going outside and farmer’s markets and the Ballet in the Park thing is very cool because you don’t think of Winnipeg as being outdoor-ballet friendly."

Brett Pruitt photo</p><p>Dancer Sarah Joan Smith says she’s soaking up Winnipeg’s ‘beautiful’ summer.</p>

Brett Pruitt photo

Dancer Sarah Joan Smith says she’s soaking up Winnipeg’s ‘beautiful’ summer.

After learning Winnipeggers do everything outside, including eating multi-course meals on the frozen river in the middle of winter, it elicits an "oh my gosh."

"It seems like the community really rallies around things here, including the company," she says.

Ballet in the Park is no exception. The free, family friendly event has become a big draw, featuring food trucks, plenty of pre-show kids’ activities and, of course, dancing.

This year’s 93-minute program will be headlined by an excerpt from Septime Webre’s The Wizard of Oz, which was a smash hit for the RWB when it made its Canadian première in May. As Oz was a co-production between the Colorado Ballet, the RWB and Smith’s previous company, Kansas City Ballet, she’s stepping into familiar slippers.

The free, family friendly event has become a big draw, featuring food trucks, plenty of pre-show kids’ activities and, of course, dancing. (RWB archives)

The free, family friendly event has become a big draw, featuring food trucks, plenty of pre-show kids’ activities and, of course, dancing. (RWB archives)

"It’s fun because it’s a ballet I’ve already done before so it’s been fun to come to a new company and have everything be new, but have the repertoire be something that’s familiar," she says. "I’m actually doing the exact same part — same spacing, same role." (That’s Munchkin and Poser Lady, for the record.)

The Oz connection is actually what attracted her to the RWB, "so to have it be the first ballet we’re doing while I’m a company member has been full circle."

Like Smith, RWB artistic director Andre Lewis also arrived in Winnipeg in summertime — June 1975. He’d just been accepted to the RWB School’s Professional Division, and Ballet in the Park — or Dancing in the Park, as it was known back then — was only three years old.

Summer in the city at the right price

Summer in the city can get expensive, especially if you have a family to keep busy. Here are a few other free (or close to free) events that allow you to soak up the season without breaking the bank.

Concert movies at the Cube

On Aug. 2, the Exchange District BIZ is presenting a free screening of Prince’s Sign O the Times concert film at the Cube in Old Market Square, along with performances from singer/songwriter Roman Clarke and DJs Co-op and Hunnicut. Music starts at 7:30 p.m., movie starts at 10:30 p.m.

Summer in the city can get expensive, especially if you have a family to keep busy. Here are a few other free (or close to free) events that allow you to soak up the season without breaking the bank.

Concert movies at the Cube

On Aug. 2, the Exchange District BIZ is presenting a free screening of Prince’s Sign O the Times concert film at the Cube in Old Market Square, along with performances from singer/songwriter Roman Clarke and DJs Co-op and Hunnicut. Music starts at 7:30 p.m., movie starts at 10:30 p.m.

Skateboarding lessons at The Forks

Until Aug. 26, the Winnipeg Skateboarding Outreach Organization in partnership with Sk8 Skates, will be hosting free skateboard lessons for beginners at the Plaza at the Forks Skatepark from Wednesday to Sunday, 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m. Participants must bring the mandatory helmet, but skateboards will be provided for use.

Movies in the park

The Lyric Theatre in Assiniboine Park will be transformed into an outdoor movie theatre every Friday night in August with double features of popular movies. On Aug. 2: Incredibles 2 at 6:30 p.m., Captain Marvel at 8:45 p.m.; Aug. 9: How to Train Your Dragon 3 at 6:30 p.m. and A Wrinkle in Time at 8:45; Aug. 16: Ralph Breaks the Internet at 6:30 p.m. and Avengers: Endgame at 8:45 p.m.; Aug. 23: Aladdin (the 2019 version) at 6:30 p.m. and Back to the Future at 8:45 p.m.

Toonie Tuesdays at Wheelies

Roll on down to Wheelies at 210 Enniskillen Ave. on Tuesdays from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., when admission is just $2. Cash only.

Free swim

Practise your freestyle at the city’s 12 pools, which offer free swim hours during the week. Check winnipeg.ca for the full schedule.

"I had been taking class and, ‘Oh, the company is doing ballet in the park, you should go see this,’ and I thought, ‘Where the hell is the park?’" he recalls with a laugh. "In those days, they used to have to build the stage. It was a very small crowd in those days, very quiet. Today, it’s such a tradition. You can easily get 5,000 people coming to see the show."

The idea of performing ballet outdoors captured Lewis’s imagination very early on.

"It presents different challenges for artists," he says. "You have the sun shining in your eyes, there are bugs flying about. Mother Nature provides most of the lighting. I’ve always loved doing ballet in the park. When I was a dancer, I thought it was such a cool, different, neat idea."

The event serves as a showcase for the entire company, including the Professional and Recreational divisions of the school, and it makes ballet completely accessible to diehard balletomanes and curious neophytes alike.

"I’ve never done a study of this, but there are lots of people who come throughout the season who also come to Ballet in the Park because they just love ballet," Lewis says. "They appreciate how it enriches their lives. But you also have families that don’t necessarily come during the season but they come to Ballet in the Park or maybe Nutcracker. And then you have people who are biking around who say, ‘Oh, there’s a big crowd here,’ and they stop and watch the show."

The idea of performing ballet outdoors captured RWB artistic director Andre Lewis’s imagination very early on. (Mikaela MacKenzie / Free Press files)

The idea of performing ballet outdoors captured RWB artistic director Andre Lewis’s imagination very early on. (Mikaela MacKenzie / Free Press files)

Lewis says the RWB tries to do something different every year at Ballet in the Park.

"We usually do very accessible work, but we’ve also done (2014’s) Going Home Star Truth and Reconciliation, which is a fairly weighty work, but it also represents what the RWB’s about, what the community’s about," he says. "Lots of people came, and lots of people appreciated it."

This week’s trio of park performances will kick off the RWB’s 80th season. Smith is most looking forward to dancing in the Canadian premiere of Greg Horsman’s La Bayadère in October — indoors — when the season begins in earnest.

Like Oz, La Bayadère represents another full-circle moment for the dancer.

"It’s actually the first ballet I performed, ever, when I was 10," she says. "It has a special place in my heart, and to have it be the first full-length ballet the company is doing this season is really neat."

jen.zoratti@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @JenZoratti

Jen Zoratti

Jen Zoratti
Columnist

Jen Zoratti is a Winnipeg Free Press columnist and co-host of the paper's local culture podcast, Bury the Lede.

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