Pointe shoes and tutus and pirouettes, oh my!

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Pointe shoes and tutus and pirouettes, oh my!

The Emerald City lights up Winnipeg’s leafy Assiniboine Park when the Royal Winnipeg Ballet presents its free annual Ballet in the Park at the Lyric Theatre this week.

The 93-minute production (including intermission) opens tonight at 7:30 p.m. and continues Thursday and Friday. It offers dance lovers and park visitors a sneak peek of the 79-year old troupe’s upcoming story ballet The Wizard of Oz, which receives its Canadian première in May 2019.

"The thrill of showcasing our organization’s talent in our school and company on the same stage is always a highlight of the season," said longtime RWB artistic director and CEO André Lewis, who enters his 24th season at the company’s helm.

"I am especially eager to debut a piece of our new production, The Wizard of Oz to Ballet in the Park attendees.

The brand-new full-length work by American choreographer Septime Webre is inspired by L. Frank Baum’s tale of plucky young heroine Dorothy, who travels to the magical land of Oz with furry friend Toto, Scarecrow, Cowardly Lion and Tin Man to discover "there’s no place like home."

The Royal Winnipeg Ballet performs during a Ballet in the park dress rehearsal in Assiniboine Park Tuesday. (John Woods / Winnipeg Free Press)

The Royal Winnipeg Ballet performs during a Ballet in the park dress rehearsal in Assiniboine Park Tuesday. (John Woods / Winnipeg Free Press)

Coincidentally, its world première is being performed by the Kansas City Ballet in October and is the fruit of a $1 million-plus collaboration between three North American ballet companies.

Dance preview

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Ballet in the Park

Royal Winnipeg Ballet

July 25-27, 7:30 p.m.

Lyric Theatre, Assiniboine Park

Free admission. Visit rwb.org in case of weather cancellations.

The leave-them-wanting-more excerpt being staged at the Lyric Theatre this week features six RWB company members: Yayoi Ban, Josh Reynolds, Ryan Vetter, Yue Shi, Alanna McAdie and Chenxin Liu.

The full company also treats audiences to a full performance of Argentine choreographer Mauricio Wainrot’s contemporary ballet juggernaut Carmina Burana, also seen this past May, inspired by Carl Orff’s epic score of the same name.

Also on tap for Ballet in the Park are excerpts from Rudi van Dantzig’s Romeo and Juliet, featuring emerging artists of the Royal Winnipeg Ballet School Professional Division.

But Ballet in the Park shows are not only about professional dancers. Students of the RWB School Recreational Division also get right into the act with the high-octane hip-hop number Royalty.

As usual, there will also be plentiful pre-show activities including crafting, colouring, Wizard of Oz face-painting, the popular pointe-shoe toss inaugurated last year (think "horseshoes" only with a delicate satin ballet slipper hurled at an iron stake), as well as a chance to win a pair of tickets to an upcoming RWB production.

The Royal Winnipeg Ballet launches its 79th season with three outdoor performances in Assiniboine Park. (Mikaela MacKenzie / Winnipeg Free Press)

The Royal Winnipeg Ballet launches its 79th season with three outdoor performances in Assiniboine Park. (Mikaela MacKenzie / Winnipeg Free Press)

In addition to a fascinating live lecture/demonstration of tricky ballet technique — plus an opportunity for early birds to see the artists warm up before the show begins — during intermission, there will also be a convoy of food trucks available on-site should the munchies set in.

First established by the company’s late legendary artistic director Arnold Spohr during the 1970s, Ballet in the Park draws up to a total of 20,000 audience members annually from Winnipeg and beyond — including many newbies who might be experiencing ballet for the first time.

However, it’s particularly near and dear to RWB School director Arlene Minkhorst’s heart. She will be leaving the organization for an undisclosed international opportunity when the school’s summer programs wrap up Aug. 14.

The first RWB production Minkhorst saw after arriving here from Toronto to train at the RWB School in 1976 was Ballet in the Park — with this week’s performances poignantly bringing her distinguished 42-year career with the company full circle as perfect ballet bookends.

The dedicated dance artist first joined the RWB School faculty in 1979 and was appointed its director in 2004 after its founder, David Moroni, stepped down.

"Ballet in the Park is important for the RWB because it’s been a big part of our history and we have a very personal attachment to it," Minkhorst told the Free Press in an earlier interview. "Ballet in the Park was the first RWB performance that I saw after moving to Winnipeg and it was really special to see that.

"Just being able to perform in a different kind of venue in a beautiful park on a warm summer night is all a part of its charm," she added.

"It’s great that families can come here with their kids and have a picnic and run around and dance."

The ballet cannot be held in the rain or thunderstorms, however. Show cancellations due to rain will be broadcast on city radio stations and made available on the RWB website, rwb.org, or by contacting the RWB reception desk at 204-956-0183.


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