BYU Theatre Ballet prepares the world university premiere of “Alice in Wonderland”

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Jaren Wilkey/BYU
Cast members in BYU theatre Ballet’s word university premiere of “Alice in Wonderland.” (Jaren Wilkey/BYU Photo)

BYU Theatre Ballet will become the world’s first university theatre ballet program to perform “Alice in Wonderland” starting Jan. 28 in the de Jong Concert Hall.

Artistic Director Shani Robison said the performance has been three years in the making. She said she has looked forward to taking a “leap of faith” by being the first university production of this ballet.

Lead dancer Riley Duck, who plays Alice in the ballet, said preparing a new show for a world premiere required a lot of work.

“It’s taken a ton of time, but it’s exciting to also know that this is the first time we’re ever doing it, that BYU’s name is going to be on this,” Duck said.

It was important to Robison that students be heavily involved in the process of creating and preparing this ballet from the beginning. They put off the performance of the ballet for a year in order to have the most student involvement possible in carrying it out. Robison believed this would be a great opportunity and learning experience for the students.

“There’s no better way for students (to learn) than to dive right in and do it,” Robison said.

The student crew for “Alice in Wonderland” includes a team of student dancers, choreographers, set designers, costume designers, makeup designers and technical managers. Crew members were enrolled in a special fine arts class that met three times per week last semester. The members collaborated with each other and coordinated their efforts for this production during their class time.

“This is the first time it’s been done at BYU on this kind of scale and to see the results has been truly breathtaking,” Robison said.

Robison said making this ballet a student production has made a big difference. The students have put a lot of work into the production, and their investment has been higher than that of the crews of other productions she has directed. Each member of the student crew read Lewis Carroll’s “Alice in Wonderland” and listened to the associated Tchaikovsky music as part of their preparation for the production.

“It has been one of those once-in-a-life experiences for me because it really showed how talented our students are,” Robison said. “If they’re given this type of opportunity, they will shine.”

Being surrounded by a student crew while working on this ballet has made it easier for the dancers to become more involved in the process, according to Duck.

“They’re our age, so we can really relate to them, and we don’t feel uncomfortable talking to them,” Duck said. “I think it’s nice to have someone doing it that’s your age.”

The student crew received $40,000 in grants to help with the costs of the project because the extensive student involvement in putting together the production.

“Everything that the students have wanted to do has come true,” Robison said. “We’ve felt great support.”

Robison says BYU Theatre Ballet’s “Alice in Wonderland” is unique because of its vibrant sets and scenes, special effects and costume and makeup design.

“We’ve taken care to really make it the best it can be and just a visual feast for the audience,” Robison said.

Another thing that makes this production of “Alice in Wonderland” unique, Robison said, is that students from other universities were invited to audition for the ballet. This helped to make the production more rich and full.

Auditions were also held for children, who will be playing the part of hedgehogs, flamingos and lobsters in the ballet.

“Alice in Wonderland” is a family friendly production. Children ages two to 11 are invited to watch the ballet at half-price. The audience will also have the chance to dress in their royal best to greet the dancers at the Prince and Princess Party preceding each performance.

“It’s something that will cater to literally everyone,” Duck said. “Everyone is going to love it.”

Jaren Wilkey/BYU
Riley Duck plays her role as Alice in BYU Theatre Ballet’s production of “Alice in Wonderland.” This is Duck’s second year at BYU after transferring from the School of American Ballet in New York. (Jaren Wilkey/BYU Photo)

Duck said learning the part of Alice was difficult. Performing in a theatre ballet requires concentration and enough coordination to be able to simultaneously dance and act.

“When you’re on stage, the moment that curtain comes up, you have to be alive,” Duck said. “They can’t catch you one moment with just a blank face. You have to be in every second of the show and just so aware of what’s happening on stage.”

Duck is in her second year at BYU and said she has loved her BYU experience and performing with Theatre Ballet. She trained at the School of American Ballet in New York and made the decision to transfer to BYU after becoming a member of the LDS church.

“It has been the best decision I’ve ever made, just to know that I’m not only perfecting my dancing, but I’m also getting to receive a world-class education at the same time,” Duck said. “That’s huge.”

“Alice in Wonderland” will be Robison’s last production as artistic director of BYU Theatre Ballet. She will continue working full-time at BYU, but in the future, she will be focusing her efforts more on the ballet administration.

“I think this is a really great way to go out,” Robison said. “I feel like it’s kind of come full circle for me.”

Duck said she hopes to be able to take the audience with her into Wonderland by the end of the performance.

“I hope they can feel like they’re in Wonderland too, and that they’re experiencing this for the first time, just like Alice is,” Duck said.

Robison also hopes for a magical performance.

“I think that’s the best judge of a good piece of art, if your audience comes with you along the journey,” Robison said.

The BYU Theatre Ballet will be performing the world university premiere of “Alice in Wonderland” at the de Jong Concert Hall on Jan. 28–30, at 7:30 p.m. There will also be a matinee showing on Saturday, Jan. 30, at 2 p.m. Tickets to the ballet are available through the HFAC Ticket Office, by calling 801-422-2981, or by visiting the BYU Arts webpage at arts.byu.edu.

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