Charles Martin demonstrates sword-fighting steps in The Kansas City Ballet’s “The Three Musketeers.” XXKENNYJ Kenny Johnson
Charles Martin demonstrates sword-fighting steps in The Kansas City Ballet’s “The Three Musketeers.” XXKENNYJ Kenny Johnson

Classical Music & Dance

Kansas City Ballet blends a little danger with dance in season opener ‘The Three Musketeers’

By LIBBY HANSSEN

Special to The Star

August 30, 2015 5:00 AM

For anyone who has ever wielded a wrapping-paper tube and shouted “en garde!” Kansas City Ballet’s season opener is for you.

The ballet is presenting André Prokovsky’s heroic and comedic “The Three Musketeers,” based on Alexander Dumas’ novel. It is a rarity in the dance repertoire with its primarily male cast, and is a great deal of fun with dashing heroes, evil villains and beautiful women.

It also features, of course, a tremendous amount of swordplay.

Artistic director Devon Carney spoke enthusiastically about the aspect of fencing.

“I really liked sword-fighting ever since I was a kid … the danger and yet the control,” he said. “There’s that sense of going right up to the edge of being dangerous but not. There’s a communication pattern that happens with stage fighting that nobody knows about except those who are doing it.”

The company will work with répétiteur Gilles Maidon to stage the ballet. From his home in Salt Lake City, Maidon discussed via email this ballet and his career, which has taken him from France all over the world, Chile to Qatar, as dancer, teacher and choreographer.

Maidon is the leading expert on “Three Musketeers,” as well as Prokovsky’s “Anna Karenina” and “The Great Gatsby.” He danced the role of D’Artagnan when he was with Ballet de Santiago, and worked with Prokovsky in many lead roles during his dancing career in the 1980s and ’90s.

In 1992 he began assisting Prokovsky in setting works. After Prokovsky died in 2009, Maidon continued to stage these ballets; he uses notes he has from working with Prokovsky and notes he’s made since.

Growing up in France, Maidon was familiar with the novel.

“Every kid could relate to the story,” he said. “It’s a book you have to read as a kid.”

This will be his first time working with the Kansas City Ballet, though he visited last season to observe the company.

According to Maidon, the ballet is “all about bravura, love and fun. And, of course, technique.”

Ballet master-in-residence David Justin is teaching the fundamentals of stage combat to the dancers, the specialized technique that came out of the French court and its specific vocabulary, in rehearsals. Maidon arrives Tuesday and he’ll begin setting the choreography.

It will be exciting for the dancers and the audience, an excitement created by that element of danger.

The production uses real, though dull, swords, and there are multiple fight scenes, so safety is a primary concern.

“Safety is number one,” Maidon said. “They learn without swords first and slowly we add it all together.”

Carney was just as adamant about safety, citing personal experiences with stage combat gone wrong.

“I fought a Tybalt once who was intense,” Carney said. “I didn’t need to act, as Romeo, because I was fighting for my life. He was very emotionally based in his fighting … and would forget his fighting choreography.”

Carney and Maidon will work together to cast the roles.

“It’s critical to make sure for those who have the more important fighting that not only can they dance but that they are smart in their heads and that they’re going to be all right with sword-fighting,” Carney said.

“There’s all that safety built in, but it needs to be taught to young guys, because they don’t know. I mean, I didn’t know (in my first sword fighting role) — all I knew was Errol Flynn.” .

Up on stage, in the thick of a battle, anything can happen, which is part of the thrill of live performance. Carney stressed the careful preparation.

“It’s up to the dancers on a daily basis to be sensible. And not allow that adrenaline to get out of hand,” he said. “There is danger involved with (stage combat), and we try as best as possible to prepare the guys, in a safe environment, to really go out on stage and … make it look like it’s out there on the edge. Is it 100 percent safe? No.”

The performances are Oct. 9-18 in the Muriel Kauffman Theatre.

Also coming up this fall

The fall is flush with dance offerings from companies both local and far-flung, highlighting modern American masters as well as traditional styles from around the globe.

September

“Dance in the Park,” City in Motion Dance Theater presents its annual season kickoff, featuring dance organizations and styles from around the region for a family-friendly presentation. Sept. 12, Roanoke Park.

“The Cyprus Avenue Concert” features the Wylliams/Henry Contemporary Dance Company performing to popular music selections curated by radio host Bill Shapiro. This event brings in an impressive lineup of choreographers to add new vitality to beloved songs. Sept. 19, Folly Theater.

“New Dance Partners” is in its third year at Johnson County Community College’s Performing Arts Series. The series commissions new works from choreographers Gregory Dawson, Brian Enos and Kate Skarpetowska. This year the Oklahoma City Ballet joins returning partners Owen/Cox Dance Group and Wylliams/Henry. Sept. 25 and 26, Yardley Hall.

The Paul Taylor Dance Company has, for more than 60 years, been one of the most recognized, respected and innovative names in modern American dance. Sept. 29, Lied Center of Kansas.

October

The Harriman-Jewell Series presents three different dance styles in close succession with the Compañia Flamenca José Porcel (Oct. 2, Folly Theater), Krasnoyarsk National Dance Company of Siberia (Oct. 9, Helzberg Hall) and Stars of American Ballet, featuring the Jerome Robbins classic “Fancy Free” (Oct. 23, Kauffman Theatre).

The Kansas City Friends of Alvin Ailey present Ailey II in residency with a gala, educational outreach and performances at the Folly Theater, Oct 8-10.

The Owen/Cox Dance Group collaborates with Tango Lorca for a Kurt Weill/Berthold Brecht-inspired performance of original choreography, as well as the world premiere of “Fuga Tanguera.” Oct 23-25, Music Theater Heritage, Crown Center.

November

Thodos Dance Chicago performs its Helen Keller-inspired work “A Light in the Dark.” Nov. 7, Lied Center of Kansas, Lawrence.

Urban Bush Women, founded by Kansas City native Jawole Willa Jo Zollar, explores historical, cultural and personal narratives with challenging and affirming work. Nov. 7, Johnson County Community College.

December

Perhaps most exciting of all is Kansas City Ballet’s all-new “Nutcracker.” The production has choreography by artistic director Devon Carney and a team of nationally acclaimed artists. The production will remain in keeping with the beloved holiday treatment, the classical steps, gorgeous score and traditional story, re-imagined into a magical adventure. Dec 5-24, Muriel Kauffman Theatre.

| Libby Hanssen, Special to the Star

Maidon SERDAR AYDIN
Urban Bush Women, founded by Kansas City native Jawole Willa Jo Zollar, will explore historical, cultural and personal narratives on Nov. 7 at Johnson County Community College.
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