Twyla Tharp has been thinking about a new ballet for 20 years — a full-length narrative work, adapted from children’s stories by George MacDonald, about a young girl coming of age. It will include dancers of various ages, from children to those in their prime to mature character dancers. The musical inspiration is Franz Schubert.
Now Atlanta Ballet and Canada’s Royal Winnipeg Ballet are making it happen, in a partnership that has been growing over the past few years. Both companies’ artistic directors, Atlanta’s John McFall and Winnipeg’s Andre Lewis, joined Tharp (at left) for the announcement today at Georgia Public Broadcasting. The news of the world premiere of the new work by Tharp was part of Atlanta Ballet’s announcement of its 2011-12 season.
“Dance is a very big family,” Tharp said. “You’re born into it, and you’ve got to make it work or else. It works because people believe in the same things. This is a very large project. It can happen. It will happen.”
Tharp will create the work — still without a title — at Atlanta Ballet over a relatively short five-week period this summer and will return for brief visits. After a final three-week rehearsal period, the ballet will premiere February 10, 2012, at Cobb Energy Centre. Georgia Public Broadcasting will make a documentary film that will follow the production’s creative process. The following season, Tharp will re-stage the work at the Royal Winnipeg Ballet.
Richard Burke, a scholar of Schubert, will orchestrate the score. Lighting will be designed by Don Holder, who lit all three of Tharp’s Broadway shows: “Movin’ Out,” “The Times They Are A-Changin’” and “Come Fly Away,” the last of which premiered to rave reviews at Atlanta’s Alliance Theatre in 2009.
Tharp will adapt literary work by MacDonald, who wrote stories for children — but “very mature children,” she said. “He is also a romantic, and very spiritual … a word not to be used lightly, but to be earned.”
Of her return to Romantic music and literature, Tharp said, “What we’re doing is going back. We have endured Modernism, Postmodernism, Minimalism. We find ourselves being pulled back. We feel the need to look again at the romantics.” As far as the new ballet’s style is concerned, Tharp told the audience that there would be white, there would be an ensemble, and they would be en pointe.
Asked why she was attracted to the joint commission, she said she looks for companies that have focus, enthusiasm and resources, and that both Atlanta Ballet and the Royal Winnipeg Ballet have the necessary staff and facilities and are committed to the art form. “I don’t like risk,” Tharp added. “Risk isn’t my idea of a good time. But I love that they do.”
Also next season, Atlanta Ballet will present James Kudelka’s “The Four Seasons,” which the troupe will revive from its 2010 U.S. premiere, and Wayne McGregor’s “Eden/Eden.” In December, “The Nutcracker” will return to the Fox Theatre. “Wonderland,” based on Lewis Carroll’s stories, will be performed in January. February will see Tharp’s world premiere and a family version of “Snow White,” and in March the company will offer Jorma Elo’s “First Flash,” Christopher Wheeldon’s “Rush” and Julia Adam’s “If a Rose Falls,” first performed by Atlanta Ballet in 2003. In May, the company will present a new work by an Israeli choreographer as part of an evening of three world premieres.