Segerstrom center gets en pointe

EntertainmentDanceSportsInternational TravelAlicia AlonsoGeorge Balanchine

It's no secret: Dance enthusiasts love the spring.

The season marks the time when the world's best companies and dancers venture beyond their native shores to perform.

Orange County is one of the major recipients of this bounty, due to events like the Segerstrom Center for the Arts' Tour de Force and other engagements.

For those seeking more homegrown talent at the Irvine Barclay Theatre, dozens of local dancers take the stage April 23 for its original production of "Alice in Wonderland"; the following week, Backhausdance brings its newest production home from a triumphant New York City run.

Slated to arrive in the coming weeks at the Segerstrom Center are St. Petersburg's Eifman Ballet, the Royal Danish Ballet and the National Ballet of Cuba.

"[Boris] Eifman is really a very different kind of choreographer," said center Executive Vice President Judy Morr. "He's had his company for almost 35 years, and they're dedicated to his work. That's very unusual, that a single company can work with a single choreographer. He has an incredible way of taking an old story and thinking about it in a fresh way. He's got all these new ideas, and he recreates the story and makes it relevant to today. He has his own dance vocabulary; his dancers have a special look. They are trained to tell his story. It's very different from seeing the Royal Danish Ballet. Once you've seen the Eifman company, you'll recognize an Eifman dancer in the future…

"During the Eifman engagement we have our special Tour de Force. It's the second time we have done a gala, and it has some of the most stellar dancers in the world."

From Diana Vishneva to Anastasia Matvienko to Tiler Peck, Tour De Force II boasts about a dozen international dance superstars, as well as members of the Eifman Ballet. The one-evening event's program boasts American, West Coast and Segerstrom Center premieres, as well as other beloved classic and contemporary works from choreographers like George Balanchine and Alexander Gorsky.

"After we have Eifman, the next major engagement we have is the Royal Danish Ballet, which is really the crown jewel of Denmark," Morr said. "It's been almost 15 years since they've been to Southern California. To present them is an honor, and it will be a real treat for our audience. It is the only and the best place to see Bournonville dance, which is unique to this company."

The Bournonville school was formed by Danish ballet master August Bournonville in the mid 1800s. Essentially, to view the Bournonville method performed is to step back into the past; it's a preservation of 19th century French classical dance, which has for the most part disappeared from use. It is performed with an understated grace exemplified by lowered eyes, arms primarily at first position (or "preperatoire"), and quick footwork.

"After that, we'll have the National Ballet of Cuba, under the artistic direction of Alicia Alonso, who was born of the Legends of the Dance world. The fact that this woman is still traveling with the company is a special treat for our audiences," Morr said. "When you think about the legacy that this company has created for their tiny little country, and how she has kept them in the foreground of the arts world today, it's really a miracle."

Since founding the company with her husband in 1948, Alonso, one of the world's greatest ballerinas, has blended the formal training and romanticism of the European schools with Latin flair. Her company's dancers earn about $30 a month of income, which in Cuba is comparable with the country's top doctors and professionals.

"We have always, since the center opened, had a focus on the major dance companies of the world," Morr said. "Through the generosity of our donors, we have been able to maintain that presence. I believe that the consistency of the numbers of dance companies over the years has remained high.

"I think, over the years, that we have absolutely created an audience for dance, and that they are very much aware of current trends in dance and the artists who are currently at the top of their form. They keep track of choreographers."

The center also offers a top-notch education component to its dance programming.

"Before every performance, we make available to all ticket holders a preview of what they will see that night," Morr said. "Most often, the speaker does a review of the choreography, or a review of the production, and any pertinent parts of the ballet that would be significant to their enjoyment. And supporting that, we do master classes; with every company that comes through, we invite local students to participate with one of their great teachers. All companies bring their own creative staff; the opportunity to have a master class with one of the teachers is unique to this area. The Bournonville company is a great opportunity to showcase a style that's unique to many people."

The future also looks bright for the center's dance programming, Morr said.

"We have the good fortune to have an endowment for great dance, which was funded by Audrey Steele Burnand," she said. "That allows us in the center to maintain a significant dance program. It's what every performing arts center dreams of, and Mrs. Burnand wanted to do this five or 10 years ago. She's been a major, major supporter of dance, and helped us to achieve what has become our signature series."

Schedule

Segerstrom Center for the Arts events:

All events at 600 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa

Information: (714) 556-2787 or scfta.org

Eifman Ballet of St. Petersburg: April 26, 29, 30 and May 1; tickets $13.60 and up

"Inside Dance" free public lecture and demo: 5:30 p.m. April 30; tickets available at (714) 556-2787

Tour de Force II gala: 7:30 p.m. April 28; tickets $40 and up

Royal Danish Ballet: May 24 to 29; tickets $17 and up

Cuban National Ballet: June 15 to 19; tickets $17 and up

Irvine Barclay Theatre events:

All events at 4242 Campus Drive, Irvine

Information: (949) 854-4646 ext. 1 or thebarclay.org

"Alice in Wonderland": 1:30 and 6:30 p.m. April 23; tickets $24 to $28

Backhausdance: 8 p.m. April 29 and 30; tickets $15 for students and $33 for general seating

At The Barclay

About 80 young local dancers will present an original production of "Alice in Wonderland," created by Charles Maple of the Maple Ballet and Maple Conservatory of Dance, on April 23 at the Irvine Barclay Theater.

The ballet's classical score is combined with multimedia elements to create a family-friendly production that features all the essentials of the original story, including the White Rabbit, the Tea Party, the Queen of Hearts and more. Maple said it caters to both adults and children.

"The production features a more mature Alice and combines absurdity and humor while Alice investigates the surreal and fantastic imaginary universe she has created in Wonderland," Maple said in a release. "The ballet celebrates the versatility and style of the Maple Ballet, and its mission to create works that speak to a diverse audience."

The company also is holding a Mad Hatter's Tea at the center from 4 to 6 p.m., which includes a light meal, children's activities and a chance to meet the performers; tickets are $20 each and are available through the Maple Ballet directly at (949) 660-9930, ext. 24.

Local choreographer Jennifer Backhaus' company, Backhausdance, will perform its new evening-length work, "Incandescent," on April 29 and 30 at the Barclay. Inspired by a light bulb, the show utilizes creative illumination and choreography techniques to explore the concept of light. It saw sold-out performances in New York City last season, and boasts six company members and six apprentices, along with 20 university dance students.

"This piece is about light in both a literal and figurative sense," Backhaus said in a release. "As the dancers are illuminated by various incandescent sources, you see them awaken to discover the light within their souls. Incandescent explores the idea that each of us has a 'light' to bring to the world. When we own that light and let it shine, we unconsciously give others the permission to do the same."

To see a video clip of the show, visit backhausdance.org/videos.

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