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'Peter Pan' flies again with Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre

| Sunday, Oct. 23, 2011

A good story will be told often. Peter Pan, for example, has had more lives than a cat.

When Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre last presented a Peter Pan in 2007, the production's many charms did not include a Tinker Bell. That will be corrected with flair when the company mounts a different production next weekend.

"Tinker Bell is a fun role, definitely humor spiked," says principal dancer Julia Erickson. "She has spunk. She's a fairy, so she's got those ethereal qualities. She quirky, easily distracted, definitely has a good heart but gets her bun ruffled every once in a while."

No wonder artistic director Terrence Orr says Erickson "makes me laugh every time I walk in the studio."

Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre opens its season with the Pittsburgh premiere of the Jorden Morris version of "Peter Pan" at four performances Friday through Sunday at the Benedum Center, Downtown. Charles Barker will conduct the Pittsburgh Ballet Orchestra.

Morris is a former dancer with the Royal Winnipeg Ballet in Canada who began working on choreography when he retired from performing. His first ballet was "The Three Musketeers" in 1999. "Peter Pan" was first performed in 2006.

"I like this version. Jorden stays close to the book" by Scottish author J.M. Barrie, Orr says. "He did a lot of research, and the music he chose is linked to Barrie's area of England. It is classical dance, with some explorations derived from classical dance but it's not trying to go out and be Mark Morris or Yuri Kylian or Billy Forsyth."

Barrie first created Peter Pan as a vignette in a novel. After becoming friends with a family with five boys in London, he expanded the idea in 1904 into a play -- "Peter Pan, or The Boy Who Wouldn't Grow Up" -- which was a big hit in England and the United States.

Barrie turned the story into the novel "Peter Pan and Wendy" in 1911, which also was very successful. He gave the copyright for "Peter Pan" in 1924 to the Great Ormond Street Children's Hospital in London 1924.

The Jorden Morris choreography leaves a lot of room for interpretation.

"It's a forthright ballet," Erickson says. "It's a story ballet, and we're communicating quite a complex narrative between us, all of us. So, we sometimes switch back and forth between dancing and mime and interaction, but it's all woven very well together. We do get to fly, so that's going to be fun."

Flying will be fun for the cast because of stage technology developed by Englishman Peter Foy. The ballet uses his company, Flying by Foy, for all its airborne shows.

"This is probably the most complicated of the Flying by Foy productions we've done," Orr says. "The sword fights are very much involved in the flying."

"Peter Pan" played a crucial role in Foy's development of better technology for stage flying. He was dissatisfied with his work on the 1950 production of "Peter Pan" starring Jean Arthur and with music by Leonard Bernstein. By 1954, he had a new system that was used in the classic musical starring Mary Martin and staged by Jerome Robbins.

Music for the ballet's flying sequences is taken from two English films about bomber missions during World War II. All of the score is English music, most by Edward Elgar.

"Elgar is a wonderful composer. This music is charming and soft," conductor Charles Barker says. "There are few rough edges in Elgar. Everything is well controlled and in place. You feel in the presence of someone extremely accomplish in his art."

Barker says one of Elgar's pieces, the "Wand of Youth," was constructed later in life from sketches he made when very young for a family play. "The music has thematic characteristics that lend itself to 'Peter Pan.' We also play the fugue from Benjamin Britten's 'A Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra.' "

The ballet's season always includes, but is not limited to family programming. This season "Peter Pan" is one of three shows good for parents and children. The others are "The Nutcracker" in December and "Coppelia" in April 2012.

Additional Information:

'Peter Pan'

Presented by: Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre

When: 8 p.m. Friday, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, and 2 p.m. Oct. 30

Admission: $22.75-$90.75

Where: Benedum Center, Downtown

Details: 412-456-6666 or

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