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Choreographer Septime Webre works with dancers from the Milwaukee Ballet. (PHOTO: milwaukeeballet.org)

"Alice (in wonderland)" set to dazzle under Webre's choreography

Pretend you are Mike McCarthy, coach of the powerful Green Bay Packers, and that you have a new task.

You have been asked to ship your playbook to a Division I college team in North Dakota and then coach them in a game.

You know the team is a good one, but you are only going to be with them a week before the game, and you hope that the assistant coach you sent out ahead has been successful in teaching that playbook to players whom you don't know at all.

Welcome to the world of Septime Webre.

Webre is about to step down after 17 years as artistic director of the prestigious Washington Ballet. Before then, however, he is in Milwaukee this week to direct his "Alice (in wonderland)" with the Milwaukee Ballet. The show opens Thursday and runs through Sunday.

Webre and Michael Pink, artistic director of the Milwaukee Ballet, have similar records of accomplishment. Each took a largely moribund ballet company and, through hard work, partnerships and individual brilliance, created ballet companies that have earned national and international reputations.

Each is a choreographer who sees his work performed by other companies in other cities and countries. They come from different traditions – Pink from the storytellers of the United Kingdom and Webre from the contemporary world of George Balanchine.

"Michael has built a very strong company here," Webre said during a recent talk at the ballet's offices. "I'm looking forward to working with them on this piece."

Webre was preceded in Milwaukee by Johanna Wilt, the répétiteur from the Cincinnati Ballet who taught the choreography to the dancers. A répétiteur is an assistant to the choreographer who teaches the dancers and then works through rehearsals.

It's like a Mike McCarthy coming in the day before the game to get things just right.

Webre came in at the end to shape the ballet into his vision.

Make no mistake about it: A choreographer owns his ballet in every sense of the word. Every movement, every expression, every turn and every jump belong to Webre, or Pink or other world class choreographers. And this production of "Alice" truly belongs to Webre.

"I had thought about it for a number of years and then I found myself in Hawaii, looking out over a pristine sea, as clear as glass," he said. "The whole thing of through the looking glass and what Alice found there seemed perfect for a ballet."

In the notes from his ballet, Webre paints a colorful picture of what audiences can expect to see.

"I have chosen to create a prologue to this adaptation of Lewis Carroll's work by presenting a fictionalized version of Alice Liddell and her oddball family members, who reappear as other characters throughout her journey in Wonderland," he said.

"Alice's overbearing mother becomes the Queen of Hearts; her hen-pecked father, the ineffectual King of Hearts; her kooky twin sisters, Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum; her narcoleptic Grandmother, the always sleeping Dormouse; her befuddled Grandfather, the perplexed March Hare; the nervous and rushed butler becomes the White Rabbit; and Lewis Carroll himself returns as the Mad Hatter. While I have followed the structure of the first book, some of my favorite elements from the second book such as Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee, the Jabberwock, and others, make an appearance in the ballet."

Watching Webre work with the company in rehearsals leaves no doubt that the vision for this "Alice" is clear in his mind. He stands, chin in hand, watching dancers fly across the floor and stopping the music. He steps to the floor, explaining in sweeping terms what he wants – the emotion, the leap, the positions. His voice is calm, and there is a serenity about it, but he leaves no doubt about what the goal is. And he convinces dancers to share in that goal.

The costumes for the ballet should be a highlight of the event for ballet fans. Designed by Liz Vandal with lots of input from Webre, the influences include Mick Jagger, David Bowie, Elton John, and Starsky and Hutch.

"Alice (in wonderland)" runs from Thursday through May 22 and information on showtimes and tickets is available here.


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