Ballet Under the Big Top

Have you ever seen tortoises do the can-can? How about an elephant dancing in pointe shoes? Can fossilized skeletons even move? Come find out this weekend as the Theatre of Ballet Arts presents Carnival of the Animals, an original ballet with music by French composer Camille Saint-Saëns and choreography by Summer Hamille.

The Ringmaster will dazzle you with a menagerie of animals who swim, fly, hop, and kick across the stage, and in Act II the ballerinas will dance to additional Saint-Saëns compositions, including “Bacchanale” from Samson and Delilah.

Truly a community effort, the production features 34 dancers hailing from 10 cities across southwest Wisconsin and Iowa, donations from 16 local businesses along with many individual donors and those donating services, and more than two dozen parent and community volunteers.

Choreographer Summer Hamille, who is also director of Southwest Academy of Ballet Arts, reflects on the process of bringing the production to the stage.

How did you settle on the idea of bringing Camille Saint-Saens’ music to life?

Summer: In choosing a new ballet for our “off-year” Nutcracker season, I wanted something that could use area talent for both children and adults as well as untrained dancers. I knew about Saint-Saens’ composition Carnival of the Animals and the Theatre of Ballet Arts board agreed it was a good piece. So I got hold of the music and worked with a local music editor — Scott Moore — who extended some of the shorter pieces to make it work choreographically, and off we went!

Why do you think that Saint-Saens’ music, which was written more than 100 years ago, still resonates with audiences today?

Summer: The different variations Saint-Saens composed are simple and fun. In fact, he amused himself by composing them in order to feel better about a bad concert tour in Germany. It’s fairly easy for the audience to recognize what each variation is intended to portray. Although he would never allow these variations to be made public during his lifetime — except The Swan — I think it’s because of the lightheartedness of the compositions that audiences still find it appealing.

How does it feel to see the dancers progress from learning your choreography at the start of rehearsals to seeing the production on the stage during final dress rehearsals?

Summer: I am thrilled with the way this ballet is turning out! Not only were the performers able to do the choreography I envisioned, but they learned it quickly and the ballet came together much faster than I expected. The costume manager, Liz Heimerl, performed great magic and the costumes she came up with for these variations is amazing. The production is worth attending just to see her fabulous costumes! The advanced dancers for the four compositions in Act II have put in extra work to make the choreography for those pieces interesting and entertaining. Overall, I am very pleased with everyone’s work and can’t wait to just sit back and enjoy it all myself!

Now let’s all sit back with Summer and enjoy the show.

Performances are Nov. 18 at 2:30 pm and 7 pm, and Nov. 19 at 2:30 pm at the Mineral Point Opera House. Tickets are $10 for adults and $6 for kids 12 and under, and are available at Berget Jewelers, brownpapertickets.com, and at the box office. The show is just over an hour long.

The Theatre of Ballet Arts is a nonprofit, charitable, volunteer organization dedicated to bringing the dance arts to Southwest Wisconsin.

-Contributed by Susan Webb, photos by Monica Dunn

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