After almost two years on hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and then a little bump for omicron in October when their season was scheduled to begin, Ballet Palm Beach this month will return to the stage with an original work, Peter Pan and Tinker Bell, inspired by two novels by Peter Pan’s creator, J.M. Barrie.
The production runs April 14-16 at the Rinker Playhouse at the Kravis Center for the Performing Arts in West Palm Beach.
Ballet Palm Beach’s artistic director Colleen Smith, who often employs original literary pieces as inspiration for her dances, says: “For ‘Peter Pan and Tinker Bell,’ I was inspired by J.M. Barrie’s children’s novels. There are so many fabulous words to turn into movement.”
“Postponing the production has given us extra time together as a company,” says Smith. “Dancing is a collaborative effort and postponing the production was a blessing in disguise because our new dancers had a chance to integrate fully into the company.”
“Collaboration takes trust and since we have been practicing in the studio since September. We have all grown a lot together and have a lot of fun together,” she says. “The end result will be better since we had more time to develop these relationships.”
One of these new dancers is Jay Markov, who came to Ballet Palm Beach from Festival Ballet in Providence, R.I., and will dance the role of Peter Pan. Lily Loveland, Smith’s daughter, who is in her 13th season with Ballet Palm Beach, will dance the role of Tinker Bell.
Smith has a small library in her home under the stairwell filled with classic children’s literature that she uses as reference for many of her dance productions. This production recounts the story of Peter Pan (The Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up), Tinker Bell (his fairy companion) and her unrequited love for Peter Pan before he meets Wendy and the Darling Children.
“I’m very story-oriented,” she says. “If the story is compelling, my job is to turn something with words into a medium without words.”
To create her signature ballets, Smith does extensive research on the story, the author and his or her motivations.
“I stay true to the author’s tone,” she says. “In Peter Pan, there’s an underlying sense of melancholy. I want to capture that in a way that is interesting for both the dancers and the audience.”
Smith communicates her vision not only through the dance movement but also through the sets, music and costuming.
Preferring music “with significance,” for Peter Pan and Tinker Bell, Smith chose Vivaldi and Renaissance music with bagpipes (to reflect J.M. Barrie’s Scottish origin). She is collaborating with costume designer Elisa Saether, who first partnered with Smith for Ballet Palm Beach’s original ballet The Great Gatsby for the 2018-19 season.
Saether created the monsters’ headpieces for Rihanna’s “Disturbia” performance in her Last Girl On Earth World Tour in 2009 and Bruno Mars’ gold hair curlers in his 2014 performance of “Uptown Funk” on The Voice.
The two met three years ago when Saether was working as a stagehand sporting a cape covered in googly eyes. When Smith spied her, she said, “I get it – all eyes are on you,” and knew she had found her costume designer.
“Because of the mythological elements and the fantastical stories, I love creating costumes for the ballet,” says Saether. “It’s the most fun. Colleen has a vision and we work together to translate that vision to the stage.”
“We read each others’ minds,” says Smith. “We go back and forth and back and forth and then Elisa takes it and runs with it and elevates my vision. Her style is whimsical but elegant and she brings a newness to her creations. Her costumes are nothing like a Disney costume.
“I want my productions to be compelling, musically stimulating and pleasing to all the senses,” says Smith. “If I could add smell, I would.”
For Saether, who is also a painter, sculptor and performer, her job is to determine the character’s tone, style, era and culture and factor that in to the costume function and design. She takes into account each character’s physical, social, psychological, emotional and moral traits and uses those to guide her vision to create the initial costume sketches.
As a costume designer, she works to both embody the setting of the story and nature of the character while at the same time allowing for movement and creating a costume that flatters the dancers’ lines.
For example, she says, her costumes for The Great Gatsby were all hand-dyed and created using a beautiful and elegant color palette. To accommodate for the 1920s boxy silhouettes, Saether experimented with transparent chiffon which allowed the audiences to see the shape of the dresses as well as the dancers’ forms.
For Peter Pan and Tinker Bell, Saether says she begins by imagining the ideas, fabrics, colors and silhouettes of the costumes, which in addition to Peter Pan and Tinker Bell include mermaids, fairies, the Lost Boys, pirates, Tiger Lily and a crocodile.
“Every detail, every prop, every costume design has to work together visually so you just see a gorgeous moving picture,” says Saether.
“Like puzzle pieces,” she plays with ideas. “I intuitively pull fabrics, obscure materials and textural elements, while dying, forming, deconstructing and repurposing old costumes.I mix and match, until the new piece magically emerges.” Challenges, including budgetary constraints, present themselves along the way, but both Smith and Saether say they need the challenge to produce their best work — it allows for their creativity to flourish.
“Creating an original ballet production from scratch is both challenging and scary,” says Smith. “How will it turn out? I always wonder about the end result.
“To invite an audience into your most intimate thought processes, visions and fantasies that you give life to and hope they get it, is truly an amazing process,” Smith says.
If you go
Peter Pan and Tinker Bell
Thursday, April 14 – 7 p.m.
Friday, April 15 – 2 p.m. and 7 p.m.
Saturday, April 16 – 11 a.m. and 3 p.m.
The Rinker Playhouse at The Kravis Center for the Performing Arts, 701 Okeechobee Blvd., West Palm Beach
All tickets: $45
Tickets are available at balletpalmbeach.org or by calling The Kravis Center box office at (561) 832-7469 or (800) 572-8471.