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An Inside Look at a Philadelphia Composer's First Ballet Premiere


AliceAfter I wrote about National Arts Advocacy Day in Washington, D.C. last week, I travelled to San Diego for the premiere of my first ballet. This ballet was the result of a commission from the Art of Elan, a chamber music presenting organization, made up mostly of San Diego Symphony musicians) and Colette Harding Contemporary Dance Company. Art of Elan, run by co-Artistic Directors Demarre McGill (a Curtis and Juilliard graduate) and violinist Kathryn Hatmaker dreamed up the idea of setting "Alice in Wonderland." 

We decided on a unique production, including an actor/narrator, flute (also playing the melodica), alto sax, harp, violin, viola, bass, and a wide array of percussion with seven dancers. We discussed and developed a structure, based on the original, that would be roughly 50 minutes long. I adapted the text into a condensed and loose collection of poetry, narrative, and character portrayal. 

The wonderful Diane Alexander brought a breadth of knowledge and experience to the role. You can hear her discuss her interpretation in a short video interview here. She brought the many characters to life through inventive and juxtaposing character portrayals. Her Mock Turtle was hilarious and well-received by all. 

Choreographer Colette Harding approached the text through an Asian-influenced filter. She brought a varied vocabulary of dance to the production. Her Alice was athletic and supple but also quite delicate at times. You can watch a brief video interview with her, conducted just moments before one of the performances here

art of elan

Art of Elan has been programming insightful programs for almost four years now. McGill and Hatmaker met while both were members of the Pittsburgh Symphony. They both ended up in San Diego, as member s of the San Diego Symphony. The focus of their presenting organization is on short programs - generally under an hour. They strive to present edgy, interesting programs that engage and entertain the audience, while allowing them to get out of the hall with enough time to enjoy a nice dinner or drinks, at times with partner restaurants. The group changes its makeup for each concert. They are a morphing virtuoso chamber music presenting agency. The musicians are sublime, especially the core members and founders, McGill and Hatmaker. 

The rehearsal process for the ballet started before I got to San Diego, so I was curious to see how the dance and music and acting would all fit together. We had collaborated over the phone- but there was only so much you can present with no visual aid. The choreography was a mystery to me. By the time I got there the dancers were "marking," meaning they weren't fully dancing just yet. They were interacting with the props, the lighting, the music, and the transitions between scene changes. Eventually everything came together in a holistic result. Colette and I discussed the way we both approached the project in an interview in San Diego, which you can hear here. The imaginative sets were built by the talented dancer/choreographer, who also played the Mad Hatter, Deven Brawley. 

Below are a few videos of one of the rehearsals, broken out by scene: 

The Cheshire Cat - the scene in which Alice first meets the Chesire Cat.
The Mad Tea Party- the scene in which Alice meets the Mad Hatter in a crazy tea party!
The Court Scene- the scene in which the Knave of Hearts is tried and the court goes a bit nutso!
Final Scene- the scene in which Alice sheds her youth and the poem from Carroll's second book recited.




Joe is a native Philadelphia who began writing music at the age of 12. He has worked with the cellist Alisa Weilerstein, and members of the Philadelphia Orchestra, New York Philharmonic, Cleveland Orchestra, and Seattle Symphony, among others. He has also entered the world of pop music and remixing. He teaches both privately and at Drexel University. Joe has been writing for the arts for 10 years. You can follow Joe on twitter at twitter.com/HallmanComposer. You can find his music on iTunes and all other major digital retailers. For a taste of his music, check out: www.reverbnation.com/JosephHallman 

Joseph Hallman can be reached through the following contact info: