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In 2009, while dancing for North Carolina Dance Theatre, Kara Wilkes was named one of Dance Magazine’s 25 to Watch for her “heavenly marriage of stately beauty and precise technical skill” in Balanchine’s Raymonda Variations. This week she will be performing, hm mmm I mean embodying, the title role in Alonzo King’s Sheherazade at the Joyce Theater.  This represents a sea change as far as roles and careers go, but simultaneously it has always been looming as the next logical place on her cosmic career path. She was only an apprentice at Milwaukee Ballet Company when she first met Alonzo King. I distinctly remember his pointed interest–our friendship goes back that far–from the very first day he laid eyes on her in class. This collaboration was fated. I asked Kara about the challenges and rewards of working on a character role within the LINES Ballet philosophy and aesthetic.

Kara Wilkes. Photo by Chris Edwards.

Kara Wilkes. Photo by Chris Edwards.

 

In her own words:

“Kathy Posin’s Scheherazade was my first principle role at 24 when I was dancing with Milwaukee Ballet Company. Revisiting the story with Alonzo King, 6 years later, has been a challenging adventure physically and mentally. I joined LINES Ballet last July. Since then I’ve received perpetual guidance and inspiration in order to continue coming into my own as an artist. Alonzo has opened my eyes to the simple fact that we are speaking with our bodies when we dance, and that we shouldn’t be afraid to say the honest truth; to say, be and show who you are with how you move. Honesty and beauty are one in the same for him. With that in mind, I began approaching all of my work differently, with less worry about executing a perfect pirouette or whatever the step may be. ‘You tell us what a double pirouette is’, Alonzo once told me. After years of training, this was a revelation to hear! I have the ability to create new versions of everything and new ideas are what he requires of his dancers everyday. My first time around, I acted out much of the ballet. But Alonzo asks the company to express our characters in the story with the physicality of our bodies. It’s not easy, but very liberating to go inside your body and feel safe enough there to say anything you want. You have to ask yourself constantly, what am I saying? Alonzo’s version of Scheherazade is more abstract and his process involves a lot of self-exploration. He pushes me to show things about myself to the viewer that aren’t always comfortable to expose. As I find more willingness to do so and overcome, I see courage as a major theme in this production.”

Meredith Webster in Scheherazade

In his own words:

“My intention was to grapple with the metaphysical meaning behind Scheherazade and present that meaning in its essence. Scheherazade is the symbol of the savior. She weaves tales not to save her own life, but to save humanity from its unending retributive response to injury.” Alonzo King

It is important not to forget the essential spiritual component at the root of all of Mr. King’s work, making him as much the guru as the artistic director. His transcendental rematch with this timeless tale will be backed by Zakir Hussein’s re-interpretation of Rimsky-Korsakov’s classic orientalist score; a fitting tribute given Rimsky-Korsakov’s appreciation of Western composition techniques. The evening threatens a seductive mix of east and west, narrative and concept, brewing around the fundamental themes of courageous love overcoming violence. It leaves me wondering in anticipation, is the choreographer the true behind-the-scenes Sheherazade, using his movement as the language to connect the finer points of these seemingly irreconcilable life forces, and will the gorgeous dancers be more than beautiful symbols? I look forward to finding out (and being saved).

The Joyce Theater
Tue-Wed 7:30pm; Thu-Fri 8pm; Sat 2pm & 8pm; Sun 7:30pm

Dance Chat: Wed, May 9

Click here for tickets!

 

Written by Candice Thompson

After more than a decade in Brooklyn, Candice Thompson is now an Atlanta-based artist and writer. Prior to dancing with the Milwaukee Ballet Company and ad hoc Ballet, she trained with Kee Juan Han at the School of Ballet Arizona and NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. She founded LOLAstretch Dancewear in 2000 and has designed costumes for a variety of theater and dance companies across the country. She recently received a masters degree in Literary Nonfiction from Columbia University’s Creative Writing Program and more of her dance writing can be found in the pages of Dance Magazine, Pointe, and Dance Teacher.