The cast of Jekyll & Hyde

The well-known tale of an English medical doctor who drinks a potion to release his evil alter ego, Mr. Hyde, is the opening entry of this season’s offering by the Tucson Ballet.

Complete with little boy chimney sweeps, women with parasols and a backdrop dominated by the clockwork mechanism of Big Ben and an image of Parliament, the mood was instantly set in 19th century London. The full company of the Ballet Tucson takes part in the production as they literally fill the stage during the concluding bows.

Jekyll is played by Vasily Boldin (with his arm raised in the lead photo); Charles Clark, left of him in the photo, plays Mr. Hyde. A suite of large test tubes boiling over in the doctor’s lab bring to mind a witches’ brew, perfectly fitting the Halloween spirit at this time of year.

The transformation of the good doctor into Mr Hyde is effectively done as they writhe around one another in a spotlight, with one getting flung out as the other takes over.

The music is very much a factor in this production, somewhat like electronic dance music. It especially strikes a vibrational energy state during the Hyde sequences, where the acrobatic essence of the character is given a stark showcase. One member of the audience said it “Made me feel things in my heart – it made me cry.”

Not everyone was totally captivated by the choreography, however, with one expert decrying it was “more like hip hop, not even contemporary ballet which is really cool. It was more flashy than artistic.” The two lead ballerinas, Megan Steffens and Taylor Johnson, nonetheless delivered a technically perfect performance, even though my audience critic said “the choreography did not showcase their full potential. It was just a showpiece.”

He saw Ballet Tucson’s Jekyll and Hyde five year ago, and noticed a major improvement. The dancers were more in line with each other, leg height was uniform, stops were effected with precision by everyone at the same moment, and ankles were pointed exactly in the right direction.

Ballet Tucson member Emma VanPeenan in a steampunk costume

As the ballet progresses it transforms into a full-on phantasmagoric world of steampunk, a quasi-Victorian alternate version of history. The costumes, featuring goggles worn on the head, mark the transition of forces from good to evil as chaos descends and we witness a rarity a ballet – a murder. The choreography by Chieko Imada and Mary Beth Cabana is a far cry from the erotic take on the Jekyll & Hyde story by Italian choreographer Massimo Moricone, whose 2001 adaptation for ballet featured whips and bondage. The enduring legacy of the original 1886 story by Robert Louis Stevenson is placed on full view here by Ballet Tucson in an unforgettable performance.

Five Movements, Three Repeats:

The dancers in Five Movements

One might think Jekyll & Hyde would dominate any program, but the second offering of the ballet was for many it was the highlight of the show. It is entitled Five Movements, Three Repeats, by Christopher Wheeldon. It features four dancers: Jenna Johnson and Eugene Barnes, and Elizabeth Kanning paired with Casey Myrick. To keep it interesting and not lose energy as the iterations progress shows the dancers are really top notch. They certainly put their hearts into the piece, and showed an amazing amount of strength and endurance.

Several times a ballerina would fly through the air and be held by her male counterpart, but instead of appearing to leap towards him it seemed he drew her towards him by a powerful magnetic attraction. Quite astonishing.

My companion at the ballet said “It was super-healing, and an incredibly beautiful and peace-inducing creation. It reminded me of yoga, where one strives to be one with all that is. The movements were simple, making it easy to focus on the form of the dancers. My head was literally bobbing back and forth. I walked out feeling rejuvenated.”

It was one of the most amazing examples of performance art I have seen. Wheeldon only permits ballet companies that meet his standards to perform his compositions, and Ballet Tucson certainly rose to the occasion, showing they are a force to be reckoned with.

In The Mood:

In the Mood

I was lucky enough to witness the last performance of the Glenn Miller Army Air Force Band, at an airplane hanger in Mesa, just outside of Phoenix. That was in 1995, the 50th anniversary of the band, led that night by Frankie Carle, who was 92 that year. Most of the band members were in their 80s. As the third set piece of the evening, Tucson Ballet performed In The Mood, a tribute to Glenn Miller and the Big Band era.

With such tunes as Moonlight Serenade, Tuxedo Junction and Little Brown Jug, the dancers recreated in moves and costumes the essence of that 1940s era of American music. It was the sort of thing one might have seen years ago on such TV programs as Hollywood Palace or the Ed Sullivan show, but elevated here to the rarified world of ballet. Rather than being an outlier in this program, it left one with a unified feeling that one had witnessed a very wide range of modern ballet. I detected shades of Erté in some of the spectacular costumes. Unlike classical music concerts, which rarely attract the under-50 crowd, I saw many people here under 40, which bodes well not just for Ballet Tucson but for the future of ballet in general.

There is one more chance to watch this entrancing performance: on Nov. 3, 2019.

Visit the website for tickets:

In the Mood Dancers:  Taylor Johnson with Camille Barlow, Elisabeth Hekman & Laura Lunde
Photo by Ed Flores

Other Photos by C Cunningham

The cast of Jekyll & Hyde