February 26, 2014

When the WPI Orchestra and Ballet Arts Worcester collaborated during the spring concert last year, everyone loved the result, says Doug Weeks, conductor of the WPI Orchestra and associate head of the department of humanities and arts. So when Weeks suggested the two join forces to do a full ballet together, no one realized what would come from it.

On Saturday, March 1, at 7 pm in Alden Memorial, the WPI Orchestra and Ballet Arts Worcester will present Sergei Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf. The venture is a challenge for both the dancers and the musicians, says Weeks, and one that brings all aspects of art together.

Worcester school children will also see Peter and the Wolf at the Hanover Theatre on February 26. Weeks says they have made the performance educational and entertaining. Before the performance, the musicians will demonstrate each instrument, so the students know the sounds and can then identify them during the ballet.

It’s very high energy,” says Weeks of the project. “I love collaborating with other arts like the ballet. It is one more way of interpreting literature and music.”

For this version of Peter and the Wolf, an instrument will represent each character in the ballet. For instance, the birds are represented with an oboe and the French horns are for the wolf.

“A story evolves through music and dance,” says Weeks. “The music is accessible, but challenging for the students,” he says. “It gives them something to dig into and become engaged as a player.”

Briana Huie, a sophomore biomedical engineering major, is the concert master for this performance and will play violin in the string section to represent Peter. “This is really, really exciting,” she says. Huie is doing this as part of an independent study project and is thrilled by the combination of the whole production—live dancers, live orchestra, sets, posters.

“I’ve played harder pieces, but this is unique because we are working with narrators and dancers,” she says. “The storytelling has to be very, very clear.” And Huie anticipates a positive reaction, especially from the Hanover performance for younger students. “There are different ways of reaching people through music,” she says. “The correlation between the character and telling a story can be a unique thing and can bring them into understanding classical music in a new way.”

And for Jennifer Agbay, ballet director at BalletArts Worcester, the performance is thrilling. “I’m so tickled by this opportunity,” she says. “Dance and music as art forms should be together and present themselves live. This is how it should be.” Although her dancers frequently dance to recorded music, dancing to live music heightens the experience for everyone, she says. “Live music totally embodies you in a different expression,” says Agbay. “It catapults you into a new experience.”

For the WPI performance, President Phil Ryan is going to act as the narrator. Although he asked Ryan to read, Weeks had no idea if he would have time to do it. “But he is very supportive of the arts,” says Weeks, “and this is an interesting and fun thing for him to do.”

The Peter and the Wolf score is precise so the musicians don’t have much leeway—everyone has to be on their toes. “When the music is live, you aren’t conditioned to it,” says Agbay. Dancers have to respond in a moment’s notice to a change in tempo. “It is no longer a complement; it’s a partnership,” she says.

Everyone involved believes the collaboration is a win-win effort. “You’re not just playing for an audience, but for another artist,” says Agbay. “The benefit is mutual.”

Admission to Peter and the Wolf: $15 adults, $10 seniors, free for students with ID and children under 12. Snow date for the March 1 performance is March 2.