Return to Wonderland

Vanessa Lawson, left, and Tara Birtwhistle perform in Wonderland with the Royal Winnipeg Ballet. - David Cooper photo
Vanessa Lawson, left, and Tara Birtwhistle perform in Wonderland with the Royal Winnipeg Ballet.
— image credit: David Cooper photo

Jacelyn Lobay trained since age three to be a dancer.

In her first principal role with the Royal Winnipeg Ballet, the choreographer asked her to be the opposite.

Lobay performs as Alice in the ballet’s production of Wonderland, based on the Lewis Carroll children’s tale Alice in Wonderland.

“Everybody else in the ballet is a character,” Lobay said. “I’m a real, natural person.”

The challenge was to include those day-to-day movements during her dances, incorporating the mannerisms of a person while at the same time performing as a dancer.

The goal from choreographer Shawn Hounsell was to make Alice stand out from the backdrop of crazy and eccentric characters.

“It’s a bit of a hard switch,” Lobay said.

The ballet follows on the heels of a major blockbuster movie last year and in the same vein looks at the Wonderland story from a grown Alice point of view.

“It follows the general storyline of Alice in Wonderland,” Lobay said. “This one’s more about an older Alice reminiscing about her time in Wonderland.”

She describes Alice as filled with fascination and wonderment at the world she falls into.

“It’s a great character,” Lobay said.

The ballet is a departure in style for the company, incorporating more modern techniques that stretched the experience of the dancers.

“The moves are so far out of our comfort zone,” Lobay said. “Our bodies were sore every time we came back to it.”

Lobay refers to the on-again, off-again year-long process to develop the ballet. For others, the company focuses exclusively for weeks leading up to a show; with Wonderland, it was an ongoing piece of work.

“We’ve been working on Wonderland in bits and pieces for over a year now,” Lobay said.

The road to Alice began when Lobay was just a toddler growing up in Edmonton. At age 15, she was accepted into the Royal Winnipeg Ballet’s summer school program and was soon invited to stay for the full year.

Ballet companies, like the Royal Winnipeg and the National Ballet, offer a full-time school program to complement their ballet training. Teens complete high school and can opt to continue to post-secondary while training as a professional ballet dancer.

After graduating, Lobay continued with the aspirant program.

“We continued training but we got to perform with the company a lot,” she said.

After apprenticing, Lobay was promoted to the corps de ballet, where she was chosen for the role of Alice.

An active child, Lobay was also involved in swimming, soccer and skiing.

“Ballet was the thing I always stuck to,” she said. “That’s when I realized it was what I wanted to do.”

The Royal Winnipeg Ballet presents Wonderland at the Port Theatre March 29-30 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets $52;  $48/members; $25/students. Please call 250-754-8550 or visit www.porttheatre.com.



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