Stage News: Ballet Memphis' ‘The Little Prince

September 9th, 2015

from Jon Sparks for The Commercial Appeal

Ballet Memphis is bringing in its new season with a family-friendly performance of “The Little Prince” at the Memphis Botanic Garden.

This version, choreographed by frequent Ballet Memphis contributor Julia Adam, was first done by the company in 2011 at Playhouse on the Square and featured Kendall G. Britt Jr. in the title role, which he does again for Saturday’s performance.

“I find it so much more interesting when I’m settled down with the character,” he says. “With this story, the Little Prince is a child, and the overarching theme is finding one’s identity and coming into contact with people and finding qualities you want to emulate. He keeps searching for this idea of home and love, and it takes a lot of people to find that. That’s what life is: You search and despair until you find what feels like home.”

The Little Prince is a gentle soul, but Britt says it takes considerable grit to dance the part. “Being on stage for 45 minutes straight is challenging,” he says. “I don’t leave the stage once I come on. There’s no time to breathe or get a drink of water — I have to be in character for 45 full minutes, so it’s like immersing yourself in the character and staying with this 8-year-old.”

Last year, Britt had another title role, that of Peter Pan in an ambitious production at the Orpheum. A sophisticated aerial system kept up to five dancers in the air at any given time, including Britt, whose agility impresses whether airborne or on the ground. “That’s a role I’d dreamed of,” he says, “a career bucket-list role. But ‘The Little Prince’ is more difficult.” Britt says he identifies more with the know-it-all Peter Pan, but he aims to find the center of the equally determined Little Prince, “who is wide-eyed at all of this that is so new to him. The two characters are at the opposite ends of the spectrum, but both are still looking for home.”

After meeting so many people, the Little Prince becomes fascinated by a Rose (danced by Hideko Karasawa). “When I get there, there’s this sense of calm after 30 minutes of dancing with others. It’s comforting and feels right, and I feel so comfortable dancing with Hideko. That’s a pivotal moment of the emotional arc of the story and a big moment for me.”

The family event begins at 6:30 p.m. with crafts and dance stations, food trucks, beverage vendors and other attractions. The 45-minute performance begins around 8 p.m. and will be followed by a performance of Matthew Neenan’s “Water of the Flowery Mill,” one of the works Ballet Memphis will perform in October at New York City’s Joyce Theater.

Also in the performance are Travis Bradley as the Pilot, Virginia Pilgrim Ramey as the Snake/Elephant, Cecily Khuner as the Baobab/Lamplighter, Olivia Powell as the Fox/Lamb, and Steven McMahon in multiple roles as the King, Vain Man, Drunkard, Businessman, Lamplighter and Geographer.“The Little Prince” plays Saturday on the Jim Duncan Stage at Memphis Botanic Garden. 

Gates open at 6:30 p.m.; show at dusk. Tickets: $10 general admission; $25 chair seating. Ages 2 and older must have a ticket. Picnics are welcome but no pets. Rain date is Sunday at the same time. Info: balletmemphis.org and 901-737-7322.