When the fairy dust of Peter Pan wafts across the Knight Theater stage Thursday night, itll settle on a meeting of age and youth, the teaming of a grandfather who has devoted more than half a century to dance and a fireball whos just old enough to drink legally.
Jean-Pierre Bonnefoux created Pan in 2004 for N.C. Dance Theatre with rented costumes and sets. Hes reviving it with new steps in a custom-built production.
Bonnefoux will trust the title role on opening night to Frederick Leo Pete Walker II, who finds himself airborne in his own life: Dance Magazine put him on its 2013 25 to Watch list, and he won one of eight dance fellowships in 2011 from the Princess Grace Foundation-U.S.A.
From a dancers point of view, Walker is still a youth: He didnt take ballet seriously until his teens, and hes in only his third season with NCDT, his first professional company. So perhaps hes a natural to play the eternally youthful Peter, whom he discovered in elementary school on the cover of a Walt Disney video.
The colors on the box were so flamboyant, Walker says. I saw this kid soaring through the air with his arms spread wide and thought, My name is on the cover, and this kid is flying! It blew my mind.
Hell fly in Bonnefouxs version, as do Tinker Bell, Wendy and her brothers. Theyll soar across sets by Howard Jones, director of the scenic art program at UNC School of the Arts, in costumes by New York designer Christina Giannini.
Theres always a pull toward Walt Disney, says Bonnefoux of young audiences expectations. So we try to be a little familiar, but we go past those limitations. Captain Hook has two assistants who are 12 years old. We have a crocodile, but we also have six baby crocodiles.
I felt the Indians in the story should be Incas. You see ruins and get the sense of an older civilization; the forest becomes almost frightening. One of my favorite things is the big tree house the Lost Boys have: A storm has blown a boat up there, and the boys fill the trees with their (property).
Bonnefoux says his granddaughters and grandson see things I dont: They notice every little detail. So details theyll get, especially in costumes that blend the Victorian youth of original author J.M. Barrie and steampunk. Tinker Bell enters in the dark, L.E.D. lights glowing on her translucent wings: Its magic, and we couldnt have done that nine years ago.
When Bonnefoux looked at traditional dance productions of Peter Pan, the music didnt have the joy he wanted. So he assembled overtures by Gioacchino Rossini yes, including William Tell and parts of the ballet La Boutique Fantasque, for which Ottorino Respighi orchestrated Rossinis piano pieces.
Bonnefoux designed the title role in 2004 for Jason Jacobs but has re-fit it to Walkers outgoing personality, Pete has a beautiful way of looking at life; hes an optimist, and I want to make sure we show that, he says. And hes a big man who has to fly, so the steps are a little different now.
Walker likes Bonnefouxs approach to rehearsals: You have a general idea, and he lets you do your thing for a rehearsal or two, then slowly transitions into what he needs you to do. He tells us when not to be so big, when to save energy. (Walker will also dance Hook, when Jordan Leeper plays Peter.)
Perhaps because Bonnefoux acted as a child before he danced, he values a full performance. He wants not just precise movement but emotional commitment, and that suits Walker.
I dont have a lot of turnout, a lot of the classical aesthetic, he says with a grin.
For me, its not about being exactly on the count. Its not about whether you can get your legs way up high or have perfect feet. Its about everything you bring to the stage, the energy you share.