In Pennsylvania Ballet’s upcoming production (and company premiere) of Trey McIntyre’s Peter Pan there is a lot of air time. But this air time is not just for the audience to say, “Wow, they’re flying,” but it is used to create a vertical canvas where much of the choreography and evocative imagery of the ballet takes place. For this production, the flying is not controlled by “eight guys standing in the wings” but is programmed, fully automated, and computer-controlled. We caught up with PA Ballet dancers Evelyn Kocak, who plays Wendy, and Alexander Peters, who plays Peter Pan, to discuss this process and what it’s like to be truly dancin’ on air.
Live Arts: Do you enjoy the flying?
Evelyn Kocak: I do enjoy the flying. Generally, I’m scared of heights, but somehow the sensation of flying is not nerve-wracking for me, possibly because there’s motion involved.
Alexander Peters: This whole experience of flying has been new for me. At first I would say I was slightly nervous, but within a few rehearsal hours, I was fully comfortable and enjoying the weightless and anti gravitational sensations.
LA: How does it work?
Evelyn: Aside from the pixie dust, we wear a harness that has a wire attached to the back of it that suspends us. The wire is connected to a machine, which has been computer-programmed to make us fly.
Alexander: A majority of the rehearsal process was spent doing trial-and-error through the specific choreographed sequences. We are put in a harness around the hips and sent into the air, and then slowly adding in the choreographed tricks as we felt more comfortable.
LA: Talk about a typical rehearsal for Peter Pan.
Alexander: Trey really likes for us to be fully immersed in our characters throughout the entire rehearsal process, so even during the flying, we are very aware of how our characters would act and react to what is happening in the air.
Evelyn: A typical rehearsal for Peter Pan usually means running through the material of the ballet from start to finish. I’m preparing for the role of Wendy, so there’s been a particular emphasis on creating a character and story that is believable and authentic. Trey McIntyre has been working with all of us to establish a dialogue in our heads that will help physically communicate the character and action we’re trying to portray on stage.
LA: How hard is it to put your trust in this machine that is sending you flying about? How long did it take for you to feel like you were actually dancing?
Evelyn: I have pretty complete trust in the machine that sends us flying, and even more trust in the people who have worked to program the machines and ensure our safety. By the second day of flying rehearsals, I felt like I had adjusted enough to be really comfortable up there.
Alexander: The flying coordinator from Foy [Flying By Foy, the company that developed the system] always put safety first. I never felt insecure in the harness or at the mercy of the machines because of the trust I had in him. We only had four days to rehearse so it was important to incorporate the dancing as much as you could.
LA: What kind of adjustments must you make as dancer with the choreography in the air?
Alexander: You have to be very aware of what your legs and arms are doing at all times since you are in the air for long periods of time. You also have to use difference muscles in order to get your body into the positions that the choreography demands.
Evelyn: There is a certain amount of control over your body you have to relinquish to the harness, wires, and machine, which is a different sensation for dancers who are so used to being so in control of their bodies. I found it was best to not fight where the machine might take me against my will, and instead find a way to make the movement look natural even if it was technically wrong.
LA: Have you been dreaming about flying lately?
Alexander: Not specifically, but I have been dreaming of the ballet and steps.
Evelyn: No dreams about flying yet, though I too constantly find myself dreaming of the steps.
Thank you both and good luck with the show!
Check out this cool rehearsal clip, plus interview with choreographer Trey McIntyre, who discussed the complexity of putting the flying sequences together and the joy of creating them.
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Pennsylvania Ballet’s company premiere of Peter Pan, May 3–6, 12 & 13 at The Academy of Music, Broad and Locust Streets. Choreography by Trey McIntyre. Music by Sir Edward Elgar, arranged by Niel DePonte, and performed by the Pennsylvania Ballet Orchestra.Tickets here.
Photos by ALexander Iziliaev.