Royal Winnipeg Ballet a wonderful way to end the dance season

Tara Birtwhistle makes her last appearance in Victoria with the Royal Winnipeg Ballet as the evil queen in Wonderland.

Tara Birtwhistle makes her last appearance in Victoria with the Royal Winnipeg Ballet as the evil queen in Wonderland.

RWB to perform Alice with a twist at the Royal

This is not your average ballet, but when it comes to art based on a Lewis Carroll tale, the word “average” no longer applies.

“It’s definitely not your classic retelling of Alice in Wonderland,” said Jacelyn Lobay, who plays Alice in the Royal Winnipeg Ballet production of Wonderland, presented by Dance Victoria at the end of the month.

“It’s a very contemporary version, with lots of projects and multimedia. A lot of people describe it as a trip. It’s a very bizarre world. It’s very different.”

It’s a special production for the entire 26-member company, especially with principal dancer Tara Birtwhistle (who plays the evil queen in Wonderland) completing her last touring season after 20-plus years with the RWB.

Lobay, dancing with the company for five years, sees longevity as a product of health and fitness rather than  stereotyping dancers based on age.

“That’s the main factor in dance,” she said, “how your body holds up over time.”

New technologies – sprung floors and better point shoes – have relieved some of the wear and tear on a dancer’s body, she added, making longer careers a possibility.  “There are a lot of innovations that are coming along right now, but because it is such a classic art form, it takes a while to change.”

A dancer since the age of three, Lobay made the decision as a teen to move to Winnipeg from Edmonton and pursue dance as a career. “It’s been the one thing that I’ve stuck to forever. This is my first lead role and it’s a dream come true.”

With more young dancers and few spots available at dance companies, it’s a difficult time to be entering the industry.

Still, the audiences that Lobay meets post-show reflect an ongoing interest in the classic form of entertainment – one that Royal Winnipeg challenged with the edgier elements of production in Wonderland.

“For our company this is very unique. It’s a new, fresh way to look at dance or ballet. We’ll definitely see it more and more in the coming years.”

The production marks the season finale for Dance Victoria, which has hosted a wide range of renowned companies this year such as Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Les Grands Ballets Canadiens and the Goh Ballet.

Not only has the local organization been “thrilled” with the audience response and the quality of the performances, dancers with the touring companies have worked with members of Elev8, a local youth dance group, said Dance Victoria producer Stephen White.

“We’re excited about that … It’s just making the connection a little stronger” to the local dance community, he said.

Wonderland runs March 31 through April 2 at the Royal Theatre.

Tickets are $39.25, available through