Ballet Idaho’s Ethan Schweitzer-Gaslin is as bright as a penny. Full of effervescent energy, he seems like he could fly on his own.
Now, he’s ready to soar as the title character in Ballet Idaho’s “Peter Pan,” which will cap the company’s ninth season under Peter Anastos’ artistic direction with three performances at the Morrison Center.
During a rehearsal, Schweitzer-Gaslin floated through the on-stage window of the Darling children’s bedroom, silently touching down on stage as the ballet’s title character. He hit his mark and Peter’s trademark stance — arms akimbo, chin jutted forward and a huge, triumphant smile — and then he gently lifted off and soared to the other side of the stage.
“Flying is super fun, and it gets easier and feels more fun every time I do it,” Schweitzer-Gaslin says.
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The Morrison Center stage was a training ground and landing strip for the dancers who learned about magic — well, the highly technical stage magic it takes to put a person in the air.
The company worked with technicians from Flying by Foy, the renowned company that owns the patented — and super-secret — technology to fly people on stage, in film and on television. They’ve flown everyone from Katy Perry and Bono to the casts of “Mary Poppins” and “American Idiot.” They’ve worked on every production of “Peter Pan,” from the Broadway musical to its two live television broadcasts, and with dance companies, including Ballet Idaho.
The Foy technicians taught the dancers — and the stage crew who will support them — to gracefully lift off and float across the stage. For these first-time fliers, being up in the air took a little getting used to.
“It takes a lot of focus. Just a slight shift in your head shifts things a lot,” Schweitzer-Gaslin says.
When Peter meets his Wendy, danced by Elizabeth Barreto, the two float, swirl and twirl in an airbound pas de deux.
“It’s like, all of a sudden you get picked up and you feel like you have wings,” Barreto says. “There’s no gravity, and there’s nothing weighing you down. All you feel is the wind rushing around you. All I want to do up there is spin around.”
Adding flying to any production ups the stakes technically, artistically and financially, Anastos says.
Creatively, the choreography must anticipate the act of flying, and there’s the sly way the dancers get hooked and unhooked during the production.
“It’s probably the most complex ballet we’ve ever done,” Anastos says. “And flying is super expensive.”
The ballet also involves complicated sets that include a pirate ship and large sword-fighting scenes.
Anastos created “Peter” in 1994 when he was artistic director at Cincinnati Ballet. Anastos’ production was the first American ballet based on the J. M. Barrie children’s story about the Darling children — Wendy, John and Michael — who are spirited away to Neverland by the magical Peter Pan, the boy who never grows up.
Since then, the story has become a popular subject for ballet makers in the 20th and 21st centuries, with many companies putting their own spin on the piece.
Anastos commissioned an original score from Cincinnati composer Carmon DeLeone. They worked on it the same way that Marius Petipa and Tchaikovsky worked on their ballets, with the choreographer asking for music that told the story.
“We worked very closely on it,” Anastos says. “The music is completely intertwined with the choreography. He wrote it to my specifications. I’d ask for 16 bars of scary music or 48 bars for a tango.”
Anastos, who plans to retire at the end of next season, freshened this production with more challenging choreography to fit his athletic company and retooled the story to make Peter less whimsical and more petulant.
“It’s really a very dark story,” Anastos says. “Peter is selfish and self-involved, and I felt that was important to give it more depth, so it feels more like a Broadway show than a ballet. And we have Ethan as Peter, and I wanted to make this his own party. I fashioned it around his abilities and talents, which are considerable.”
The role is a perfect fit for Schweitzer-Gaslin.
“It’s the dream role that I never dreamed I would get to do,” Schweitzer-Gaslin says. “I always thought of myself as a court jester — and I wanted to be the best court jester I could be. This is an unexpected chance to step into the spotlight.”
Playing a central role in a major ballet is pushing him as a dancer and as a performer.
“There’s a lot things that take getting used to,” Schweizer-Gaslin says. “There’s a lot more partnering, and I didn’t realize how aerobic it would be. I’ve been going to the gym a lot. Now I wish I had done more cardio.”
More arts events
▪ The Meridian Symphony Orchestra presents its annual “Rising Stars” concert that features the winners of the organization’s annual Young Artists Competition. This year’s winners — pianist Christian Nielsen, 13, violist Julia Caven, 16, pianist Anthony Luo, 16, and saxophonist Minjun Kwak, 14 — will each perform a solo. The program rounds out with Shostakovich’s Festive Overture and Walton’s Crown Imperial March. 7:30 p.m. Saturday, April 22, Centennial High School Performing Arts Center, 12400 W. McMillan Road, Boise. $11 general, $9 seniors, students, military, $4 children. 891-2721, MeridianSymphony.org.
▪ Party with Idaho’s Bosnian community at the annual Sevdah Music Festival, with performances by Boise Sevdah Club, Mladi Behar Dance Company and internationally renowned Bosnian performer Damir Imamović. 8 p.m. Friday, April 21, JUMP, 1000 W. Myrtle St., Boise. $1 general, $5 students and seniors.
▪ If you’re a fan of elegant modern design, you’ll love the Chair Affair Gala, the annual celebration of line, function and style by Interior Designers of Idaho. You’ll see award-winning pieces by student and professional designers from Idaho and across the Northwest. 6:30 p.m. Saturday, April 22, JUMP, 1000 W. Myrtle St., Boise. $25 general, $20 students. InteriorDesignersOfIdaho.com.
Ballet Idaho’s ‘Peter Pan’
8 p.m. Friday, April 21, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, April 22, Morrison Center, 2201 Cesar Chavez Lane, Boise. $38, $43 and $58. Ticketmaster.