Kansas City Ballet artistic director William Whitener, who is also director-choreographer of Tom Sawyer, announced the production (and the company's coming 2011-12 season) on Nov. 9 in Kansas City, with Yeston on site.
From the composer-lyricist of Phantom, Grand Hotel, Nine, Titanic and the forthcoming Death Takes a Holiday — shows with European (or transatlantic) settings — comes a story with an all-American locale: Mark Twain's Hannibal, MO, where 19th-century kids white-wash fences, spelunk their way into caves and face their own mortality.
Tom Sawyer – A Ballet in Three Acts will play Oct. 14-23, 2011, at the $300 million Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts. The music will be performed by Kansas City Symphony.
Tom Sawyer, according the KC Ballet, is thought to be the first three-act ballet created for a professional ballet company with an all-American creative team and original score based on an American literary masterpiece. Inspired by Twain's novel "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer," the ballet, according to the company, "tells the coming of age story of young Tom as he struggles between 'being growed up' and the pull of wild, untamed childhood." The ballet recounts "Tom and Becky's young love, Huck and Tom's exploits on a raft on the Mississippi and their 'funeral,' and the many other adventures that have become part of our central American myth and our treasured heritage."
Playbill.com got in touch with Yeston shortly after his plane touched down in Kansas City. He said a Tom Sawyer ballet was something he dreamed about a year after Nine opened on Broadway in 1982. He was still teaching at Yale at the time, and was very much a musicologist. It got in his mind that a full-length American ballet by an American composer based on a uniquely American literary masterpiece was a rarity.
Yeston said he had been in awe of Aaron Copland ballets all his life, as well as the dance-heavy film "An American in Paris," and George Balanchine's ballet work for On Your Toes, but none of those seemed to have the length and breadth of a true American Nutcracker or Swan Lake or Romeo and Juliet.
"Tom Sawyer" seemed a natural fit principally because its form, like ballet, is episodic, he said, noting "The Painting of the Fence" scene, "Lost With Becky Thatcher in The Cave," "Witnessing the Murder in the Graveyard," among other famous sequences.
Yeston said he began to write the piece, intending for it to be accessible to the broadest possible audience, and using musical language and leitmotif like "Peter and the Wolf," but "redolent of all the forms of musical Americana that I had grown up with."
But midway through the process he stopped himself and realized that such a work would be best created in conjunction with a master choreographer, and he began to search for one. That match has now been made.
KC Ballet's Whitener said, "When I first heard Maury Yeston's score for Tom Sawyer, I realized that we had a grand opportunity to bring this classic story to life as a dance-drama. The wit and beauty within Mr. Yeston's music, and the charm and playfulness of Mark Twain's novel make an ideal match for a ballet."
Yeston won Tony Awards for Best Score for Titanic and Nine, and was nominated for Grand Hotel.
For more information, visit kcballet.org or kauffmancenter.org.
The KC Ballet's 2011-12 season will also include Tchaikovsky's The Nutcracker with choreography by Todd Bolender, Sergei Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet with choreography by Ib Andersen, and a program called Masters of American Dance featuring work by George Balanchine, Jerome Robbins, Peter Martins and Todd Bolender.