As Michael Wahlmann says, “the stars aligned” this time around.
Wahlmann, who has played cello for more than 35 years, has been practicing -- in some capacity -- Bach’s Cello Suite No. 1 for at least 30 years.
Jenwei Yu, a violist with the Quad-Cities Symphony Orchestra, was scheduled to accompany professional dancers on stage for performances of “Ballet Under the Stars,” set for this weekend. Due to unforeseen circumstances, Yu was no longer be able to make it.
Late last week, Wahlmann got a call from Ballet Quad-Cities founder Joedy Cook asking if he could fill in and play the Bach piece. He jumped at the chance.
“I got the call on a whim and was instantly excited; it took a little bit of serendipity,” he said. “It’s a bucket list item of mine. I always thought it would be amazing to collaborate like this with professional dancers.”
It’s a first-time happening for Ballet Quad-Cities as well, says Cook. In the 20-year history of “Ballet Under the Stars,” there has never been live music accompaniment.
“Part of why we wanted to do that is in honor of our 20th birthday,” she said. “It’s a brand new choreographed piece with new costumes that no one has seen.”
Two weeks ago, Courtney Lyon, the company’s artistic director, began choreographing the moves to go along with the music. She and four dancers were still finalizing the steps, with Wahlmann sitting on a rehearsal, earlier this week.
“It’s really fresh and of the moment,” Lyon said of the quick turn-around. “We’re all right in the creative process and working together.”
It helps, she said, to visualize the outdoor setting of Lincoln Park.
“It’s a celebration of our community,” Lyon, a former dancer with Ballet Quad-Cities, said. “There feels like there’s no barrier between the audience and the dancers. It was always my favorite as a dancer, because it’s not something you normally experience.”
Also on the lineup for “Ballet Under the Stars,” set for Friday, Saturday and Sunday are performances of “Peter and the Wolf” by students of Ballet-Quad Cities School of Dance.
That means Wahlmann, who works at Griggs Music in Davenport and is heavily involved in the Quad-City music and theater community, will be able to cross something else off his bucket list.
He’ll be taking the same stage as his daughter Emma, a freshman at Rock Island High School who has been taking classes with Ballet Quad-Cities School of Dance for 10 years.
“I’m tickled to be part of something my daughter is a part of,” Wahlmann said. “This is the first time we’ll be involved in the same production -- that’s meaningful.”
In addition, Denkmann Elementary School students who took part in Ballet Quad-Cities’ DREAMS initiative, a free year-long after-school residency program with the company, will perform this weekend.
“DREAMs is about teaching kids the life skills you learn from dance,” Margaret King, a Ballet Quad-Cities staffer who led the program, said. “This is the performance they’ve been building up to for 30 weeks. They’re never going to forget it.”
Neither will Wahlmann, who will likely perform to audiences of around 500 people each night.
Plenty of those people stumble upon "Ballet Under the Stars," while at Lincoln Park, he said.
“Anyone can come by who maybe wouldn’t normally think of going to the ballet,” he said. “I’ve witnessed people be transfixed by the performances who were just out for a walk or something."
That's the reason, Cook said, "Ballet Under the Stars" will continue on in the future.
“If you’ve never been introduced to professional dance, it’s the perfect time to see it,” she said. “It’s a way to introduce dance in a very non-threatening way. It's our gift to the community."