You don't expect to see air guitaring at a ballet.
But that's exactly what you'll see in "The Who's Tommy: A Rock Ballet," which blends traditional ballet and contemporary dance, set to the sounds of The Who's 1969 rock opera, "Tommy."
The performance makes its New York premiere tomorrow at Adelphi University, following a 2007 debut at Dayton Ballet in Ohio. Invited by Frank Augustyn, chair of Adelphi's dance department, choreographer Christopher Fleming was happy to see his translation of the rock album hit the stage again.
"It's very exciting. It's one of the great rock opuses of all time," says Fleming, a former dancer with the New York City Ballet and current director of Philadelphia-based dance company, BalletFleming. "That alone -- you can come and listen and have a good time."
WHAT IT'S ABOUT
The performance -- featuring dancers from the Dayton Ballet and BalletFleming along with Adelphi students and others -- begins with Tommy's mother taking a lover after believing that her husband died in World War I. The husband returns to discover the lover and kills him. Tommy, a young boy at the time, witnesses this act and retreats internally. He can no longer see, hear or speak.
Tommy is taken to faith healers and doctors to no avail. Meanwhile, he is abused by friends and family members. Despite these tortures, Tommy becomes the world's greatest pinball player.
WHAT TO EXPECT
Fleming describes the 77-minute performance as a "ballet rock concert," complete with rock and roll lighting and vibrant costumes -- sans tutus. Audience members will hear 21 songs from the remastered version of The Who's album. But don't expect a linear performance -- dancers play dual roles as the ballet unfolds in a series of seemingly disconnected episodes.
"They have to be real characters, while at the same time the dancing is not easy, and the subject matter is not easy," Fleming says. "It's not always a pretty little picture."
At a recent rehearsal, the movements displayed a visual feast for the eyes.
Wearing pink ballet slippers and black flats, dancers lifted Tommy (Justin Koertgen of Dayton Ballet) over their heads. Cue "The Acid Queen," and Tommy is dragged to the house of a madame, where female dancers suggestively climb over his body.
The pièce de résistance clearly seems to be the sequence when "Pinball Wizard" booms from the speakers. "Remember, guys, this is just like nirvana. Like you're seeing gold," Fleming shouted. "So you need to be excited!"
Arielle Rose Medina, a senior dance major at Adelphi, says the experience has made her "a stronger dancer."
"It's broadened my spectrum of dance," says the Hempstead native, 21. "Being in this production has made me really appreciate and respect ballet."
Although 18-year-old freshman dance major Shana Goldberger of Massapequa has been involved with ballet for five years, she's also grown.
"I had to be comfortable [partnering] with a guy and learning how to do these crazy lifts," she says. "The music is so energetic, and the choreography lives up to that hype."
The combination made a fan out of Nicholas Scarmato, 11, of Glen Cove, who plays young Tommy. “The Who uses a bunch of guitars, and I think it sounds cool with what’s happening,” he says.
Raffi Sanna, a 9-year-old from Cold Spring Harbor who also plays young Tommy, agrees: “It’s not really every day that you get to see a ballet with rock music in it.”
"The Who's Tommy: A Rock Ballet"
WHEN | WHERE 7:30 p.m. Thursday-Friday, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday, Adelphi University Performing Arts Center, Garden City.
INFO 516-877-4000, aupac.adelphi.edu