By Stephanie Kendrick
There'll be a hot time in the old town Saturday night.
Matthew Wright, executive artistic director of Honolulu Dance Theatre, is bringing "Billy the Kid" to the Hawaii Theatre stage in an original production that melds acting and dance, but not as a traditional musical.
"It's kind of a unique thing," said Celia Chun, associate director and ballet mistress of Honolulu Dance Theatre. She plays Billy's love interest, Paulita.
"Billy the Kid" tells the story of one of the Old West's most notorious cowboys from his first killing at the age of 12 to his death at the hand of his friend Pat Garrett.
Dancer Kris Jobson, who appeared in HDT's recent productions of "Scrooge" and "Peter and the Wolf," has returned from Los Angeles to play Billy.
"I played Jesus Christ in a play last month. I went from Jesus Christ to this one; it's interesting," he said.
Jobson describes Billy as basically "a good soul," whose actions are forced by circumstance. He cites a line Billy delivers to a friend: "I like you, but it's my life or yours, so don't think I won't kill you."
"There are some dark spots, but I embrace them," Jobson said. "It makes him a well-rounded, colorful being."
Jobson is 22, close to Billy's age of 19 or 20 at the climax of the play. He found they had other traits in common. Both learned to take care of themselves at a young age, both tend toward action, both are ambitious.
"We are very similar in that we expect a lot," said Jobson. "What we expect is different. He expects the worst. He expects all this negative stuff. But I expect the best."
HDT's staging of "Billy the Kid" includes gun fights, a hoe down and a dream ballet. It is the first full-length stage production written and choreographed by the British-born Wright.
He wanted to do a piece that was uniquely American. "I thought Billy was interesting enough to give it a shot, so to speak," he said.
"I've always been interested in the sort of cowboy mythology. My dad was fond of Westerns so I was always exposed to that.
"It all looks very adventurous and tempting."
There aren't a lot of precedents for choreographing a story like "Billy the Kid," but Wright cited Aaron Copland's ballet as an inspiration. While the piece is considered an American classic, it does not really explore Billy's life, said Wright. He wanted to add that. He also looked to "West Side Story," with its elements of Americana, rivalry and violence.
"You have the good guys and the bad guys in sort of its most simple form," he said. "There's quite a lot of violence in it.
"When I put this together I was concerned about the impact it would have on the kids, but I found they were sort of desensitized to it," he said. Actually, a love scene drew more criticism from early viewers concerned about children, than the gunplay, which surprised Wright.
There are some children in the production, playing turkeys in a comic chase scene. But Wright admits the show is graphic and recommends families judge for themselves.
Wright has an extensive background in dance, working as a performer and choreographer all over Europe and the United States, but writing a theatrical storyline was a new experience. He's been particularly fascinated with the life different actors add to the script.
Jobson, who has appeared in many musicals but never a production that combined just acting and dancing, said Wright joins those elements in a very organic way. "He's made it very real," he said, comparing the end result to Fred Astair movies where dancing and acting complement each other naturally.
"I'm just feeling very complete now because I'm being challenged in acting and dancing, because they've both been pushed to that nice level where it's just soaring."
On stage: 7:30 p.m. Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday
Billy the Kid
Place: Hawaii Theatre
Tickets: $15, $20 and $24; $4 discounts for students 18 and under, seniors, children and military. For group bookings, call 988-3202.
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