Ballet Stars
Chelsy Meiss in rehearsal for Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. Spring Morris, Courtesy National Ballet of Canada.

When Christopher Wheeldon's celebrated Alice's Adventures in Wonderland returns to National Ballet of Canada's stage this week, there will be one big change. First soloist Chelsy Meiss will dance the role of the quirky, tapping Mad Hatter, the first time ever that a female dancer has stepped into the part. "Chelsy is one the most versatile dancers in the company," says artistic director Karen Kain. "The Mad Hatter role is the perfect vehicle to showcase her acting ability, enthusiasm and tap dancing technique." For Wheeldon, this decision came at just the right time. "In the current climate, where the boundaries of gender in ballet are being explored, the option to have Chelsy as The Mad Hatter became a relevant discussion," he says.

We caught up with Meiss to hear all about what it feels like to take on this groundbreaking role.

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McRae rehearses the role of the Mad Hatter in Wheeldon's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (photo by Gautier Deblonde)

In the spirit of honesty, we'll just come out and say it: Here at Pointe, we're not exactly tap dance experts. But that doesn't mean we've never taken tap, nor that we're immune to the beauty, technicality and historical importance of tap dance. It's just that the dance world doesn't often see crossover performers showing off both their ballet and tap expertise.

Fortunately, Royal Ballet principal Steven McRae is here to show us what that expertise looks like. McRae was tapped (sorry) to play the Mad Hatter in Christopher Wheeldon's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland—a part that involves seriously fleet footwork. In this video from World Ballet Day 2015, he displays his prowess:

There's a lot going on here: McRae, an Australian, is a principal dancer in the UK's largest ballet company. He's combining a uniquely American dance style with the music and historical mannerisms of a specific Hungarian folk dance—which itself derived from Romani music.

But that's the beauty of dance: Its ability to communicate across languages and cultures—even across time. So from one group of ballet devotees to another: Happy National Tap Dance Day!

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