Premier date: 1997

Imagine you're sitting in a tropical paradise, enjoying the balmy breeze, the ocean view, and a nice cold... bowl of ice cream? We'll have to let Ballets with a Twist Artistic Director Marilyn Klaus explain how a childhood birthday dessert led to the 1997 debut of our Hawaiian island dance cocktail, Mai Tai:

"When I was a child, Polynesian theme restaurants, like Don the Beachcomber and Trader Vic's, were all the rage. My mother and father would often bring me to one of these places for my birthday, treating me to coconut ice cream (served in an actual coconut!) and ordering Mai Tais for themselves. There would usually be exotica or bossa nova music playing in the background. I just loved the whole atmosphere, and it was all the more special because my parents were not extravagant.

Those experiences definitely fueled the making of Mai Tai, as did my early studies of ballet (with my father), jazz dance (as a tag-along with my older sister), and hula — the gestures of which are surprisingly related to classical port de bras. The piece even has a cha cha moment!"

A vibrant gong sounds, a mysterious rhythm descends, and the dance begins... With Mai Tai, Ballets with a Twist composer Steve Gaboury takes us on a scintillating sonic journey. Read on for the details — if you dare.

"This was my first dance cocktail adventure with Marilyn, and it was dedicated to her mother. A huge inspiration for the piece was my dad, who fought in the Philippines during World War II, and so became fascinated with musicals like Flower Drum Song and movies such as Hawaii — anything with Tahitian scenes. He also really got into the 1960s exotica craze, and would play LPs of that genre constantly.

A later influence was Yma Sumac (Nightingale of the Andes), who sang about earthquakes and birds and other elements of nature in this otherworldly voice. In Mai Tai, I use a timpani to represent the island setting of the dance — definitely something I absorbed from Yma.

To me, the song is a volcano that vibrates with the deep moan and spontaneous blasts of a trombone, courtesy of our good friend Peter Zummo. (The note he plays at the end of the piece is actually below the natural range of the instrument!) Throughout the first half, a vibraphone smolders like embers, Marc Shulman's slithering guitar mimics simmering lava, and acoustic bass and piano provide additional atmosphere. Finally, the whole thing erupts into a double-time Rumba Columbia with loop effects, remixing and enhancing the Polynesian flavor of the piece."

Grab your party parasols, folks — no tropical cocktail is complete without one! From head to tutu, our Mai Tai is a vivid vision to behold. Ballets with a Twist costume connoisseur Catherine Zehr describes how this tropical princess came into full bloom:

"The Mai Tai concept wasn't mine, but when I first saw it, I loved it! Combining animal print fabric with a seashell-style top and cocktail umbrella hair 'garnishes' was such a cool idea. I knew I could enhance the look without compromising it.


My first project was to reconstruct the leopard print panty and basque for better fit, using stretch velvet and a pattern of my own. I then moved on to the tutu, which needed to be fuller. Drawing inspiration from the bird of paradise plant, I layered many different colors of net and tulle. I also recently made the design more exotic by lengthening the back.

One detail I noticed right away with the original costume: There was no sparkle to be seen. Of course, I wanted to change that! Crystals of various shades and sizes now radiate out from the orchids at the center of the horsehair braid top (the tone of which I softened from neon to light green). As for the tutu, I borrowed a trick from Karinska, adding crystals to the second and third layers so that the whole thing shimmers from within.

Finally, the headpiece — my favorite accessory. The base is made of fuchsia metallic wire, onto which I affixed cocktail umbrella shapes made from large sequins and a coordinating French vintage velvet floral spray. Somehow, it was just the perfect touch!" 


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