by David Levesley for Norte Maar
The Second Annual CounterPointe performances will feature the work of seven women choreographers, all who make work on pointe. In the lead up to the performances, Norte Maar is posting interviews with each choreographer.
What is your piece about and where did the idea come from? My piece, 2 of 1 for 3, is from Bela Bartok’s First Rhapsody.
Bartok’s Rhapsodies are based on Hungarian folk music themes, but sounds improvisatory at times. It is a bit unpredictable and the tempos change without warning. But there are wonderfully vibrant dance melodies. When I first listened to both rhapsodies (there are 2 in 2 parts), I thought these would be great for a new work, but a very difficult challenge. I plan to create a full work to both parts.
So, the music inspired the work. Generally, that’s what happens for me. I find music that gets inside my head and mind. I can’t let go, so I have to make a dance. Music is why I dance and make dances. Movement is amazing, of course, but if there were no music, I doubt I would love dance quite as much.
There is no real story, but there are hints of a story or themes evolving. The further I get into the dance, the more little tales come out… But if there were a story, I wouldn’t say, I want the audience to see the story without me telling them. Maybe, they will see a different story, one that makes sense to them and means something to them. Also, if I have to tell them, it means x, y, and z then, I haven’t done my job.
What’s it like working on ballet as part of a festival? Dance is a community oriented art form. It takes a village to make a show happen. From the choreographers and dancers, to the producers, theatre employees, musicians and so on. It’s important to be around other choreographers and dancers. We feed off each others work. I’m constantly inspired by folks (working at various stages of their careers) around me.
That said, producing a dance performance is an extremely expensive undertaking, studio rentals, fees for dancers, music, costumes, and theatre rentals add up. So much so, my head is spinning just thinking about it. Then, rarely do dance concerts make money. If anything, most likely, money is lost in the undertaking. If it weren’t for festivals, most of my works wouldn’t get performed. It’s necessary that projects, like CounterPointe, exist, especially for emerging choreographers like myself.
Also, it’s great to have a deadline. I need one. My mind works best under a bit of pressure and limitations. If I don’t have enough, I try imposing them so that I’m more productive.
What’s it like trying to produce dance, and especially ballet, nowadays? Is it difficult to get longer works made? Going back to what I said about costs earlier, dance, ballet in particular is expensive. The cost of a pair of pointe shoes alone, is a $100 investment. Major companies like the Royal Ballet, National Ballet of Canada, and others are making co-productions of ballets (in which they share the rights and costs of the ballet) to defray the costs.
Based on your youtube channel videos your work is very heavily ballet oriented. Are you working with other styles of choreography or just pushing the balletic form as far as you can? I know ballet best. It’s my primary, really my only dance training. Essentially, ballet is my first language; it’s where I’m most comfortable. But, I am interested in incorporating other styles of movement in my work, as long as it isn’t forced. In my new work, 2 of 1 for 3, I’ve incorporated the use of gestures the dancers created. It’s going pretty well… well, I guess we’ll see this weekend!
Who and what are your stimuli and inspirations? Again, music is major for me. I love all kinds. I’m a huge fan of Charles Mingus. Actually, I’m kind of obsessed with his music, he’s major.
I love to see dance, new and old works. Obvious major influences are Balanchine, Robbins, and MacMillan.
I just saw San Francisco Ballet’s Cinderella. I was blown away by the costumes, sets, scenery and the puppetry. It was so magical, pure theatre. I guess you could say that any thing like that, that makes magic, that makes me giddy is an inspiration.
Ballet, according to some writers, runs the risk of becoming a sport and not an art form. Do you think this is true? After seeing SFB’s Cinderella, I say no way. There are folks who go for pyrotechnical elements in ballet, but there are those who don’t go there. But, it’s like that with anything. Minimalist art can stray to the academic or technical side, it’s not for everyone.
‘Dance’ is often considered separate from ‘theatre': do you think dance is, or will, bridge this gap or is this separation beneficial? Ballets were originally in operas. That’s the ultimate theatre and it’s part of our tradition. Dance is theatre without words. A play without words, but dance instead.
The gap obviously goes back to the minimalist phase of art. It’s like this, Balanchine made Black and White ballets for a specific reason with practice clothes and stark stage. Still, The Four Temperaments and Agon are full of theatrical elements choreographically. It’s all there. And, those aren’t the only great ballets he created. Jewels is pure theatre with the costumes to match. Maybe we got a little carried away with minimalism, a perhaps a bit lazy, and/or we are lacking the resources to make the theatre happen. Of course, that’s all easier when there is a team. Think about Diaghilev’s scene, he gathered all the greatest artists, choreographers, costumers, composers, librettists, dancers, and more to make masterpieces.
Writer, David Levesley is an award-winning journalist, playwright and librettist. Currently studying for his MSc in Journalism at Columbia, David’s previous experience includes being theatre editor for Broadway Baby at the Edinburgh Fringe and writing for PolicyMic, Aesthetica and Exeunt amongst others. David is also the producer of new theatre company InDepth.