Today’s post is by Amy Collins, fellow dancer and dance writer. Enjoy!
Rock Stars and Ballerinas: Nothing New
by Amy Collins
Ballet appears to be going through a renaissance with surprising collaborations like the recent ballet Carbon Life, choreographed by Wayne McGregor and composed by DJ/Producer Mark Ronson. Though it seems novel that rock stars like Ronson are composing music for dance, in fact, collaborations like this are nothing new. The “rock stars” of classical music, symphonic composers, began to compose music solely for ballet in the 19th century. Tchaikovsky created music for three of the most popular ballets of all time: Swan Lake, Sleeping Beauty, and the Nutcracker. John Cage, one of the most influential composers of the 20th century, was key in the evolution of modern dance, through his partnership with Merce Cunningham.
How are the newer collaborations faring? Will Carbon Life have as lasting an effect as Swan Lake? The reviews were underwhelming. Chroma, with music composed by Joby Talbot and Jack White from the White Stripes, fared better, though the description “blassy blare” didn’t indicate a winner.
Other attempts to blend indie music or pop and ballet have not made waves. In the past few years, ballets have been set to music by Sufjan Stevens, the Shins, and Lady Gaga. Choreographer Justin Peck created a ballet based on Sufjan Stevens’ album Enjoy Your Rabbit. San Francisco’s Smuin Ballet performed a ballet set to the Shins music, called Oh Inverted World, and choreographed by Trey McIntyre.
Lady Gaga and the Bolshoi performed Speechless at the MOCA Gala a few years ago.
Another new trend is “indie ballet,” where traditional ballet class is set to indie music. Here, a dancer does soutenu turns to Coldplay.
Though it’s exciting to anticipate what new collaborations will emerge, overall it seems that the majority of these works will go the way of Billboards, the early 90s collaboration between Gerald Arpino and Prince. This was one of the first attempts to blend ballet with pop music.
At the time the Billboards concept was described as “landmark,” “remarkable,” and an “outstanding critical success.” Yet, the youngest dancers in our midst have never heard of it.
Here, ABT soloist, Misty Copeland, is featured in Prince’s music video for Crimson and Clover.
Prince donated $250,000 to American Ballet Theatre early last year. Perhaps a another landmark collaboration is in the works?
Amy Collins is a former professional dancer who was trained by Haydee Gutierrez. She studied on scholarship at the Joffrey Ballet School, San Francisco Ballet School, and Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre. She performed professionally as a freelance artist throughout the United States and taught classical ballet to students of all ages. She completed a doctorate of Psychology at Boston College where she studied aging and creativity. She now consults for several nonprofit organizations and writes about dance on her blog, triplightfantastic.com.