Tag Archives: Robert Dekkers

Diablo Ballet: Why They’re Still Going Strong After 22 Years

Diablo Ballet has a lot to celebrate: This year the company marked twenty-two successful seasons (with a gala evening that opened with moving speeches by City Councilwoman Cindy Silva, and co-founder/Artistic Director Lauren Jonas) and the company has never looked better. While many San Francisco Bay Area dance companies are struggling to stay afloat, this is not the case with Diablo Ballet. The reason is clear: Diablo Ballet brings an eclectic offering of dance to the stage and beyond into the community through its PEEK Program (Performing Arts Education & Enrichment for Kids), the only arts education program of its kind offered by a professional dance company in the Bay Area. The PEEK program has served 65,000 kids since 1995, most recently a group of incarcerated teen girls in the Contra Costa County juvenile justice system.

The program began with Tears From Above, choreographed by Val Caniparoli with music by Elena Kats-Chernin. Dancers Rosselyn Ramirez and Jackie McConnell wore simple dresses in muted tones, dancing a sensual, fiery interplay with bare-chested men, Christian Squires, and Aidan Young. The dancers’ technique was gorgeously fluid, yet they held nothing back as they undulated, leapt, and turned wildly, driven by cellists Joel Cohen and Janet Witharm.

A world premiere of the film We, Divine, choreographed by Robert Dekkers, with cinematography by Walter Yamazaki followed. This simple, elegant film, set to music by Jacob Wolkenhauer, showed the company in a series of stop-motion choreographic vignettes of the dancers in flowing silks (designed by Christian Squires), giving viewers a new way to appreciate the Diablo Ballet.

Sonya Delwaide’s Serenade, choreographed to Ernö Dohnányi’s Serenade For String Trio (Featuring violinist Philip Santos, cellist Janet Witharm and violist Katrina Wreede) was a playful, acrobatic piece, that opened with a trio of dancers and the musicians in an unusual location onstage behind them. Mayo Sugano and Christian Squires were particularly exquisite in the 2nd movement; Ms. Sugano’s delicately arched feet highlighted her precise lines. In the 3rd movement five dancers created an interconnected series of lines and shapes in movement, ending with a humorous tableau, posing in homage to the musicians.

Tetyana Martyanova held center stage in the solo from Diablo Opus, choreographed by Gary Masters, set to music from Cara Mio Ben. Clothed in red, her hand covering her mouth, it was easy to feel her longing, sadness and isolation, although she was surrounded by men. The piece was short, with a sweet ending as Martyanova was carried offstage by a trio of men.

The evening ended with another Diablo Ballet Premiere, the Petipa classic La Fille Mal Gardée, re-envisioned for the company by Lauren Jonas. Although the choreography was new, the black and white costumes gave the piece a timeless look. Amanda Farris and Jamar Goodman were a strong, sturdy duet. Newcomer Jackie McConnell showed strong technique, particularly in her pirouettes. This ballet was the perfect end to the evening; a light, crisp end, like a glass of bubbly.

Diablo Ballet’s 22nd gala was a wonderful retrospective for the company, with something old, something new, and even something blue (the costumes in Serenade). It’s easy to see why they’re still going strong.

Behind the Scenes With Post:Ballet

It’s a Thursday evening and Post:Ballet‘s Robert Dekkers in is five places at once. He’s in discussion with his lighting designer, conferring with dancers, and bringing me up to speed about some of the collaborators he’s working with this season. He cues the music with his phone and the dancers run through DoBe:Family Sing-a-Long and Game Night, Dekkers’ newest work, (due to premier at the end of July), bodies playing off each other in a tangle. There’s humor, exaggerated facial expressions, even partnering role reversal, with the women doing the heavy lifting.The choreography includes elements of games like charades and red light/green light set to a score that revisits singing and nursery rhymes. Read More »

5 New Ballets to Love

February is the month we traditionally associate with love, the month when many people run out to buy cards, flowers and chocolate to give to their significant others. But not everyone has a partner and love comes in many other forms besides romantic love. I propose we reclaim February as a month celebrate love in its many forms–from friendships to family–and most importantly as a time to reflect on the things that we most love about life and discover new things to love. In that spirit I’m devoting this month’s blog pieces to discovering new things to love about dance. Here are 5 New Ballets to Love:

LOVE sculpture by Robert Indiana, photo by Hu Totya

LOVE sculpture by Robert Indiana, photo by Hu Totya

Cares You Know Not. This new piece choreographed by Robert Dekkers for Diablo Ballet premiered February 6th, 2015. Although the name of the piece comes from a children’s lullaby, Cares You Know Not explores a bit of the darker side of life, those things we don’t necessarily see (or want to see) lurking at the edges of our awareness. Dekkers worked with composer Samuel Adams (not to be confused with a beer brewer) to create the original score, which perfectly captures the edgier undertones Dekkers was aiming for. But there’s also science involved–watching the three dancers playing off one another, organically weaving in and out of shapes it’s easy to see how Dekkers drew inspiration from quantum physics for the piece. Says Dekkers, “Although scientists can predict the behavior of two particles, when a third is added three’s no telling what will happen.” This search for deeper philosophical meaning and a desire to create a more contemporary ballet language is what sets Dekkers apart from his peers and made him one of DANCE Magazine’s “25 To Watch.”

Heatscape. Justin Peck hit the streets to find new inspiration when he choreographed this new work for Miami City Ballet, premiering in March. He found what he was looking for in Miami’s vibrant Wynwood Walls. Heatscape is a celebration of colors: the dancers wear their own bright basics, the dance patterns mirror the mandalas woven into the murals (by Shepard Fairey and others). The murals have a deeper meaning of community-mindedness for Peck, who seeks to break down walls when it comes to ballet’s reputation as elitist and inaccessible.

Pixel. A piece with 11 dancers in a virtual and living visual environment, combining energy and poetry, technical achievement, hip hop and circus. Created by Adrien M / Claire B’s ( Adrien Mondot and Claire Bardainne) and Mourad Merzouki, Pixel premiered at Maison des Arts de Créteil on November 15th, 2014. This video is a cut of extracts from the actual show shot during the last day of creation on November 14th, 2014. The Adrien M / Claire B Company, is a research and creativity workshop based out of Presqu’île in Lyon, working with digital arts and performing arts since 2004.

Something Sampled. Beginning February 10th, the contemporary ballet troupe BalletNext welcomes flex dancer Jay Donn as a choreographer and featured dancer for its weeklong season at New York Live Arts. Flex is a form of extreme animation; dancers habitually describe trying to recreate special effects from movies like “The Matrix” with their bodies.The connection between the two is Chris Lancaster, an electroacoustic cellist who helped compose the score for 2013 documentary film “Flex Is Kings”. Lancaster wanted to give flex dancers opportunities to experiment outside the battle format, bringing them into projects in a realm he knows well– the world of concert dance. It was a challenge to marry the two forms, mostly due to communication issues. On his first day there, as Jay Donn put it, “I was trapped in a room with three girls and a cello.” He began choreographing, using mouthed sound effects to direct the dancers because he knew almost no ballet terms. Donn says he has tried to break the ballet dancers out of being stiff, to “help them be themselves and be free,” but their art has affected him, too. “It flows through me,” he said. “I wake up in the morning thinking about ballet.” The piece ends with a face off in a duel between Donn and Michele Wiles (a former principal dancer for American Ballet Theater and founder of BalletNext) where flex comes up against ballet. Who will be the victor?

World’s Largest Treadmill Dance Video. While it’s definitely a stretch to call this a ballet, I share this one for pure comic relief. Anyone who’s spent time on the treadmill will appreciate the transformation from hamster-wheel-like torture device to genius choreographic prop. Who knew that a treadmill could take dance to another level? In honor of all the workout-related resolutions we tend to make in January, NordicTrack released this video. They claim it’s the “world’s largest”—and with 40 treadmills involved, they’re probably right. –

Interview With Post:Ballet’s Robert Dekkers

I was lucky enough to catch Post:Ballet’s founder/choreographer Robert Dekkers as the company gears up for its fifth season performances August 7-9 at Yerba Buena  Center For The Arts’ Lam Research Theatre in San Francisco. 

Dekkers founded Post:Ballet in 2009 with a vision to collaborate with multi-disciplinary artists in new and innovative ways. The company integrates modern aesthetics with classically based dance to present work that is deeply personal and relevant to both the artists and the community. The San Francisco Chronicle says Post:Ballet “argues to become a permanent fixture on the local dance scene. We need more companies like this – inventive, focused, sophisticated and anything but risk averse” Dekkers has also been named “25 to Watch” by DANCE Magazine. 

photo by Natalia Perez

1. This is Post:Ballet’s fifth season. What excites you most about your new work?

The in-depth (and at times very vulnerable!) creative process for this work has been difficult but extremely rewarding. I feel like ourevolution might be the most “human” piece I’ve made to date. Developing this work slowly over the past six months, I’ve been able to share some very meaningful conversations and explore some very real emotions with the dancers. The resulting work feels honest and genuine, it allows the dancers to express themselves as individuals while also making an overarching comment on the evolution of ideas and conversation. My steady dialogue with painter Enrique Quintero, lead animator Yas Opisso, and costume designers Christian Squires and Susan Roemer has also helped me dig deeper into the concept behind the work and find ways of expressing my idea in a meaningful and substantive way. The piece is about conversation, and because of the considerable dialogue that I’ve shared with all the artists involved in the work, I am optimistic that the final product will convey the process. I look forward to sharing a work that is intimate and real with the audience. 

2. What were your inspirations or core themes?

ourevolution is about the evolution and the revolution of conversation and ideas. I use the term “revolution” not in reference to a proposed coup, but rather to an experience that is cyclical in nature. The adage “History repeats itself” is more true than any of us wish it were, but I can’t help but wonder if there’s not also an evolution (however small) that occurs with each of these revolutions. Is it possible that through the endless revolution of conversation (conflict, compromise, connection, repeat) we are inching away from arguing in black and white, and instead exploring the potential to converse in shades of grey? Conflict and disagreement will always exist, otherwise resolution and harmony would not, but could there be a coiling in of this cycle, a transition away from extremes and toward a more balanced place of conversation? While we may not live long enough to see even one full revolution of this cycle, it is my (optimistic?) hope that we are slowly circling in on a place where conversation (disagreement and agreement) is shared in a more refined palate. 

photo by Natalia Perez

3. What have been your favorite behind-the-scenes moments?

Perhaps my favorite moment of the creative process thus far was when I joined the dancers in ourevolution for coffee a few months ago. I had been developing material for the new work, working with the dancers to build both movement phrases and overall concept, but I was still at a loss at how to craft the opening movement of the piece. I needed to create a conversation between the five dancers that was emotionally charged and dynamic, but this was proving to be harder than anticipated. Most of the dancers shared similar values, so getting them to argue was nearly impossible!

We met for coffee and, unbeknownst to them at the time, I recorded the ensuing conversation on my phone. I started our chat with a question about whether or not they thought it was appropriate for Post:Ballet to post nude photographs on Facebook, and they all quickly assured me that this was completely acceptable and indeed a thing of beauty. (Mind you, these were the same dancers posing in the nude photographs I was referring to). I then pulled up some other nude photographs (shared online by other dance companies, theater ensembles, and art photographers) and asked them what they thought about the different images. Which were acceptable to be shared on Facebook, and which did they consider inappropriate? 

“This image is inappropriate because there’s a bed in the photograph with the nude models,” said one dancer, to which another replied, “so because the image is sexual it’s immediately inappropriate?” Other images sparked comments such as “if her facial expression were different, it would be okay, but because her intention is suggestive, it’s not” or “this one is appropriate because of the shadows on his body, but this image is too fully lit so it’s not okay.” After a lengthy conversation revolving around the minutia of what images would and would not be appropriate to share online, I pulled out my phone to let them know that I’d recorded our chat. 

(After receiving their consent to use the recording for internal purposes only) I edited this hour long conversation down to a five minute discussion. The final step of this experiment? I played this edited conversation back to the dancers at our following rehearsal and asked them to stand on the rehearsal floor together and move closer to a dancer when she/he was saying something that they agreed with, but move farther away from a dancer when she/he was saying something that they disagreed with. The resulting product? A conversation expressed through simple spatial shifting that was genuine, vulnerable, and perfectly suited for the opening of ourevolution. Keep an eye out for our coffee talk come to life at the beginning of the new work!

PS a fun fact:

Six of the nine Post:Ballet dancers performing in “Five High” are Cancers… meaning that we’ve had a LOT of birthdays this month! Another dancer (a Leo herself) just had her birthday today, and my birthday is actually on Sunday (turning the big 3-0!) so this summer’s season has been filled with celebration! Not to mention that Post:Ballet is turning 5! And ballet company years are like dog years, so that’s saying something! ^_^ 

photo by Tricia Cronin, Post:Ballet artists Robert Dekkers, Christian Squires, Sandrine Cassini, Janet Hope Rehm, Aidan DeYoung

4. You always collaborate with some very dynamic people. Can you highlight some of the people that you are working with this time?

I’m looking forward to premiering my second collaboration with SF based painter Enrique Quintero. Our first work together, Colouring, was such a great creative experience that I’ve been itching to find another opportunity to work with him again. After connecting with Bay Area animator Yas Opisso, I decided to bring the two together to create animation for this new work. As the work progresses and the conversation evolves, so too does the animation. It begins with hand-animated elements (crafted by coordinating animator Stephen Goldblatt of Quixotic Fusion, a multi-media performance company based in Kansas City that I frequently work with) and develops into 2D and ultimately 3D animation by Opisso. The dancers observe, then interact with, the animation as the work develops. It’s a totally new media for me to work with, and although it’s proven to be a much more difficult process than I’d originally anticipated (surprise!) I’m really inspired by the resulting work!

I’m also really excited to be collaborating with my partner, Christian Squires, on the costumes for the first movement of ourevolution. I asked him to envision what people might be wearing on the streets of San Francisco in 30 years, and so he considered elements such as climate change, wearable technology, and a desire for anonymity in his design. The resulting costumes include jackets with large hoods that block the dancers’ view of one another, as well design elements that suggest a not too distant future. Frequent collaborator Susan Roemer designed the costumes for the second movement of the new work, and so the two of them worked together and separately to create costumes that are connected but still unique.

And of course, the dancers in this work have been such important collaborators. From movement generation to concept development, they’ve given of themselves (physically and emotionally) to help me bring this work to life. I know that without them, I would only have an idea! Their input has been pivotal and I’m grateful to these artists for helping me create this new work.

Season Four highlights from Post:Ballet on Vimeo.

5. Is there anything else you would like to share?

I’m really excited about presenting Mine is Yours and field the present shifts again next week. Both works represent very distinct moments in my life, and so it’s really fulfilling to return to these pieces and delve deeper into the emotions and ideas I was exploring at the time I created these works.

Mine is Yours (2012) was originally created in response to a book I read in 2011 titled Sex at Dawn by Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jethá that explores an alternative to the standard narrative (ie monogamous, heterosexual relationships). I was fascinated by the notion of sharing in relationships and wanted to express this in the work, but it wasn’t where I was at emotionally at the time. No matter how hard I try, I can’t lie with my choreography- it always ends up revealing things about myself that I don’t even realize (or that I simply don’t want to admit). In retrospect, I now see that the work is actually a commentary on my own selfishness. The three women in the work represent the three sides of the individual (ego, super ego, id) and the man is the “external world.” The women in Mine is Yours seem in constant competition with one another, struggling with the idea of sharing this singular “external world” with one another. By realizing that the piece was not at all an expression of sharing, but rather an investigation into my own capacity for selfishness (between the different sides of myself, between myself and others), I’ve been able to take the work to a more fully realized place and acknowledge what the work was suggesting all along. 

field the present shifts (2013) began with a conversation between myself and SF based architect Robby Gilson. After seeing Post:Ballet’s third season performances, Robby was inspired to connect with me and discuss the relationship between architecture and choreography. After several awesome (and rather esoteric) conversations, we decided we needed to create a work together that would somehow encapsulate the dialogue we had begun. But how? We needed some sort of shared vocabulary to communicate effectively, and so we developed a series of 20 hand gestures inspired by the American Sign Language alphabet. Robby used these gestures (and the coordinating movements I created for each shape) as his inspiration for the architectural elements in the work. I used the gestures as the base for the choreography, and together with lighting designer Dave Robertson, we were able to assign space on the stage to specific “letters” and craft a connected vocabulary of architecture and choreography with our shared alphabet. The resulting work (featuring an original score by Matthew Pierce played live by five violinists!) is an expression of what can happen when we communicate across languages and disciplines. 

photo by Tricia Cronin, Aidan DeYoung & company in “field the present shifts”

Post:Ballet’s “Five High” 

Thursday-Saturday, August 7-9 @ 8pm

Yerba Buena Center for the Arts’ Lam Research Theater (San Francisco)

More information on the “Five High” program can be found at: