I recently came across an online dialogue that posed the question: is ballet elitist? I had to wonder how anyone would cling to that idea at this point in time. Although it may have been true centuries ago–when ballet came from dances of the high courts of Italy, France and Russia– ballet today speaks to a wider audience than ever before.
I am lucky to live in the San Francisco Bay Area where companies are finding new ways to make ballet even more accessible. For instance, Diablo Ballet let the crowd call the shots when they put the creative process online, using social media to allow a global audience to choose key elements for their web ballet. Other companies have chosen to share ballet in new types of venues. Post:Ballet’s Artistic Director Robert Dekkers has offered sneak peeks of his newest works at local nightclubs like 111 Minna Gallery and the Infinity Lounge. He also incorporates video and other technologies to create a multi-media experience.
In order to appeal to a greater spectrum of people the face of ballet is changing dramatically. Take a look at the roster of Alonzo King’s LINES Ballet for a case in point. San Francisco is a city known for its diversity and King’s company is a perfect representation. The company is also known for its cutting-edge choreography, but collaborations with world-class musicians such as Zakir Hussain, Mickey Hart and Pharoah Sanders continue to bring public interest to an entirely new level.
Casting an even wider net, The Royal Ballet and Boston Ballet both offered a live stream, bringing ballet home to anyone with a computer (talk about putting ballet in the hands of the people!) and New York City Ballet has implemented their own creative strategy: the New York City Ballet Art Series. The company commissions leading and emerging contemporary artists to create original works of art inspired by NYCB’s dancers and one-of-a-kind repertory of ballets. In the past they have worked with luminaries like Andy Warhol and Keith Haring and recently turned to FAILE, a hip artistic duo, to help bring in a younger audience.
Ballet may have been elitist at one time… but that was eons ago. Today’s companies are experimenting with new choreography, techniques and venues to remain contemporary in feel and appeal. It’s an exciting time to be a dancer–and a dance fan.
The Web Ballet, Diablo Ballet’s newest concept for making ballet accessible will make Diablo Ballet of California the first professional dance company to create an entirely new dance work from ideas suggested by internet users, based on choreography suggestions submitted by individuals all around the world to Diablo Ballet’s Twitter page @DiabloBallet.Cast your vote through Thursday February 14th using Twitter hash tag #DiabloWebBallet and select the music by voting on Diablo Ballet’s YouTube page: http://www.youtube.com/user/diabloballet.
After submissions close, Robert Dekkers, Diablo Ballet dancer, Artistic Director of San Francisco’s Post:Ballet, and one of Dance Magazine’s 2011 25 to Watch and Lauren Jonas, Diablo Ballet’s Artistic Director, will select seven choreographic suggestions. Dekkers will then have two weeks to utilize all of the winning ideas and create a new dance work.
I recently caught up with Mr. Dekkers for the following interview:
GC: You are charged with choreographing Diablo Ballet’s web ballet. What are your feelings on entering this project?
RD: When they approached me with the idea I was interested. I’ve been exploring limitations and I thought it was a great opportunity to impose those limitations on myself and see what paths I take to produce the final work… how they affect me and the creative process. I’m hoping to get some great ideas and off-kilter ideas. For me it’s a great challenge, something new, exciting and different.
GC: How do you see yourself putting the project into action?
RD: We are accepting suggestions until February 14th. At that point we’ll choose 7 suggestions and I’ll use those to create the final piece. I won’t be working with the dancers until February 15th. I’ll have less than 3 weeks to make the piece and get it on stage, which is a very quick time frame. The piece will be 8-10 minutes, not a full evening-length work, but still a lot of material to cover in such a short period of time… and some of the dancers are working on other pieces, not just mine, so that will be definitely be tight.
Normally I start my conceptual process months out, doing things to prepare…listening to music, viewing museum exhibits, things related to the topic I’m exploring. This time I have to be patient. But the project is about limitations and how we put them to use. The interesting piece is:how we are going to use these possibly disjointed ideas and make them one cohesive pice that revolves around a common theme and has a structure? It will be interesting. I’m a little nervous, actually. (Here he is at work in the studio):
I liken it to the show Project Runway: when they’re given $1000 and a dream budget it always turns out rather plain and boring and when they’re given $10 and four apples and a banana peel they always make things that are just amazing. This is my four apples and a banana peel kind of piece. I’m hoping that not having my usual opportunity for all the resources and time will push me to whittle through the fat and delve into the heart of the piece. The challenge will push me further and I’ll make something special… so that even after the web ballet project is over it’s a piece that can be done again and has substance to it. As a choreographer I want to make sure that the final work is indicative of my taste and choreography.
Mayo Sugano & Derek Sakaura, photo by Ashraf
GC: Just to touch on what you said about the four apples and a banana peel theory… I have a friend who says that good art is often happy accidents. When we are taken out of our normal way of doing things we come up with something totally different.
RD: Yes! Can you put quotes around that and say that I said it? Just kidding. But it’s so true. The little in-between moments when you’re not sure… the question marks… those are the magical places where the greatest things can happen. Something might accidentally happen and it redirects the whole piece – you get that “aha” that you were searching for.
GC: Is there anything else you want to share?
RD: I did pick the 3 pieces of music, so they not strange to me. They are all Classical and I have choreographed to them in the past. One of the pieces I made my 2nd ballet to when I was 17. Now that I’ve grown as a choreographer and developed my own movement sensibility and vocabulary I’m excited to come back to one of these pieces of music and have a new take on it and have to go a different route. I have a special place in my heart for these pieces of music that I grew up to.
The Web Ballet will be presented as part of Diablo Ballet’s Inside the Dancer’s Studio series March 1st and 2nd at the Shadelands Arts Center Auditorium in Walnut Creek, CA. The winning suggestions will receive tickets to the performance and a photo from the created work, autographed by Dekkers.
Robert Dekkers was recently named a ’25 To Watch’ artist, by DANCE Magazine, and has danced professionally with Ballet Arizona, ODC/Dance San Francisco, and Company C Contemporary Ballet before joining Diablo Ballet in 2011. He has performed in works by choreographers including George Balanchine, Twyla Tharp, Paul Taylor, August Bournonville, KT Nelson, Maurice Causey, Brenda Way, Val Caniparoli, Lar Lubovich and Charles Molton. Mr. Dekkers has also been choreographing for over a decade, presenting works at venues including the Tanzsommer Festival in Vienna and the Ballet Builders Showcase in New York City. He was resident choreographer for Novaballet before founding his own company, Post:Ballet, in San Francisco. Since launching Post, he has created numerous critically acclaimed collaborations including When in Doubt, Colouring, Mine is Yours and Interference Pattern. His first work for Diablo Ballet, Happy Ending, premiered in May of 2012. In addition to his work as a choreographer and dancer, Mr. Dekkers also holds a degree in business from Rio Salado College
Post:Ballet makes dance relevant to modern society. Artistic Director Robert Dekkers accomplishes this through his choreography (which is both expressive and organic) and the use of modern technologies, including cinematography and digital photography. The company also collaborates with visual artists, musicians and composers to create new works. Post:Ballet successfully completed its second season this past weekend with performance at the Herbst Theater, located in the center of San Francisco’s cultural aorta.
The program opened with Colouring, a piece that explores the nature of the creative process. Original score was created and performed live by Daniel Berkman. Artist Enrique Quintero diligently painted the backdrop with successive symbols and strokes as two dancers, Jared Hunt and Beau Campbell, reenacted a mock rehearsal. Photographer Natalia Perez captured the moment by moment action, which was projected at the end of the piece, showing everything in reverse. In essence, the audience was reliving everything they had just experienced with visual proof of how they had arrived.
Flutter showcased a trio of men, Daniel Marshalsay, Jonathan Mansgosing and Christian Squires. The piece opened with music by Steve Reich, a percussive, primitive, repetitive score, which later transitioned to the lyrical strains of J.S. Bach. Here Dekkers shows what he does best- explosive movement that made great use of three-dimensional space and highlighted the strength and abilities of the dancers, through successive turns and tours en l’air. Flutter is aptly named, for the behavior of the heart while watching their shirtless forms and the choreography – the dancers often looked as though they were moving through water…
Happiness of Pursuit, a playful piece for seven dancers, was a highlight, both for the wild abandon with which the dancers moved, and the music- this may well be the first ballet ever set to beat-boxing, flawlessly performed live by Joe Hickey.
The program closed with a world premiere of Interference Pattern, a study on the effects of observation. Dekkers was fascinated by a quantum physics experiment that showed that observation had an effect on the behavior of subatomic particles. This study lead to other questions: if observation effects the world on such a microscopic level, what other effects occur? The piece was performed against a cinematographic backdrop of the same choreography being performed during rehearsal times, both observed and unobserved by other dancers. Dekkers concludes that although the differences are subtle, they are palpable.
All of the dancers are classically trained, and collectively possess an impressive background. Post:Ballet provides them with a new expressive outlet of cutting edge choreography paired with creative collaboration. The sum total is a performance unlike any other. Ballet has taken a quantum leap.