Texas Ballet Theater dancer Peter Zweifel discusses his latest work The Finding, in the Portraits Ballet Festival.
This is Zweifel’s eighth season with TBT and his fifth company work. His other company pieces include Sweet n Tangy, Absence and Glimpse. His performance credits include Ben Stevenson’s Cinderella, Dracula, Romeo and Juliet, Swan Lake and Four Last Songs.
TheaterJones asks Zweifel about his musical inspirations, what it’s like working with his peers, his hopes for the future and of course his new piece The Finding.
This weekend’s program also includes Ben Stevenson’s Image, based on the troubled life of Marilyn Monroe and Val Caniparoli’s Lambarena, a fusion of African rhythms and Bach melodies. The last weekend of the Portraits Ballet Festival runs April 27-29 at the Wyly Theatre at the AT&T Performing Arts Center in Dallas.
TheaterJones: What was it like performing in the Wyly for the first time last weekend?
Peter Zweifel: It was a really great experience. It’s a very nice space and actually for the dancers the stage itself was really nice. For being a smaller theatre the stage is a pretty nice size. And also I was able to watch a lot of the rehearsals for one of the shows and I think it’s such a wonderful stage to watch mixed repertoire because it creates a really intimate feeling. It’s like watching ballet in HD.
What was your inspiration for your piece The Finding?
My inspiration was really the music that I chose. My last ballet I did was sort of a dedication to a friend of mine and so I had a very clear idea of what I wanted to do and the story I wanted to portray. This time I didn’t have such a clear vision so I very slowly just started piecing music together that I felt told an interesting and captivating musical narrative. I chose pieces from several different composers that I thought worked really well together and I thought they carried a really nice narrative for a ballet. That was my main inspiration and during the process of choreographing it kind of got pieced together to form an abstract story.
When creating a piece do you usually look for the music first?
I almost always am inspired directly by the music in terms of creating movement. That’s really my main inspiration. That’s really what I feel makes it easier to come up with movement because then you’re coming up with movement that’s already synchronized with the music in both timing and coordination, but also in mood and in terms of how it relates emotionally to the music. That’s the best way for me to do it, letting the music guide me in creating movement.
What is your favorite genre of music to use?
I have used a lot of different kinds of music. In my first ballet for TBT I used Chopin and Vivaldi; in my second ballet half of it was abstract noise and the other half was like a Russian disco tech song; my third ballet was all African artists; my fourth ballet was a combination of different rock music and classical music; and this piece is all classical. I have to say that I don’t have a particular taste in music. I love all kinds of music. It really depends on whether that piece of music speaks to me.
Did you take the size of the venue into consideration when creating your piece?
Yes, I did a little bit. I kept in mind that it was going be a small theatre and how that would feel, but I didn’t cater specifically to the space. It was an inspiration for part of the ballet in terms of choosing what to do and what not to do.
Now that you have performed in the space did you go back and tweak anything in your piece?
No I haven’t. I think for one thing it would be difficult to do any major changes at this point, but also it’s a great space to watch ballet so I think the venue will work well for my piece. I am really excited to see it in the space. I hope my piece comes out great, but I also hope the space treats it well. And I think it will.
You have choreographed multiple pieces for TBT. Do you prefer choreographing over performing?
There are things about both that are wonderful and unique, but being a dancer is what I’ve always strived for. Wanting to dance and wanting to be a ballet dancer is what got me in the business in the first place, so I’ve always considered myself a dancer first and a choreographer second. While I truly enjoy doing both dancing is really my biggest passion and choreography is my second.
Do you find it challenging to produce work for your peers?
I don’t think there are really any negatives about it. I think because I know them so well I know how they work and what makes them work better. I know where their strengths are in terms of their dancing. And because I know them so well and they know me we have a great working atmosphere. Over the years I have developed a special choreographic relationship with some of the dancers and so we have really become in sync with each other in terms of creating movement together. It’s always a pleasure.
Do you like to choreograph ahead of time or do you like collaborating with your dancers?
It really depends. I used to do more choreographing ahead of time. I feel like I don’t do that as much because a lot of times I would choreograph something on myself and think it looks great and then I would put it on someone else and see that it’s not that good. So, it’s really a balance between two.
A lot of times, particularly for pas de deux work, because you are partnering you’re creating something that’s going to be very unique to those two people, so I can’t necessarily make them feel exactly the way I feel and vice versa. You have to create movement particularly for partnering more for the people you are working with. It can’t be for you because it may not look as good because other people have other strengths. So, a lot of times I will have very specific ideas of what I want to do and we will work toward that, but I always try to keep an open mind.
How would you describe the movement in The Finding?
Although I guess my movement in the piece could be called contemporary ballet I always use a classical vocabulary and then just alter it a little bit to make it more contemporary. For me at least I don’t stray too far away from classical vocabulary. It’s always within that realm.
Would you like to choreograph more in the future?
I love choreographing and I would enjoy doing more in the future. I would love maybe one day with [Ben] Stevenson’s support to choreograph for another company.
What advice do you have for ballet dancers just starting their careers?
My biggest piece of advice for anyone who wants to become a ballet dancer is your attitude, personality and work ethic are the most important things you can have. For me as a dancer I had to work really hard in school and academy classes because things didn’t just come naturally. I had to work really hard and that work ethic is what helped prepare me for my future and gave me confidence.
As a choreographer working with people who are positive, hardworking, have a great attitude and I can count on is more important to me than somebody who is not very nice and can kick their leg behind their head. That really doesn’t matter. It’s really about personality and what you give to whoever is in charge.