Tag Archives: Ben Stevenson

Outside The Lines

Texas Ballet Theater expands its stylistic range in Val Caniparoli’s new work Without Borders, part of the company’s First Looks Series in Dallas this weekend.

TBT-WithoutBorders
Texas Ballet Theater rehearsing Val Caniparoli’s Without Borders. Photo: Ellen Appel

It’s not a coincidence that Texas Ballet Theater principal dancer’s Leticia Oliveira and Carl Coomer look like a pair of figure skaters just skimming the floor in a series of petite traveling lifts in American choreographer Val Caniparoli’s new work, Without Borders. “A lot of what I do has been inspired by ice skating or classical ballet or by working with African dance consultants in Lambarena and that has stuck with me over the years,” Caniparoli says.

Originally from Renton, Washington, Caniparoli opted for a professional dance career after studying music and theater at Washington State University. He received a Ford Foundation Scholarship in 1972 that allowed him to attend San Francisco Ballet School. He performed with San Francisco Opera Ballet before joining San Francisco Ballet in 1973. He became resident choreographer there, and later with Tulsa Ballet. Today, Caniparoli is one of the most sought after American choreographers in the United States and abroad, having set works on more than 35 dance companies, including the Joffrey Ballet. Caniparoli has also choreographed for many notable Opera houses in the U.S., including Chicago Lyric Opera, San Francisco Opera and the Metropolitan Opera.

Photo: Courtesy of Val Caniparoli

Caniparoli’s musical background plays a pivotal role in his creative process and is one of the most appealing aspects of his work. “I have studied music and theater all my life and fell into ballet when I was 20 so, it’s natural for me to create movement that is being dictated by the music.” I saw this firsthand back in September when I sat in one of his rehearsals with Coomer and Oliveira and later the full company for his piece Without Borders, which will have its world premiere at TBT’s First Looks Series May 6-8 in Dallas and May 27-29 in Fort Worth.

Most of the critiques Caniparoli gave to Coomer and Oliveira during rehearsal pertained to their musical timing and movement quality. “You have to fill out every count of the music,” Caniparoli tells the couple on one adagio section. “You also have to be very specific when counting the eights. This is a fast eight counts that moves into a slower tempo.” This last note was in reference to a particularly tricky lift where Oliveira coiled around Coomer’s upper body coming to a stop with her hips settled into the crease of his neck before slowly sliding down his body. Caniparoli switched places a few times with Coomer and Oliveira in order to help them get the right feel of the movement, which he illustrated with subtle head and arm gestures as well as slight weight changes during lifts. I found out later from Caniparoli that it is not unusual for him to get up and demonstrate certain choreography and partnering skills with the dancers he is working with. “I like to be very hands on with the dancers because as a dancer myself I liked working with choreographers who did allow the dancers to have a voice in the process. I learned early on that if you respect the dancers then they will respect you back.”

The music Caniparoli has chosen for the piece, a blend of tracks from Yo-Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble’s 2013 album entitled A Playlist Without Borders, features a number of ethnic sounds, including African, Irish and Arabic and was also inspiration for the name of the work. “I wanted music with a lot of variety that would then be reflected in the movement as well as the costuming and lighting.” While the work doesn’t follow a particular theme, Caniparoli says he did use the musical explanations included in the CD, which described how the composers felt about each piece of music, as a basis for the choreography and inspiration for the dancers’ personal performances. “You don’t have to understand what my intentions were to enjoy this piece. I just want people to love the dancers, music, costuming, lighting and such, and not get too wrapped up in finding the meaning in everything.”

He continues, “I was just so inspired by Yo-Yo Ma’s ability to connect with all these traditional ethnic instruments and combine them in a unique East meets West way in these ensemble tracks. Whereas Lambarena focused more on war and unrest in other countries, in Without Borders I am trying to connect countries through music in a very uplifting and positive way.”

You can experience the music and movement of Val Caniparoli’s new work Without Borders for yourself when Texas Ballet Theater performs it at Dallas City Performance Hall this weekend as part of the company’s First Looks Series. The program also includes Glen Tetley’s Voluntaries and the company’s premiere of Ohad Naharin’s Minus 16. TBT will repeat the program at Bass Performance Hall in Fort Worth later this month.

>This preview was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.

 

Advertisements

Colliding Worlds, Texas Ballet Theater

Photo: Robert Hart/TheaterJones
Photo: Robert Hart/TheaterJones

Texas Ballet Theater is revving up for Jonathan Watkins’ new work Crash, part of this year’s Artistic Director’s  Choice performance in Fort Worth.

Fort Worth — For most people the word “crash” brings up images of cars, buses, planes and trains. But for British choreographer Jonathan Watkins the word has a broader subtext and is the focus of his new work Crash, part ofTexas Ballet Theater’s Artistic Director’s Choice performance in Fort Worth this weekend. In this piece Watkins takes on various personal, technological and political crashes which are represented through solo, duet and large group numbers in this 25-minute circular tale that features original music by Dallas-based composer Ryan Cockerham and costumes by Austin-based Kari Perkins, who also did the costuming for Richard Linklater’s Oscar-nominated film Boyhood.

In addition to these elements, Watkins uses abstract and neo-classical movements to shape the different situations and mindsets that he has laid out for us. “What I did is set up these different scenarios throughout the work that follow a similar pattern,” Watkins says. “There is a buildup of energy, a crash, and then the dancers have to collect the pieces and hopefully build a better foundation.

“And after the crash we need space to analyze and build the strength to help us deal with the crash going forward,” he explains further. “For this part I wanted the dancers to have a more pensive quality of movement.”

Watkins is an up-and-coming British choreographer who won the Kenneth MacMillan Choreography Competition at the Royal Ballet School when he was just 16 years old. He danced with the Royal Ballet for 10 years before leaving the company in 2013 to pursue his career as a freelance choreographer and director. Watkins made his international debut at the New York Choreographic Institute in 2008 with his workNow, set on New York City Ballet. His other international commissions include Eventual Progress for Russia’s Ekaterinburg Ballet Theatre in 2013 and Present Process for Ballet Manila, Philippines in 2014. His other choreographic credits include Beyond Prejudice and Free Falling created for The Curve Foundation, Abstract Balance with East London Dance and Together Alone for Ballet Black. Watkins also created his first short dance film called Route 67 in 2011. After Fort Worth, he heads back to Britain to work on a premiere evening-length work based on George Orwell’s 1984.

The pensive section Watkins mentioned earlier is at minute 19 of the dance and is what the company was working on when I sat in rehearsal a few weeks ago. For the next hour and a half the group learned four counts of eight of slow moving, forward progressing arm gestures and leg extensions. A deliberate button push with the right finger initiates the sequence and is followed with a half attitude turn into a side stretch. This leads into another leg whip and arm reach all executed in the same unhurried fashion. He then has the dancers retrograde the phrase so they end up in the same horizontal line they started in. I found out later from Watkins that the only preconceived movement was the button push. Everything else grew organically.

Photo: Robert Hart/TheaterJones
Photo: Robert Hart/TheaterJones

“I don’t always work like this, but in this case I wanted to do it with them and experience the choreography together,” he says. “Going in I was confident in the concept of moving slowly. I also knew I wanted to layer and experiment with the movement and that sort of detailing is best to be done then and there.”

These experiments included having two groups of 12 dancers stand in a straight line and begin the phrase on different counts. In some cases it was every four counts and in others it was every two counts. He then had the dancers clump together and move out and around each other creating this illusion of a living organism. Even without knowing the outcome, the dancers quickly adapted to each situation and problem-solved any traffic pattern issues as they moved. As a viewer I got to see the movement morph from a linear kind of tame visual into a cascade of complex shapes and bright pops of movement.

Throughout rehearsal Watkins uses different words, sounds and sometimes melodies to help the dancers align themselves with the pensive quality of the movement. “Shift it, step it, breathe it,” he says during one run through. Another time he mixes together words and sounds such as “Hwa, hwa, melt up, shift down, step to it, emphasize bah.” When I asked Watkins about his use of sounds instead of counts he says he will use whatever means necessary to communicate his intention to the dancers.

“Trust and communication are very important. Energy and being positive is what works for me because I don’t want people to dance through fear,” he says. “And, if I have to shout and sing to get my point across then I have no hang ups about doing it.”

It wasn’t that long ago that Watkins was still performing professionally so he knows what it’s like to be on the receiving end. “You just have to respect the other person and embrace the dancers.” The same rule applies when working with composers, costumers and other members of production team.

When it came to putting together his team for this project Watkins decided to experiment locally with composer Ryan Cockerham and costume designer Kari Perkins, who has costumed seven Linklater films, including his breakout Dazed & Confused. He found Cockerham’s name on the Royal College of Music alumni list and it just so happened he was based in Dallas and had some previous ballet composition experience. “I like serendipity and so when it happens I just go with it. I then started looking for a costumer in the area and I came across Kari who did the costumes for the movie Boyhood.”

For the music Watkins wanted a lot of melodic and rhythmic themes with some soundscape elements mixed in. He describes the costumes as an everyday look, but with lots of fractured layers on top. “And underneath resembles bare bones which represents the clean slate after the crash and before the cycle starts again.”

Artistic Director’s Choice opens with Jiří Kylián’s Petite Mort, followed by Crash, and closes with Balanchine’s Rubies.

This feature was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.

Ballet Bonds

Photo: Steven Visneau
Photo: Steven Visneau

Carl Coomer on his choreographic transition and new work Clann, part of Texas Ballet Theater’s upcoming program at Dallas City Performance Hall.

Dallas — “Clann,” the Irish word for family, is the inspiration for Principal Dancer Carl Coomer’s new work of the same name, but it could also describe how he views Texas Ballet Theater and especially Artistic Director Ben Stevenson. “Ben found me when I was really young and took me under his wing,” Coomer says.

Originally from Liverpool, England, Coomer began his training at the age of 13 and in 1998 was offered a scholarship to the Royal Ballet School. He performed with both Royal Ballet and Birmingham Royal Ballet before joining Houston Ballet in 2001. Houston Ballet was on tour in London when Stevenson spotted Coomer during an open company class. Coomer was offered a contract on the spot and shortly after that was on a plane headed to Houston.

“Ben has had to put up with a lot,” Coomer jokes. “I owe him.” So, when Stevenson left Houston Ballet to head up Texas Ballet Theater Coomer would soon follow. During his career Coomer has had the opportunity to perform the lead roles in some of Stevenson’s most memorable works, including GiselleDraculaFour Last Songs,Three PreludesFive PoemSwan Lake and The Sleeping Beauty, just to name a few.

Always up for a challenge, Coomer decided a couple of years ago to take the leap into choreography. His first work, Evolving, received high-praise from critics and audiences during TBT’s 2012 Portraits Ballet Festival at the Wyly Theatre in Dallas. His second work, Clann, will be presented at the Dallas City Performance Hall March 28-30 as part of TBT’s spring program, Balanchine and Beyond. His work will be performed alongside George Balanchine’s Serenade and Stevenson’s L, both recently seen in a similar program in Fort Worth, where they were accompanied by Sir Kenneth MacMillan’s Gloria (which will not be repeated in Dallas).

Seamus Heaney’s poem Punishment serves as Coomer’s main inspiration for the piece. “He writes about the discovery of a young girl’s body who they think was killed for committing adultery. Heaney tries to imagine what could have happened to her and in a couple of stanzas imagines himself being there. That made me want to take on the role of the observer and kind of figure out what happens to this girl.”

But Coomer is quick to point out that the piece doesn’t necessarily follow a storyline. Instead he uses traditional Celtic music composed by Jordi Savall and Andrew Lawrence-King to create different characters and the different relationships between them. “I used the pieces of music and the images from the poem to help me create different emotions and different ways of moving.”

Coomer adds that this time around he wanted to challenge himself in terms of his choreographic process. “With Evolving I definitely set the steps in the studio, but with this piece I didn’t want to go about it the same way. So, I did each section of music completely by itself and then started linking them together to see how it played out. I wanted to push myself to be more spontaneous and create more movement on the spot.”

He has also discovered that switching from the role of dancer to choreographer is not as easy as it sounds. “Because I am working with people that I know, I want them to look really good, but at the same time I want to push them as well. But I also know what it feels like to be dancing and to come back from a week off and be really sore. So, I think it’s hard to be tough on the dancers because I know what that feels like.” And with his friend and colleague, Lucas Priolo, retiring at the end of this season TBT fans have to wondering what Coomer’s plans are for the future. “I definitely see myself dancing a little longer. This is what I know. And even when my stage career ends I still want to continue in this field.”

This feature was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.

 

Review: The Nutcracker, Texas Ballet Theater

Courtesy of Texas Ballet Theater
Courtesy of Texas Ballet Theater

High-Flying Wows in Holiday Classic!

Texas Ballet Theater’s annual production of The Nutcracker is filled with theatrical comedy, classical ballet, and entertaining special effects not often seen in most renditions of this holiday favorite.

The company goes all out with gorgeous backdrops, large moving props, smoke machines, and a flying sleigh at their Dallas home, the state-of-the-art Winspear Opera House (their Fort Worth home is Bass Performance Hall).

The opening party scene started promising at the Dec. 1 show. Two staircases flanking on the stage brought dimension and provided performers with a larger space to dance. Though it lacked any challenging dance technique –– there was a lot of walking and gesturing –– the slapstick comedy, injected by choreographer (and the company’s artistic director) Ben Stevenson, was a hit as it is each season. A clumsy grandfather, for example, a hard of hearing grandmother, and prankster brother got the biggest roars.

As an angelic-looking Clara, dancer Aoi Takahashi, dressed in a white flowing nightgown, had a lovely youthful air about her and competent pointe work.  Drake Humphreys looked a bit too old to play the annoying younger brother, but his enthusiasm and strong technique was undeniable.

The most commanding presence at party scene was Carl Coomer as Dr. Drosselmeyer. Only a consummate pro like Coomer can draw in the audience with the slightest flick of his wrist as he hands Clara her Nutcracker.

Courtesy of Texas Ballet Theater
Courtesy of Texas Ballet Theater

The story and dancing gain momentum in the raucous battle scene where the men displayed strength and stamina as the Nutcracker’s soldiers. And there’s plenty of action. The sword fighting, between the Nutcracker (Adam Boreland) and the Rat King (Paul Adams), was enhanced by the dim lighting and menacing black and red figures in shapes of rats and nutcrackers on the front stage scrim.

After the height of the action, where Clara killed the Rat King with her shoe, the scrim rose revealing a calm and serene background of silvery blue and a snow-encrusted slope hidden underneath a thin layer of mist. The atmosphere perfectly ushered in the magical snow scene where the Snow Queen (Carolyn Judson) and Snow King (Lucas Priolo) appear through the misty slope.

Judson, a spritely technician, attacked every pique turn and arabesquehold with grace and vigor. Priolo, a true gentleman, offered Judson his arm with poise and easily lifted her over his head during the romantic grande pas de deux. It was a pleasure seeing Priolo perform one of his signature roles with the company one last time before he retires at the end of this season in 2014. The light and airy movement of the snowflakes (advanced students with the company’s ballet school) was lovely as well.

The second act had more of the fabulous technique and artistry viewers have come to expect from the company. Betsy McBride and Alexander Kotelenets were a dynamic duo as the Sugar Plum Fairy and her Cavalier. McBride’s willowy frame made her lines appear unending. She accomplished the fast footwork and difficult turning section in the grande pas de deuxwith swan-like style. Kotelenets’ Apollo-like features matched his prowess as he ate up the stage in his turning grande jete section.

The acrobatic partnering of Simon Wexler and Philip Slocki in the Chinese section and their drop in from the ceiling on two swings won loud cheers. Boreland as the Gopak received a round of applause for his otherworldly grande jetes. High energy in both of these sections, unfortunately, outshined the slower, yet still beautifully executed Arabian section.

The Waltz of the Flowers contained some visually pleasing formation changes and picture perfect moments as the flowers took turns leaping across the stage in wispy pink tutus. The romantic grandepas de deux by Judson and Priolo was a memorable way to end the show.

This review is also posted on WorldArtsToday.com.

Romeo Retiring

Lucas Priolo and Carolyn Judson in Romeo and Juliet at Texas Ballet Theate. Photo: Steven Visneau
Lucas Priolo and Carolyn Judson in Romeo and Juliet at Texas Ballet Theater. Photo: Steven Visneau

Texas Ballet Theater principal Lucas Priolo plans to retire at the end of the company’s 2013-14 season.

Fort Worth — For more than eight years Texas Ballet Theater principal dancer Lucas Priolo has been wowing audiences with his grace and athleticism onstage in works including Ben Stevenson’s Romeo and Juliet, Swan Lake, Peer Gynt and Three Preludes. So, it may come as a surprise for many TBT fans to hear that Priolo will be hanging up his pointe shoes at the end of this season.

“It’s time,” Lucas Priolo says. “My body is tired and I am really looking forward to taking over the family business.”

Priolo’s parents own a jewelry store out in California, Sofia Jewelry, and in his spare time he likes to design jewelry in his home workshop. “I have no complaints. I have done more than I ever thought I would in my career and I feel very fulfilled in what I have been able to accomplish. I am very humbled and understand that not everyone gets this opportunity.”

Growing up in Fairfax, Calif., Priolo went to his first dance class at the urging of his baseball coach. “When I was 8 years old my baseball coach had all the guys take this stretch and strength class and I got really into it,” Priolo says. “I stuck with it and at 13 my ballet teacher said I had to make a decision its one or the other and I chose ballet.”

From then on Priolo ate, slept and breathed dance. At 17 his perseverance and prowess paid off when he was asked to join the Houston Ballet. He packed his bags and headed to Houston where he started in the corps and worked his way up to the company. It was at Houston Ballet where Priolo met his mentor and career compass Ben Stevenson. “Stumbling upon Ben Stevenson was the luckiest thing that ever happened in my career,” Priolo says. “I have been fortunate to have my whole career with him and I have learned so much and savored every minute of it.”

Lucas Priolo, Right and his Dad, Carl Priolo. Photo: Steven Visneau
Lucas Priolo, Right and his Dad, Carl Priolo. Photo: Steven Visneau

Priolo also met his wife, former ballerina Julie Gumbinner, while at Houston Ballet. “We got engaged right before we left to follow Ben to Texas Ballet Theater,” Priolo says. They currently have two children, daughter Olivia and son Jordan.

During his career at TBT Priolo has had the privilege to watch the company grow into one of Texas’ premiere ballet companies, a feat he attributes to Artistic Director Ben Stevenson. “He has a way of making sure the dancers in the back of a scene are just as involved and as important as the leads in the front,” Priolo says. “He can create the most incredible atmospheres on stage and off. His attention to detail and to storytelling is simply amazing.”

“He is definitely going down in the history books as one of the best choreographers and directors of the modern century,” he adds.

When asked about his favorite ballet Priolo quickly responds with Romeo and Juliet. “It will always be very dear to my heart because I got to dance it with my wife,” Priolo says. “I remember one show in particular just being one of those magical shows that had it all. The orchestra, the audience and the dancing just all came together and it was one of the most memorable shows in my career.”

Priolo doesn’t intend to leave the ballet world completely behind. “I was very honored over this past summer to set one of Ben’s most famous pas de deux, Three Preludes, on a company in Nice, France,” he says. “I spent two and a half weeks coaching them and I absolutely loved the experience. I would be so honored to set more of Ben’s work on other companies.”

This piece was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.