Garrett Smith pays homage to those living in countries where dancing is banned in Forbidden Paths, part of Bruce Wood Dance’s Embrace concert.
Note: This preview was written in April after a private viewing of the work at the Bruce Wood Dance Gallery.
Dallas — Unmoving, the nine Bruce Wood Dance(BWD) company members sit on their haunches with their heads bowed and wrists locked behind their backs. The longer the dancers remain in this pose, which continues for about a full minute, the more overwhelming the moment becomes as my mind shuffles through similar images I have seen in the news recently. It brought up the images of people praying outside the burning Notre Dame Cathedral as well as images of those in mourning after the bombings in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday.
This poignant section occurs in the middle of Garrett Smith’s new work, Forbidden Paths, which premieres at BWD’s Embrace showcase, June 14-15, at Moody Performance Hall in Dallas. The program also includes Joy Bollinger’s critically acclaimed Carved in Stone and the Dallas premiere of Bruce Wood’s Dark Matter, previously only seen when the company was in Fort Worth.
Smith’s powerful use of imagery is one of the many reasons that BWD’s Artistic Director Bollinger wanted him to come work with the company in Dallas. “The first time I saw his work I immediately fell in love with the musicality, powerful imagery and incredible partnering,” Bollinger says before the viewing.
Originally from Utah, Smith began his dance training with the Utah Regional Ballet and performed in the 2002 Salt Lake Winter Olympics Opening Ceremony. He later studied at the Houston Ballet Academy and created five works for Houston Ballet II’s repertoire. As a dancer with Houston Ballet, Smith got to perform works by Stanton Welch, Jorma Elo, Nicolo Fonte, Christopher Bruce, Ben Stevenson and Christopher Wheeldon.
It was only after seeing the piece that Smith told us about the concept, which started when he became aware that dance is prohibited in the country of Iran. “For me, this is the image of being detained,” Smith says about the section mentioned above. “There was a group of seven individuals in Iran that had danced to Pharrell Williams’ ‘Happy’ and they were detained for a month.”
He continues, “So I tried to imagine myself in that position and how extremely scary that would be for doing something that is not wrong. It is wrong according to their Islamic Constitution, but everyone should have that right to express themselves through dance and that is really the driving force for this piece.”
Whereas Wood’s gesturing is usually viewed as light-hearted and comical, the gesturing in Forbidden Paths comes across as more celestial. A prime example is when the dancers appear to be cupping a precious ball of energy between their hands, which they then manipulate aggressively and rhythmically around their bodies and outward.
Smith credits his use of gestural images to his time spent with the great Czech choreographer Jirí Kylián at the Norwegian National Ballet. Smith has also worked personally with Nacho Duato and Alexander Ekman and has also performed multiple pieces by William Forsythe.
Another striking moment in Forbidden Paths is Megan Storey’s opening solo. Her balletic lines melt into contorted shapes and weighted walking patterns, which she breaks up with flex-footed jumps and textured gesturing. Frustration is evident in her expression as her eyes follow an unknown source.
We found out later that the movement in Storey’s solo depict certain feelings and emotions that were stirred up by specific questions Smith had asked the group at the beginning of the process. “I asked the dancers’ questions such as what does dance mean to you? And how would you feel if you could not dance? The dancers then created solos based off their word choices, which I later sculpted into the piece,” Smith says.
At this point Smith asked Storey to step forward and show us some of the gestures she had crafted from these questions. She described an open-chested pose as her moment of discovery and expressed her anger through an unexpected jump with flexed-feet and fisted hands.
When talking with Storey about her solo later on she says, “I based the choreography off of the words I had chosen for my ‘paper phrase’ as Garrett called. He had given us several questions asking us various things about our relationship to dance, how we would feel if it was taken away from us, etc. From our answers, we chose words that stuck out to us and created gestures for each of them.”
She continues, “Some of the words represented in my solo are ‘music personified,’ ‘transcend,’ ‘conduit,’ ‘express,’ ‘angry’ and ‘can’t.’ From that starting point we, Garrett and I, adjusted certain transitions and gesture intentions to then reflect the objective of the piece and that worked with the musicality of the track.”
Reflecting on her time with Smith, Storey says, “It was truly a wonderful experience for me. Not only was his movement and musicality natural to me, but I also loved the purpose of the piece. It really opened my eyes to how other cultures view dance and performing arts, and how blessed I am to have the opportunity to pursue it as my career.”
She adds, “I try to channel all of those feelings when doing his piece and I’m honored to perform this work for those who aren’t able to.”
Andre Silva shares the significance of the number sigh 11:11 in his new work of the same name for Texas Ballet Theater’s performance this weekend.
Photos: Andre Silva (L) courtesy of Texas Ballet Theater. Andre Silva’s 11:11 (R) courtesy of Steven Visneau.
Fort Worth — You have seen him portray princes, villains and heroes in numerous ballets presented by Texas Ballet Theater (TBT), but, for the first time, audiences will get to see who Andre Silva is as a choreographer in his work 11:11, part of TBT’s In The Middle performance March 1-3 at Bass Performance Hall in Fort Worth. The program also includes William Forsythe’s In The Middle, Somewhat Elevated and Christopher Bruce’s Ghost Dances.
Originally from Brazil, Silva began his professional ballet career with TBT at the age of 17. He danced with the company until 2009 when he decided to leave to dance abroad with Les Grands Ballets Canadiens de Montreal from 2009-2014. From there he danced with Germany’s Ballet Augusburg for a year before returning to TBT in 2015, much to audiences’ delight.
Throughout his time with TBT Silva has danced leading roles in many of Ben Stevenson’s ballets, including Peer Gynt, Romeo and Juliet, Swan Lake, Dracula, Bartok, Preludes for Van, Five Poems, and Mozart Requiem. Some other works he has performed in include Val Caniparoli’s Without Borders, Christopher Wheeldon’s DGV: Danse à Grande Vitesse, Christopher Bruce’s Rooster, Carlos Acosta’s Carmen and Alexei Ratmansky’s Seven Sonatas.
Silva says what ultimately brought him back to TBT was Stevenson. “I love his leadership. What he brings to the table. The way that he coaches the dancers. The way that he choreographs. And I love his energy.”
He goes on to say, “TBT was my first company when I was 17 so I came into the company very young and I learned so much from Ben. He gave me my first leading role when I was 18. So, I really wanted to dance under the direction of Ben Stevenson again. I wanted to do his ballets again and I also wanted to work with the staff again. So, that was the reason I came back and I am very happy to be back.”
He also points out that his decision to leave TBT was mostly to explore what was out there and learn from various directors and choreographers in Canada and then Europe.
Silva admits that he was speechless when Stevenson approached him about creating a piece for the company. He says up until then he had only set work on the school and second company. “He really took me by surprise. In a year and a half I had created three to four pieces so I suppose I showed him that I was capable of doing this. When he approached me he said ‘I think you are ready for the company’ and I was like WHAT, but I was obviously extremely grateful and I still am and forever will be because I get to show what and who I am as a choreographer.”
The title, 11:11, came to Silva while he was working in Germany and has remained in the back of his mind so when Stevenson came to him about doing a piece Silva knew exactly what he was going to call it. The 25-minute work features 22 dancers (11 men and 11 women) and is broken up into nine movements. The work also includes costumes by Brazilian native Sonia Roveri, which Silva says fits the theme with its blending of colors and concepts that connect with the movement.
As for his experience in the studio with the dancers Silva says, “It was very collaborative. I would come in with a short phrase and allow the dancers to collaborate and let their bodies move in a way, and if I like the way they move or the way they approached it then I loved to put that in.”
He continues, “I am a very collaborative choreographer. I think it makes the work much more interesting because the movement comes in the moment and it becomes real and natural, and that’s also what 11:11 means to me. 11:11 is in the moment. 11:11 is infinite. And so it becomes this beautiful experience for me to be able to have dancers that are opened as well. It becomes a natural and interesting approach and I am always content with how things turn out.”
When it comes to organizing movement ahead of time Silva says he prefers to do it at home in his back yard or at the park where he can garner inspiration from everything around him in nature. He also says that he used to try to write everything down, but now prefers not to prepare too much before coming into the studio with the dancers. “This challenges me to accept that it will be O.K in the end and that I will come up with something special out of that.”
Going back to the title Silva says that for some people it may mean nothing, but for others it could have many different meanings. In this work the nine movements represent nine experiences Silva has had with 11:11. As for the audience he says, “I hope that people can understand perhaps what it means or take away something for their future reference as 11:11 or just have some kind of perspective of 11:11.”
He adds, “It’s important that each audience leaves the theater hopefully inspired and intrigued by their next experiences with 11:11.”
During our phone conversation Silva was also very opened about the struggles that come with choreographing any type of work. The main one being what happens when a choreographer gets stuck. When this happened to Silva he says he would remind himself of his intentions for the work. “When I am struggling and stuck I have to remember what the intention behind it is. What is it that I want to come through? And the moment that I think about that the feeling is what actually gives me movement.”
He confesses, “It’s not easy to do, but I have to trust that intuition and just let it flow. And the moment we trust it, that’s when it flows better than you ever thought it would.”
Ballet West’s Artistic Director on participating in the reality series Breaking Pointe and what the company has in store for its first Dallas performance.
Dallas — As in any other industry, rising competition and the ever-changing economy have forced ballet companies across the nation to step outside the box when it comes to broadening their audience base and exposing more people to the art form. So when Ballet West’s Artistic Director Adam Sklute heard that BBC Worldwide Productions was looking for a ballet company to be the focus for a new reality series he jumped at the opportunity. After several interviews and screen tests Ballet West was chosen to star in the CW’s reality series Breaking Pointe, which premiered in 2012. Even though the show only lasted for two seasons, Ballet West is still feeling the impact with sold out shows and an expansive touring schedule.
The Salt Lake City-based company was formed in 1963 by Willam Christensen and is currently run by former Joffrey dancer Adam Sklute. At age 17 Sklute began training with the Oakland Ballet and San Francisco Ballet schools. He was one of the last two artists hand-picked by Robert Joffrey and spent 23 years with the Joffrey Ballet before joining Ballet West in 2007. During his time as a dancer Sklute got to perform leading roles in works by Gerald Arpino, Sir Frederick Ashton, George Balanchine, John Cranko, Agnes DeMille and Robert Joffrey, to name a few. In addition to Breaking Pointe, Sklute’s other TV credits include The Joffrey Ballet’s Dance in America filmings of Vaslav Nijinsky’s Le Sacre du Printemps and Arpino’s production of Billboards as well as Kurt Jooss’ The Green Table. In 2003 he assisted with and appeared in Robert Altman’s The Company and in 2012 appeared in The Joffrey Ballet: Mavericks of Dance, a documentary chronicling the history of The Joffrey Ballet.
Since joining Ballet West Sklute has expanded the company repertoire and visibility through numerous world premieres, increased touring and greater focus on the Ballet West Academy. Over the last eight years Ballet West has presented more than 55 world/Utah premieres. The company has performed works by historical choreographers, including Sir Frederick Ashton, George Balanchine and Michel Fokine as well as contemporary masters such as Jiri Kylian, Mark Morris and Twyla Tharp. Sklute also oversees Ballet West’s Academy and is a guest teacher and coach for dance programs and workshops around the world.
Dallas audiences will get to see Ballet West in all its classical glory when they come to the Winspear Opera House May 29-30, closing TITAS’ 2014-15 season. The company’s diverse program will include George Balanchine’s Divertimento No. 15 (1956), In The Middle, Somewhat Elevated (1987) by William Forsythe and Jodie Gates’ Mercurial Landscapes (2013).
TheaterJones asks Adam Sklute about the changes he has made to Ballet West, bringing dance to larger audiences through reality T.V. and some of his fond memories working with Robert Joffrey.
TheaterJones: You have such a long rich history with the Joffrey Ballet. What convinced you to move to Salt Lake City and join Ballet West?
Adam Sklute: I had been with the Joffrey Ballet for 23 years starting as a dancer and eventually moving to the position of associate director. The company was going through a transition in 2006-07 where one of the founders, Gerald Arpino, was moving to the position of emeritus and they were going to do an international search for a new artistic director. I was told I would be in the running and I was very interested in the position, but I was also curious to see my market value would be outside of Joffrey. So, when I received a request to apply for Ballet West I thought this was the perfect opportunity to find out my market value. I went through the interview process and was asked to fly out to meet and work with the dancers and the staff, and while I was there I feel in love with the city and the company. I just thought that this was a place where I could really make a difference and I could be really happy living. In that moment my whole perspective changed and I knew it was time for a change and I have never regretted it.
Looking back over the last eight years are you satisfied with what you have been able to accomplish with the company?
Going in I knew I was joining a company that had a great legacy and history itself. I mean it was founded by one of the pioneers of American dance, Willam Christensen, and following him as artistic director was Bruce Marks, Sir John Hart from the Royal Ballet and Swedish dancer Jonas Kåge. And all of them had brought a unique and individual stamp to the company. I am a perpetual student so I enjoyed learning and understanding the company that I was going to be a part of and was going to lead artistically.
I set some very strong goals about what I wanted to do in terms of repertoire and expansion and I worked very hard to get them moved forward. On the other hand, you have to kind of move with the tide. I mean things would happen. Opportunities would come up and changes would occur. My goodness the economy fell out from beneath us just as I was hired. The best laid plans are always there to be modified and changed. What I would like to attempt to be is very much a forward thinker and an intense planner for the future, but then be able to move with the tide and go where its obvious things are happening. With that said I have been very proud of the accomplishments of Ballet West over the last eight years and yes, not a little surprised about some of it, and then also quite gratified.
How does Ballet West’s classical style differ from other ballet companies in the U.S.?
I like to use a poetic phrase to explain our dancers, which is they are as tall and dramatic as the Rocky Mountain region that we represent. What I mean by that is first of all I love long-limbed dancers and very linear kind of looks. What people are going to see is that very lengthy and expansive type of movement that comes from these long-limbed dancers. And even the shorter dancers have that same sort of length and expansion because that’s how we move and it’s how we dance. But on top of that we have a great deal of intensity and theatricality and the dancers understand who they are on the stage. They have a stage presence and the knowledge of how to captivate an audience. So, I think what’s special about us is that we are once a very linear company, but we are also a theatrical company and all that mixed together I think creates a very beautiful and unique look and style.
Do the three pieces on the program, Divertimento No. 15 (1956), In The Middle, Somewhat Elevated (1987) and Mercurial Landscapes (2013), clearly capture the company’s versatility and unique style?
Absolutely, and I have to say Charles Santos was a big part of the decision making process for the programming because he really knows his Dallas audience and he also wanted to represent us in our best light. And I appreciated that tremendously. So yes, the program does show off so many of the facets of what we have done and in a number of ways what I have done since I have been here with Ballet West.
How did you get involved with the reality series Breaking Pointe?
How it came together was BBC Worldwide Productions had been experimenting and shopping around this idea for a reality Television show all about ballet for several years. They had gone to a lot of companies that were bigger than ours who either said no they didn’t want to do it or said yes, but in the end they couldn’t work it out with all their company members and union rules. We were on a long list of companies that they were interviewing and they also wanted us to do a screen test where they would come and spend a week with us filming as many classes, rehearsals, meetings and social gatherings as possible. And also interview all of the dancers interested in being part of the show. We did that and they put together a promo for our company and shopped it around to the networks and the CW picked it up. Now, we were very specific about contracts and time such as when they could film us and when they couldn’t. Each individual had control over what they were allowing people to film and what not to. For instance, I said I was not going to have any cameras in my home. With that said, yes, what you are seeing is the real us and yes, every single situation that happened was real. What you have to remember is that how it is presented on the screen had a lot to do with how pieces were edited together.
When it came to the dance scenes in the show did you have a hand in the editing process?
So, what I was able to do was say “you can film this, but you can’t film that.” I wasn’t there in the editing room so I had to trust BBC a great deal. BBC told me they had two members of the Royal Ballet who would be viewing all of dance scenes in the editing process and would not let any less than desirable dancing go onto the screen. The thing that I can say is for a myriad of reasons we never had as much dancing in there as I wanted. A lot of that had to do with the various trusts and foundations for the choreography that we worked with who either did not want that much of it shown or who were charging a lot of money for that shot. And that also went for the music that we used in the show.
Are you happy with the way you and the company were portrayed on the show?
All of the drama and everything else aside, what I know is that every clip of the dancing came out good. Ultimately, the company showed itself well as a group of dancers and we showed the world the highest caliber of dancing. So, even if the show was based more on the drama stuff what was always there was the quality of the dancing. And I know it sounds cliché, but we also had loftier aspirations than just what the show could do for Ballet West. We felt like we were doing something for the world of dance and for ballet in general. We did not do this show for the thousands of people that know and love ballet. We did this show for the millions of people who know nothing about ballet.
Can you talk about some of your favorite moments working with Robert Joffrey?
By the age of 19 I was a professional dancer with the Joffrey Ballet. I was in class one day when Robert Joffrey showed up and invited me to one of his personal workshops in San Antonio, Texas. He said I needed to go to this and work with him personally. He would give these three hour technique classes and they were the most amazing things I have ever experienced in my life. I had never met anyone who was so meticulous, so detailed orientated and yet so inspiring. I never felt like the details were bogging me down. He hired me after very little study.
Robert Joffrey also had a quirky sense of humor. When he hired me he said to me “Adam, I am going to hire you for my company against my better judgment.” And I said OK what does that mean and he said that “you are smart so I know you are going to succeed. Now you just have to learn how to dance.” He knew that’s how I needed to be spoken too. I am not one for a lot of ego stroking. I respond better to a challenge. And he was right. I had the right proportions for ballet and could do the movements, but it didn’t look like anything because I had no sense of technique. And I spent my entire dance career learning and understanding technique. Like how to stand in fifth position and how to create lines. But Robert Joffrey saw that in me and that was a huge inspiration for me.