The snow that never seemed to end yesterday nearly cancelled my first day of work with Baltimore Ballet. I was relieved to see it let up around 9pm while working at the Busboys and Poets on 14th & V. Today’s rehearsal at Baltimore Ballet’s headquarters on York Road in Hunt Valley, MD was more productive than I expected. Three female dancers from American Ballet Theatre – Devon Teuscher, Katie Williams, and Jennifer Whalen – hadn’t arrived yet as they were finishing the last performances of their Kennedy Center run in Washington, DC, so I had a chance to work with, instead, 15 year-old ballet prodigy Alys Shee and four male dancers from Roxey, Baltimore, and New Jersey Ballets. The process was swift and revealing. The ballet I’m making (over the course of this week) will be the 120th I’ve created, and is only the second time I’ve worked in the studio without music as the driving force in the generation of choreography. I found this new approach very freeing, allowing me to focus solely on craft.
CRAZY DAY! The arrival of the 3 ladies from American Ballet Theatre could not have been more anticipated. They are some of the nicest people I’ve ever met. We got started right away teaching the three ladies the material that was generated the day before by Alys. At a certain point I knew it was time to put it all together in a way that would be meaningful while paying attention to the limited amount of time I have to create the new ballet.
DAYS 3 & 4
Filmmaker Shannon Schwait came today to make a high definition documentary about the process involved with the making of the piece. It was very strange to talk about the dance in an interview. It’s such an intensely personal work, on one hand a reflection on lost love, and on the other, a celebration of love’s potential.
Every once in a while an idea is so clear in my mind that realizing it in the physical space can seem like an anti-climax. Such was the case when, after slapping on a faux ending on day 3, the true ending made itself apparent to me on day 4 after listening to the music for what must’ve been the 200th time! Instead of simply mirroring the music, I decided, instead, to have the piece finish with the curtain lowering 30 seconds after the music finishes while the dancers continue to move at full throttle.
The image was so arresting to me that it made sense to open the ballet with a similar motif – using it as a way to introduce material that will come later in the work. LAST MOVEMENT FINISHED!
DAYS 5 & 6
There were only a few details of the opening movement that needed to be tweaked. A simple canon for 4 couples that originally finished on a long diagonal with the downstage couple facing toward the audience needed to be reworked – The first couple that finishes en pose couldn’t see the last couple complete the canon, which is the cue for all to continue in unison.
Dance writer, Heather Desaulniers, was in the studio, as well, while I finished work on the middle movement, created for Devon and 3 men. A very tricky final lift involving Junio, Enton, and Devon had to be worked out with spotters a half dozen times. Just before the end of rehearsal we were able to link the three sections together for the first time.
To my great surprise I was able to finish the piece on the 5th day – a day sooner than anticipated. I’m certain it had everything to do with the talent and energy of the dancers as well as getting an early start – the day before the arrival of the women from ABT – with Alys and the 4 men. The news that a massive snowstorm would hit on performance day had everyone questioning whether to persevere or postpone. With Super Bowl Sunday the following day and several dancers needing to catch international flights, Baltimore Ballet directors, Cem and Elysabeth Catbas, decided to reschedule the Gala for Sunday, March 28, 2010.