Never a company to be left behind when descriptives like “entrepreneurial” and “enterprising” are being used, San Francisco Ballet embarks on a completely new initiative this week – 12 new ballets, created by 12 contemporary choreographers, specifically for the company, in a program entitled Unbound: A Festival of New Works. This celebration of contemporary choreography gives a pointer to the future of ballet – an art form which has never stood still, which has constantly been evolving, and will doubtless continue to do so.
These world premieres have been created by some of the finest and best known choreographers of today – Alonzo King, Christopher Wheeldon and Justin Peck; Myles Thatcher, Cathy Marston and David Dawson; Stanton Welch, Trey McIntyre and Annabelle Lopez Ochoa; Edwaard Liang, Dwight Rhoden and Arthur Pita.
The first of the programs opens with a ballet by Alonzo King, founder and artistic director of the Alonzo King LINES Ballet in San Francisco. King has been described by the New York Times as a choreographer with “astonishing originality”, and – according to William Forsythe of Frankfurt Ballet – is “one of the few, true Ballet Masters of our times”.
Each of the visionary and fascinating new works which King creates for LINES Ballet features a collaboration with an artist acclaimed in his or her respective field – musicians, composers and visual artists such as tabla master Zakir Hussain, bassist Edgar Meyer, jazz saxophonists Pharaoh Sanders and Charles Lloyd, Sudanese composer, instrumentalist and vocalist Hamza al Din, Polish composer Pawel Szymanski, jazz pianist Jason Moran, mezzo-soprano Maya Lahyani and architect Chris Haas.
The Collective Agreement is King’s first work for San Francisco Ballet, with an original score by Jason Moran, master of a variety of different musical styles, and an artist with whom King has a particular affinity and a professional relationship of some years’ standing. In a video recorded description of the ballet, King says: “My sense was: let’s create a world, let’s have everyone involved in it and so it’s kind of the collective agreement that we’re not only aiming for harmony, but we want the community to be lifted up …”.
Internationally acclaimed Christopher Wheeldon is certainly one of the most successful of contemporary choreographers – his gift being an enviable ability to create contemporary movements whilst still retaining the style of the classical tradition. With well over thirty ballets in his portfolio – ten of them created for San Francisco Ballet – he has also demonstrated his versatility by directing and choreographing a hugely successful revival of An American in Paris on Broadway and beyond. Little wonder then that he’s been likened to Jerome Robbins, one of the most illustrious names in American dance, and one of two celebrities whom Wheeldon credits with having had a significant influence on him. The other was British choreographer Kenneth MacMillan who encouraged Wheeldon to develop his obvious talent for choreography.
Wheeldon’s ballet for this festival is called Bound To, because – as he says in the interview above – “we … seem so bound to technology. The over-arching theme is the disconnectiveness of our time – how we are perhaps even more connected with our devices than we are with each other ….”. The score is by British composer Keaton Henson, with whom Wheeldon worked on a project for Ballet Boyz, and whom Wheeldon says tends to include everyday sounds in his music – a feature which has the effect of highlighting the rather sobering fact that while we’re so busy concentrating on the technology that governs our lives, the world around us continues to function, without our realization.
As a dancer with New York City Ballet, Justin Peck has performed a wide repertoire of works – by choreographers such as George Balanchine, Jerome Robbins, Peter Martins, Alexei Ratmansky, Benjamin Millepied and also Christopher Wheeldon. Now resident choreographer of the company, he is only the second person in the history of New York City Ballet to hold this position – the first having been Wheeldon. Peck has created more than 10 ballets for NYCB, and his work has been performed internationally by a diverse range of companies which includes Paris Opera Ballet, Dutch National Ballet and LA Dance Project.
Peck’s first commission for San Francisco Ballet, In the Countenance of Kings, was a huge success, and he now follows that with Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming. He describes his style of choreography as a combination of musicality and athleticism, influenced by various other types of dance, notably classical ballet, in which he was trained. The inspiration for this new work came during his last visit to San Francisco, when he was walking around, listening to an album by a group called M83 and “to me” he says, “it really meshed well with the feel of the city, and actually a lot of it is inspired by the way that we dream as human beings”. Unusually, the dancers wear sneakers, which Peck says enabled him to look at the effect that they have on the way that the dancers move, and gave him an opportunity to incorporate different influences in the work.
San Francisco Ballet presents the first of four programs in its Unbound Festival at the War Memorial Opera House, on Friday April 20th, running until May 6th. For more information visit the San Francisco Ballet website.
Information sourced from:
San Francisco Ballet program notes by Cheryl A Ossola