By Liesl Ferreira
The arts are alive and well in suburbia, as evidenced by the fact that the eight dancers of Diablo Ballet recently wrapped up their 2013 season at the Inside the Dancer’s Studio, a small venue located at the Shadelands Arts Center Auditorium in Walnut Creek, where no more than a few decades ago was fertile farmland. I doubt if the hardy people who formerly worked those orchards had ever even heard the name George Balanchine! Yet there I was, one generation later, watching an excerpt from Balanchine’s Stars and Stripes being performed not more than twenty feet in front of me. (Very cool.)
The intimate nature of Diablo Ballet’s event touched me, and reminded me of a similarly special experience I had at the Indianapolis Museum of Art. They have a small Rembrandt self-portrait there, so small that at the time, I perversely fantasized about sticking it in my bag, an idea generated by the total absence of guards. Anyway, the museum was empty the day I went, as I suspect it often is, so I was all alone in the gallery space with the Rembrandt. I stared at it very closely, for a long time, in total silence. As crazy as it sounds, the painting talked to me. Rembrandt whom I had studied in art school, and whose major works I had seen in the Louvre and the Met, revealed himself to me in a way he never had before. And he has remained one of my favorite painters ever since that random trip to Indianapolis twenty years ago.
I needed to digress from ballet to illustrate my point: to fall in love with an art form, or a particular artist, a spark of connection needs to be born. The origin of the spark is as mysterious and magical as any inception; In theory, it can happen anywhere. Realistically though, how often does it happen when we have to wait in line for an hour, are elbowed by a pushy tourist, or forced to listen to the inane babble of the loud person sitting next to us? If art is a dialog between artist and viewer, we need silence and space for it to take place. We need to be free from distraction.
I left Diablo Ballet’s performance with a new interest in choreography, yes, a spark of appreciation and fascination. While I have always appreciated the beauty of balletic movement, quite frankly, I never gave a thought to the actual art of choreography before. It somehow got lost amongst the costumes, the scenery, and in the case of The Nutcracker, even the special effects.
So for me, the Balanchine Pas de Deux was enlightening. For the first time, I found myself wondering about the relationship between the steps, wondering what the dancers were going to do next, and genuinely appreciating the way the two dancers moved together through time. I felt the essence of choreography to be a symphony of movement, something I had previously missed completely.
What further set the Diablo Ballet experience apart was the Company’s direct interaction with the audience at the end. What a delight to hear Choreographer and dancer, Robert Dekkers talk about his artistic process, and how he worked collaboratively with the entire company to create the piece that debuted that same evening. If ballet is a story told without words, what could be better than hearing from its author? Robert’s answers were thoughtful and introspective. He spoke about his career, both with humor and self effacement.
The evening culminated in some laughs when the audience helped choreograph a brief ballet. We chose the scene, characters, and plot, and in a few minutes, Lauren choregraphed a short ballet that along with the help of the live musicians, truly brought our concept to life. If I wasn’t hooked on choreography before that point, I certainly was after. It was akin to a gesture drawing and while admittedly brief, still gave a big idea of how the process as a whole works.
While there are limits imposed on a company due to its small size, I can imagine that same small size would also be liberating. Where else can you hang out with ballerinas and eat brownies after a performance? If I wasn’t so worried about being exposed as the dance neophyte I really am, I would have asked them a thousand silly questions.
As with most precious things in life, bigger ballet isn’t better. And as far as Diablo Ballet goes, good things definitely come in little packages.
For more information on Diablo Ballet, click here.
Liesl Ferreira is a native of the Bay Area who developed a passionate interest in the arts while living in Paris for more than a decade. She believes that the arts belong everywhere, in every life, and that the ability to express our humanity, or be touched by an expression of this humanity, is inherent in us all. She devotes her life to her family, photography, and Iyengar Yoga. Liesl is a wonderful volunteer with Diablo Ballet.