Creating a World Premiere

by | Sep 4, 2013 | Dance, Performance | 0 comments

By Diane Claytor

Robert Dekkers in Trey McIntyre's 'The Blue Boy'. Photo: David DeSilva

Robert Dekkers in Trey McIntyre’s ‘The Blue Boy’. Photo: David DeSilva

Robert Dekkers is apparently a man who doesn’t require a great amount of rest. And that’s a good thing because, when he told me about all the dance-related activities he has on his very busy schedule, I asked him when he possibly has time to sleep.

If you read the last blog posting, you know that Dekkers, who was recently appointed to serve as Diablo Ballet’s Resident Choreographer, runs his own San Francisco-based dance company, Post:Ballet; teaches ballet classes, as well as choreographs pieces, at four local dance schools; regularly choreographs for other professional dance companies; and participates in Diablo Ballet’s PEEK Outreach program. And that’s all in addition to the choreographing and dancing he does for Diablo Ballet.

“My natural state is to go, go go,” Dekkers said.

Since joining Diablo Ballet two years ago, Dekkers has choreographed three new works for the Company, all of which received glowing reviews. But this year, as Diablo Ballet celebrates its 20th anniversary, Dekkers is looking forward to doing something different, something bigger and grander, something commensurate with a gala celebration.

To begin with, the previous works Dekkers choreographed were performed at Walnut Creek’s Shadelands Arts Center Auditorium, a small, intimate setting. The 20th anniversary performance will be held in March at the Lesher Center for the Arts. This “proscenium stage offers many more options,” Dekkers said. “We can work with lighting, costumes, sets – we can take it somewhere beyond what the smaller theater allows.”

When asked by Lauren Jonas, Diablo Ballet’s Artistic Director, what he’d like to create for the anniversary performance, Dekkers said he’d really like to commission a new musical score. Because of time and expense, many companies are no longer able to commission new works. Diablo Ballet applied for – and received – a grant from the East Bay Community Foundation to help fund a new piece. “It’s so great,” Dekkers exclaimed. “To have the support of the East Bay Community Foundation is really incredible.”


Photo: Richard Calmes

Dekkers was drawn to music created for the San Francisco Contemporary Music Players by composer Samuel Carl Adams, an East Bay native. Dekkers contacted Adams, asking if he would be interested in collaborating on a new work for Diablo Ballet, and he agreed.

When I met with Dekkers several weeks ago, he had not yet met Adams, who was currently traveling, although they had spoken on the phone and scheduled a time to get together.

Adams, son of world famous composer John Adams, comes from a classical background. But he’s now using a lot of technology in his works, Dekkers said, incorporating both synthetic and acoustic sounds, which Dekkers is drawn to. “To have someone with that range is very exciting to me,” Dekkers said.

Dekkers acknowledged that he’s drawn to technology. “It’s generational,” he noted. Although he grew up listening to classical music, he also played Atari and Nintendo. “It’s important for dance to not only be conscious of, but to also utilize, technology. That doesn’t mean everything needs to be techno music, but we should use the reality of our world to our advantage. I’m all about fusion of old and new and finding that balance.”

“It’s so exciting that Lauren is giving me this opportunity,” Dekkers continued. “To be able to start now on something that’s not going to premiere until March…it allows me to dig into a deeper place creatively.”

How Does it all Come Together?

So we’ve got the funding, the choreographer and the composer. Now what, I asked Dekkers. How does it all come together?

Dekkers has some “very, very broad ideas of what the ballet will be” and he plans on discussing these concepts with Adams. “I’m looking at exploring the relationship of 3,” Dekkers said. “I find this in so many areas of my life,” he explained. “Two people can pretty much always relate to one another on some level, but things change when you add a third person.”

Dekkers proceeded to explain the quandary of three, a study of particles in quantum physics. “They’re looking at particles while I’m looking at people,” he said. “I’m very interested in science and how it relates to human interactions.”

With this in mind, his new work will be for three dancers. And that’s the broad overview. “There are so many ways this can go so I’m going to talk to Samuel and get his input.”

From there, Dekkers figures he and Adams will “go back and forth and fine tune our concept.” Dekkers will then make a movement phrase inspired by the conversations and Adams will look at that. “Then he’ll come back with some sort of music phrase,” Dekkers explained, “and I may suggest adding a violin, or substituting a cello for the bassoon, for example. So then we’ll start talking about instrumentation and the sound quality. And then it’s little baby steps forward.”

Dekkers assumes he and Adams will continue going back and forth for a while. “I’ll start to build the work,” Dekkers said, “and he’ll see it and send music back to me. I’ll say something such as, we want to open with a solo and then the second dancer comes in for a duet and then the third dancer enters. We’ll paint a broad picture and we’ll build material for each of these sections,” Dekkers continued. “Adams may send me his ideas based on this and I may shoot back asking to make one part 30 seconds longer or another section more legato.”


Photo: Keiko Guest

According to Dekkers, it’s actually possible that the final score won’t be complete until several weeks before the first performance because of the way he works. “I’ll have a general outline of the music, but I might not have a final piece signed, sealed and delivered until pretty close to the show. This can be scary but I feel it’s the most rewarding way to work because the final product is then a true collaboration as opposed to me asking Adams to just compose music and then I choreograph a dance to it. I’m all about the process,” Dekkers noted.

Hearing Dekkers describe the idea he has for this 20th anniversary work, I asked him if he believes an audience understands the concept by watching a dance performance. (I must admit, I don’t always get what the dancers are communicating through their movements.) Dekkers responded by telling me that he “doesn’t necessarily intend for people, after they’ve seen something, to be able to say ‘oh, that was about this or that.’ But what I do want them to do is feel something. And everyone interprets things differently based on their own personal experiences.”

He went on to describe a solo he had choreographed where the dancer was in a flesh colored unitard, looking almost naked and very vulnerable. “I wanted the audience to feel that vulnerability. Whether or not they understood the concept was far less important.”

As much as Dekkers loves dancing – and he does – choreography is “the ultimate” for him. “It’s so creative. I see things in my head and am always wondering how to transcribe that into a dance and how to then teach it to others.”

Back to my original question to Dekkers about when does he have time to sleep. At only 29, he admitted that the hardest thing for him is “to not do. I’m at a place right now when I want to be ready to take whatever comes my way. There will come a time for me to say no when I get older. Now is the time for me to ‘do’.”

Diablo Ballet’s 20th anniversary gala and world premiere of Dekkers’ new work will be performed on March 6, 2014 at Walnut Creek’s Lesher Center for the Arts. Go to for more information on how you can get tickets for this very special 20th Anniversary Celebration event.

Diane Claytor, a Chicago native, has spent most of her adult life living in the East Bay and working for several different non-profit organizations. Although admittedly not a dance aficionado, she enjoys all types of music and is probably happiest when she’s plugged into her mp3 player listening to whatever the mood dictates.