by Diane Claytor
Diablo Ballet’s latest performance, Body and Soul, is February 3-4 at Walnut Creek’s Del Valle Theatre (1963 Tice Valley Blvd.) This soulful program features the romantic duet from Mercurial Manoeuvres, by Broadway’s “An American in Paris” Tony award- winning choreographer Christopher Wheeldon; the classically spirited 2nd Act Pas de Deux from Don Quixote; a World Premiere by award-winning Canadian choreographer, Sonya Delwaide, Trait d’union; and the Diablo Ballet premiere of When in Doubt, an ensemble piece driven by spoken word choreographed by Robert Dekkers and set to Jacob Wolkenhauer’s hypnotic score.
Below is some wonderful information on each of these upcoming repertoires.
Last April, when Christopher Wheeldon was interviewed on the venerable 60 Minutes, reporter Lesley Stahl called him “one of the most celebrated choreographers in the world today; turning the tradition-bound dance form into something athletic, sensual and edgy.” Diablo Ballet audiences will have the opportunity to experience that incredible talent during their upcoming show, “Body and Soul.”
Born in England, Wheeldon began dance lessons at 8 years old; from age 11-18, he trained at London’s Royal Ballet School. According to his listing in the Encyclopedia of World Biography, even in those early days, “hints of his future as a choreographer shone through. ‘I enjoyed being the center of attention, being bossy,’” he told the Washington Post. At 17, Wheeldon, a Gold Medal winner at the international dance competition, Prix de Lausanne, joined London’s Royal Ballet Company.
An injury two years later presented Wheeldon with a life-changing opportunity. According to the Encyclopedia of World Biography, “While recovering…, Wheeldon was lying on his sofa with a bag of frozen peas on his ankle…, watching endless hours of television. A commercial promising a free plane ticket to New York City for everyone who bought a Hoover vacuum came on. Wheeldon bought the Hoover and claimed his ticket.” Healed, Wheeldon took the trip, visited the NYC Ballet Company and was invited to join; in 1998, he was promoted to soloist.
As much as he enjoyed dancing, Wheeldon found that he was equally passionate about choreography. In the spring of 2000, Wheeldon, only 28 years old, quit dancing to focus his energies on choreography. Peter Martins, director of the NYCB, created a position for Wheeldon, naming him the company’s first artist in residence. His first choreographed ballet in this role had its world premier in January 2001. It received excellent reviews as well as the London Critics’ Circle Award for Best New Ballet. Following his choreography for Variations Serieuses later that year, Anna Kisselgoff, considered the dean of American dance critics, wrote in the New York Times, “No ballet choreographer of his generation can match his imaginative use of the classical vocabulary.” And that is what the budding choreographer became known for: his ability to modernize the classical ballet
without sacrificing its strength and beauty. Wheeldon credited his training. “I feel quite…grateful for growing up in the environment of theatrical story ballets and a very solid, very old tradition in ballet,” he said. He won countless awards for his many ballets, and more than one New York critic called him “the best thing to happen to ballet for 50 years.”
Wheeldon created Mercurial Manoeuvres for the NYCB Diamond Project festival of new choreography; it was the last work he created while still dancing with the company. According to a 2011 review in the New York Times, in this “witty and cheerful” piece, Wheeldon’s “command of stage space, group formations and dance vocabulary keep the eye constantly satisfied and stimulated. He does so in intelligent, sensitive response to his music. His control of intersecting verticals, horizontals and diagonals is masterly.” NYCB’s Tyler Angle, who danced in Mercurial Manoeuvres in 2014, noted that Wheeldon is very specific. “…He likes the arms to carve certain shapes through the air, he knows very well how to keep very complex movement organized that allows the audience to see it simply…the music (Dmitri Shostakovich’s Concerto in C minor) sounds very serious,…the scale of the work is there but I don’t think it takes itself too seriously. I think you can see that in Chris’ choreography.”
Wheeldon, now in his early 40s, has created over 90 works, many for the world’s major ballet companies. He also won a Tony award for best choreography in 2015 for the Broadway production of “An American in Paris.”
Don Quixote was first a book, written by Miguel de Cervantes in 1605. It regularly appears high on lists of the greatest works of fiction ever published, and has even been called the “best literary work ever written.” With its experimental form and literary playfulness, Don Quixote has been referred to as the first modern novel. According to goodreads.com, the book has had enormous influence on a host of writers, from Fielding and Sterne to Flaubert, Dickens, Melville, and Faulkner. The story has influenced painters, illustrators and sculptors and over the years, has been turned into a musical (Man of LaMancha,) a movie, an opera, a tv movie, and, perhaps most famously, a ballet.
Legend has it that the first ballet production of Don Quixote dates back to 1740 in Vienna by Franz Hilverding. In 1869, Marius Petipa, often considered to be the most influential ballet master and choreographer in ballet history, choreographed Don Quixote to the music of Ludwig Minkus for the Bolshoi Ballet in Moscow. This was the beginning of a long and fruitful collaboration between the two men. Aware of the worldly tastes of the Moscow audiences, Petipa incorporated several Spanish folk dances and some theatrical scenes and elements into his production. Two years later, Petipa and Minkus revised the ballet in a far more expanded and elaborate edition for the Imperial Ballet, knowing this audience’s tastes were more sophisticated. They refined the Spanish character of the ballet and placed much greater emphasis on pure classical dancing.
In 1900, budding ballet master Alexander Gorsky staged another variation, this one again for the Bolshoi Ballet. According to pnb.org, Petipa, then 82 years old, was greatly displeased. He described Gorsky’s alterations as “meaningless innovations and changes” and accused him of seriously lowering the quality of his production. “The main change Gorsky made was to heighten the dramatic expression…He scattered the dancers over the stage, thus breaking with the strictly symmetrical lines and patterns of his predecessor. As he explained to a journalist prior to the Moscow premiere, he hated symmetry.”
It is uncertain which aspects of later productions of Don Quixote come from Gorsky and which have been preserved from Petipa’s original production. Today’s productions of the ballet often combine symmetrical scenes in the first act with asymmetrical choreography in the dream scene, which supports the view that present-day versions of Don Quixote bear the hallmarks of both choreographers.
The ballet was brought from Russia by Anna Pavlova’s company in 1924 in an abridged version of Gorsky’s production. The famous Grand Pas de Deux from the ballet’s final scene was staged in the West as early as the 1940s, given first by the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo. The first full revival of the original production in the West was 1962; in 1966, Rudolf Nureyev staged his version for the Vienna State Opera Ballet, with Minkus’ score adapted by John Lanchbery. George Balanchine famously created a modern version in 1965 for the New York City Ballet to the music of Nicolas Nabokov, with Balanchine himself appearing as Don Quixote and Suzanne Farrell as Dulcinea. In 1973, Nureyev filmed his version with the Australian Ballet with Robert Helpmann as Don Quixote. Mikhail Baryshnikov mounted his own version in 1980 for American Ballet Theatre, a production that has been staged by many companies, including the Royal Ballet. Today, the ballet is considered to be among the great ballet classics and, according to sfballetblog.org, “the ultimate romantic comedy.”
Over the years, many dancers have contributed to the fame and glory of the characters. Pnb.org writes that, “They are some of the most challenging roles in the classical ballet repertory. The ballerina needs incredibly strong pointe work technique, her partner has to be able to pirouette endlessly, and light-hearted nonchalance and explosive jumps are demanded of them both. A new standard was set for the role of Kitri in the fifties and sixties by the Russian ballerina Maya Plisetskaya, and this was followed by outstanding interpretations from Gelsey Kirkland from the United States, Sylvie Guillem from France, and Diana Vishneva from Russia, among others.
A 2016 review in the LA Daily News states that Don Quixote is known for its “nonstop bravura dancing.” Diablo Ballet’s Artistic Director, Lauren Jonas, calls Don Quixote “one of my favorite ballets to dance and I’m looking forward to staging the 2nd act Pas de Deux for our company.”
The world premier of Trait d’union by award-winning Canadian choreographer Sonya Delwaide will entertain Diablo Ballet audiences at its Body and Soul program. And, if all goes according to Delwaide’s image of the dance, it may also cause those in attendance to think about the world in which we live and, perhaps, how we can make it better.
The original idea for this piece came from the music, Elegie, written by the French composer Gabriel Faure in 1880. According to Wikipedia, the work features “a sad and sombre opening and climaxes with an intense, fast-paced central section, before the return of the elegiac opening theme.” Delwaide calls it intense, but says “it gets lighter as you go along. It’s real.”
Delwaide’s daughter, a 14-year-old cellist, played this piece years ago and Delwaide “fell in love” with it. “I knew I had to choreograph it,” she said. “I had a really clear image of what the music was telling me. I got so attached to it.” And that’s how it all began.
Through the music, Delwaide began thinking about our world today and why there is such a major divide in our country. Why are we where we are now, she wondered. “And these are the ideas I’m exploring through dance,” she explained.
Two men and a woman are dancing in Trait d’union but, for Delwaide, the female is more than just a woman. “She’s more the positive force between two people who have differences. What do we have in common? What are our differences? How can we build, move forward, even though we have all these differences. The woman represents the commonality,” she continued. Working on this choreography, Delwaide admits, has created more questions, which she hopes may come through: why are our differences so much more powerful than our similarities? Why can’t we build on whatever we have in common rather than become more divided based on our differences?
Describing the repertoire, Delwaide explained that it begins with the two men who seem to be testing their boundaries. When the woman appears, the partnering moves to a new level, reigniting what they have in common and making the men realize they share similarities and can work in unison. “If we keep taking risks with each other, “Delwaide asks, “can we trust and can we then build on that trust?”
Of course, Delwaide is fully aware that the audience may take a different story away with them. “As a choreographer,” she said, “you can think of all these images and all these messages but the bottom line is that the audience makes their own story.” And that’s what’s most important to her. “If they create a story out of what is presented – even if it’s not my story, then I feel I’ve succeeded. For me, it’s important that the audience has an experience and gets something out of what they see.”
Delwaide left Canada for the Bay Area 20 years ago and has been a Professor of Dance at Oakland’s Mills College since 2003. This is her second world premier for Diablo Ballet, the first being Serenade pour Cordes et Corps two years ago and again inspired by a piece she heard her young cellist daughter play. Theclassicalgirl.com called it an “enjoyable melding of contemporary and classical…enough contemporary for those who like that…enough classical for those of us who lean that way.”
When in Doubt
Diablo Ballet’s Resident Choreographer, Robert Dekkers, will premier his When in Doubt, an incredible piece driven by the spoken word and set to Jacob Wolkenhauer’s hypnotic score, at the February Body and Soul Program.
Dekkers is well known to Diablo Ballet audiences and dance enthusiasts throughout the Bay Area. Nominated for an Isadora Duncan Award for “Outstanding Performance-Individual” for his 2012-13 season with Diablo Ballet, Dekkers was also named by DANCE Magazine as a “25 to Watch” artist. He has created six new works on Diablo Ballet since joining the company in 2011. In 2015, the Huffington Post wrote, “Dekkers partners to realize his often cerebral, cutting-edge creations – work that never seems to tread the same ground twice. He has always juggled his roles as dancer, choreographer, teacher, and director of his own small but highly visible company with seemingly superhuman energy.”
When in Doubt is the third collaboration between Dekkers and Wolkenhauer. According to Dekkers, Wolkenhauer was inspired by a Bertrand Russell quote, essentially stating that love is wise, hatred is foolish and we all need to coexist. And this is how When in Doubt begins. This piece was originally presented in 2012 at Post:Ballet, Dekkers San Francisco-based ballet company. At the time, Dekkers told the San
Francisco Chronicle, “We started with the question of faith. How do we know what we know…what we believe.” With the divisiveness the world is experiencing now, Dekkers felt it was important to bring this work to Diablo Ballet at this time. “We have that need to live together, understand each other. We’re all trying to process how to live the belief that we need to coexist. It sounds great when you say it, but how do you actually do it on a day to day basis,” Dekkers said. Wolkenhauer recorded each of the dancers talking and spliced it together, interspersing it with his score. “It’s really interesting what he did with the score,” Dekkers stated. “It’s an interesting use of vocals the way he used the ‘ums’ to make percussive sounds. There’s a feeling of intimacy with the dancers and there’s also an abstraction to it.
“The goal is to explore the question: When in Doubt, that feeling that we can all share” Dekkers continued. Wolkenhauer told the SF Chronicle in a 2012 interview, “I hope these snippets, although used in an abstract way, will capture that moment when you stand up for what you believe. The ballet is about that process of opening your mouth and taking a risk, whether you’re right or wrong.” Each time the ballet is performed, the new dancers comments are recorded and added, which are then woven in to the existing score. “It’s a wonderful tapestry of thoughts and ideas,” Dekkers noted. “It just gives it so much more depth; each time the piece is done it grows and matures.”
Myreveler.com posted about Dekkers last year: he…. “is constantly inventing and scheming up new ways to give audiences an immersive and thought-provoking experience.” No doubt, When in Doubt proves that yet again.
If you’ve already gotten your tickets for this wonderful performance, we look forward to seeing you there. If not, don’t wait another minute! Go to https://lesherartscenter.showare.com/eventperformances.asp?evt=659 or call 925-943-7469.