Rarely do you get to witness the creation of a ballet. Usually you buy a ticket, sit in the theater, and experience the finished product. Recently, however, BalletX invited friends to sit in on a rehearsal of a new work by guest choreographer Norbert De La Cruz III.
A former dancer with the Metropolitan Opera House, Aspen Santa Fe Ballet, and Complexions Contemporary Ballet, De La Cruz has already received significant recognition for his choreography, including a Princess Grace Foundation Award and a Jerome Robbins Foundation’s NEW Essential Works Grant, both in 2012, and he was the winner of Hubbard Street 2’s National Choreographic Competition in 2013.
I arrived at the Performance Garage to see the company’s ten dancers already engaged in the process of learning new material that will premiere at the Wilma Theatre in the company’s Winter Series, February 18 through 22. Artistic director Christine Cox said that new choreographers usually get six weeks to set work, but that the company had accomplished a lot after working with De La Cruz for only five days. She introduced De La Cruz, whose petite frame animated the stage as he proceeded to deconstruct his process.
Getting to the pointe
He confessed that it was his first time choreographing on pointe. He did so at Cox’s insistence because of the company’s commitment to doing contemporary work on pointe, reflecting their understanding of themselves as an extension of the classical ballet paradigm. The dialogue between choreographer and director ended with a compromise — kind of. The piece will be performed on pointe, though not with the traditional pointe vocabulary.
De La Cruz spoke of getting his own pair of pointe shoes in order to understand how they work. He wants the audience to see him in his work and describes his process as the opportunity to figure out how contemporary dance can coexist within classical ballet. He says his intention is not to dismantle classical ballet but to explore the many ways it can be reinvented.
Influenced by Vaganova, improvisation, Ga-Ga, and William Forsythe, De La Cruz’s creative method includes parallelism, organizing the body in halves. He then coordinates toes with fingers, ankles with wrists, knees with elbows, and hips with shoulders. With these coordinates, his dancers move either upper and lower portions of the same side or cross laterally, connecting upper left to lower right and vice versa.
The piece he’s creating with BalletX includes an original dramatic musical soundscape by San Francisco based composer Ben Juodvalkis, a carefully textured percussive piece that offers nuances interlaced with electronic undertones. Costume designer Marion Talon will provide the eccentric abstraction of a tutu in the form of an impeccably designed corset, made to house boning that will be manipulated by the dancers. De La Cruz said he was fascinated with how he could use the costumes to investigate the interplay of space and the body, challenging the audience’s perception of depth and distance.
Ten of Philadelphia’s best will give body (no pun intended) to the shell of De La Cruz’s new work. Hailing from companies like Complexions Contemporary Ballet, Sacramento Ballet, Miami City Ballet, and Atlanta Ballet among others, these classically trained dancers are executing the choreography with a clear understanding there is room for personal interpretation. Their technical ability coupled with their raw passion gives the movement vocabulary a rich consistency that is sure to trap you.
Cox has a gift for appropriately diversifying her company with varying backgrounds, sizes, heights, and ethnicities. This embrace of a more assorted palette of dancers allows choreographers a more stimulating experience.
Taking the nexus of what is perceived as contemporary ballet, De La Cruz manages to transform a relatively popular aesthetic into a more youthful, relevant event.
So what should you expect?
Expect to be wowed.
What, When, Where
BalletX, artistic director, Christine Cox. Winter Series: Works by Norbert De La Cruz III (world premiere), Val Caniparoli (company premiere), Cayetano Soto (U.S. premiere), and Amy Seiwert. February 18 – 22 at the Wilma Theatre, 265 South Broad Street, Philadelphia. 215-546-7824 or www.balletx.org.