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Fort Wayne Ballet, Too offers up edgy, original work
By Michael Summers
Fort Wayne Reader
These days, ballet companies aren’t “just” ballet companies. True, traditional ballet is demanding enough, and it forms the foundation of everything a modern company does, but ballet companies often encompass a huge range of dance, and are always incorporating new forms.
“One of the things that’s important for us to do as artists is expand the box, try new things and try new movements,” says Karen Gibbons-Brown, the Artistic Director of the Fort Wayne Ballet.
But like anything with a long heritage and tradition, finding room for new work in the ballet world can be difficult. Many of the tried-and-true classics are often updated anyway, with new talent eager to prove their skills by tackling pieces that have become standards. And unfortunately, there are also less artistic reasons for that umpteenth revival of, say, La Esmerelda: there’s a risk the audience might not turn up for something new.
Yet there is new work going on all the time in the dance world, and for that edgier work, the work by new choreographers that might help push the discipline in a different direction, you have to a little off the main stage. Or, as in the case with the Fort Wayne Ballet this summer, off-season. “There’s room (in the ballet world), but there’s not always a willingness,” Gibbons-Brown says. “It’s a catch-22. To do something edgy on a main stage, you have to prove yourself first. And how do you prove yourself unless you have the opportunity to do it?”
That’s part of what the Fort Wayne Ballet is trying to do with Fort Wayne Ballet, Too, a free live performance on June 12 of an original work, set in the parking lot of the City-County Building. Dancer David Ingram choreographed the piece, a three-part work with each part set to vastly different styles of music — piano-driven, percussive, and industrial. It’s not Ingram’s first time working with the Fort Wayne Ballet; last summer, the company performed his take on Swan Lake in the fountains of Freimann Square.
Ingram started his dancing career at the Fort Wayne Ballet and after college joined the Louisville Ballet. His stint in Louisville lasted three years, and he is currently at the North Carolina Dance Theater in Charlotte.
The performance on June 12 will be the culmination of what Ingram and Gibbons-Brown call a “two-week choreographic experiment.” It’s not as technical or intimidating as it sounds. Ingram and two of his colleagues — Adam Scher and Pete Lay — work with the dancers at Fort Wayne Ballet to develop this new work. Basically, FWB provides a safe, nurturing environment with studio space and talented dancers where Ingram, Scher, and Lay can experiment with movement that may not always feel comfortable to the dancers, at least initially, but could lead the way to something new.
A lot of dancers try to transition into choreography as their career begins to wind down. At 26, Ingram is not only very far from the end of his performance career, but he’s younger than most choreographers. Still, he’s choreographed several works, and to hear him tell it, choreographing a piece sounds like a natural extension of performance. “Most of the really big choreographers were dancers,” he says. “I don’t know if something… bothered them enough that they thought ‘hmmm, I need this to happen’ or ‘I think it would be great if this happened.’ That’s how I feel.”
It was that ability that gave him his first big break in a ballet company. He was cast as an understudy, and stepped in when the principle couldn’t make it. “I had a very clear idea of where I thought the movement should go,” Ingram says. The fact that Ingram knew the part so well anyway made the choreographer, Adam Hoagland, open to Ingram’s ideas, and working with Hoagland taught Ingram about the give-and-take between performer and director. “There are certain choreographers that want a dancer to have a say, because they can tell a dancer what to do, but the dancers are in the hot seat,” Ingram says. “There has to be a ‘how does this feel when you do it?’ It has to go both ways. Nobody can be the boss. Everyone has to listen to everyone else.”
Fort Wayne Ballet, Too takes place over several levels of the City-County Building parking lot, a space suggested to Ingram by the music (by Swedish composer Thomas Laub) which accompanies the “industrial” section. “Hearing that, you want to think of a space very cut and vast and dimly lit, but still in its own right beautiful,” Ingram says.
It’s that contrast that interests him, the idea of quick, fluid movement in a pedestrian and unyielding space, the idea of creating movement in everyday surroundings. “Ballets are beautiful and amazing, but they’re a little bit untouchable,” he says. “I’d like to put the dancers in a situation that everyone has been in.”
Whatever the audience sees in Fort Wayne Ballet, Too, Ingram and his collaborators are grateful and enthusiastic for the opportunity to try something different in a welcoming environment. “The dance world is a very different field,” Ingram says. “You have all this… stuff. All these costumes and make-believe and sweat and hard work. A lot of times, you find that on the other side of the fence, it’s not so nice. Being here (at the Fort Wayne Ballet) for this workshop opens up the creative process.”
Fort Wayne Ballet, Too
City-County Building parking garage
June 12th, 2008 at 7:00 p.m.