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"A step — or leap — into this century"
Fort Wayne Ballet's Director's Choice looks towards the future
By Michael Summers
Fort Wayne Reader
In many professional fields these days, the trend is towards specialization, with any particular field divided up into segments or boxes.
But Fort Wayne Ballet artistic director Karen Gibbons-Brown says the current world of ballet and dance is more like a wheel, with no distinct lines separating one form of dance from another.
To push the metaphor a little further, training in traditional ballet might be the hub of this wheel, something that informs all the other types of dance. “There is such a blend now,” Gibbons-Brown explains. “(as a dancer) you have to be very clear in your classical technique, yet tomorrow you might have to do a modern dance piece, or jazz, or whatever. Where does that take you? We often struggle with that. I think we’ll come back to being a little more defined, but right now, it’s a circle.”
Gibbons-Brown adds that the classics are still essential. Last spring, Fort Wayne Ballet performed Giselle, perhaps the ballet of the romantic era, and later this season they’ll stage A Midsummer Night’s Dream. “Those are very important to us, to our history, to our legacy, to what’s coming ahead for dance,” she says. “But if we don’t address how to stay relevant in our field, we’re not really training our dancers, whether they’re students or professionals. We’re not really gearing them to what’s going on around us in the world of dance.”
Which brings us to Director’s Choice, the program opening the Fort Wayne Ballet’s 52nd season the first weekend of October. Consisting of nine different and diverse pieces of original choreography, Gibbons-Brown says the showcase is an attempt to experiment and explore different movement qualities and different kinds of repertoire. In other words, it’s a chance to leave the pointe shoes in the box (or locker, or gym bag… wherever you leave pointe shoes, though they do appear in one section). “For our audience, it’s like the weather: it changes every few minutes. If you don’t like it, stick around, there might be something that interests you. But for the dancers, it’s really one of the ways in which they develop their artistry, their dynamic, their approach to dance.”
A couple pieces in the program were performed this past summer at FWB II, which, if you recall, took place in the parking garage of the city-county building. Obviously, some changes were necessary in bringing one of the works — “Machines,” choreographed by FWB alumnist David Ingram (see FWR #103) — to a formal setting. On one hand, a little of the original vision is lost; on the other, there’s less distraction and more of a focus on movement. Though the piece’s “industrial” feel might lend itself to various effects, Gibbons-Browns says that Ingram eschewed any “extras” in adapting the piece for the stage.
The other piece from FWB II is called “Reflecting of Life,” choreographed by Dillon Shifferly and set to Rufus Wainwright’s “Agnes Dei.”
Ingram isn’t the only FWB alum contributing to this year’s Director’s Choice. Chelsea Teel-Wilcox, formerly with the Kansas City Ballet and now with Ballet Arizona, offers up a comedy called “Strung Out,” based around the idea of marionettes reacting to their puppeteer. It’s a humorous take on the various ways people go through the motions or reacting to events they have no control over.
On the other end of the emotional spectrum is “Pachakuti” by FWB faculty member Shannon Cuykendall. The title is a Mayan word that basically means the transition time between one disaster and the next. Cuykendall is from Iowa, and the piece addresses her feelings about the floods in that area last Spring. “This is one of those pieces that comes from really having something to say,” says Gibbons-Brown. “It’s very poignant.” The piece incorporates visual effects like projections and news footage.
Cuykendall also contributes “Puzzle Pieces.” Set to contemporary music, “Puzzle Pieces” is about the differences and commonalities between three styles of ballet — classical, modern, and contemporary. Gibbons-Brown explains that it demonstrates how the steps may kinetically be put together the same way, but how different shoes, different body, different angle, make it look like a different piece.
The FWB’s character ensemble director Eleonara Pokhitonova Hartung contributes a Polish czardas (a folk dance), and staff member Gavin McNally offers “The Piece That Shall Not Be Named,” consisting of fun vignettes inspired by, as Gibbons-Brown tells me (ahem), “a very popular book series.”
The final two pieces are set by Kim Sagami, a friend of Gibbons-Brown from the Joffre Ballet. The first features the FWB’s performing “level ones” and is set to Ben Folds’ “Gracie,” while the second is set to music from the opera Don Quixote.
In keeping with the eclectic nature of the program, part of the “goal” of the Director’s Choice is to not only serve as a showcase for the dancers, but let choreographers try new things. “There are so many options for dancers today,” Gibbons-Brown says. “While we’re holding true to our ballet background and our heritage and our training, we’re still evolving. This is a step in to this century.”
The Fort Wayne Ballet presents Director’s Choice
Friday, October 3 and Saturday, October 4 at 8 pm
Arts United Center_303 East Main Street
Tickets: $15/adult; $10/seniors; $10/children and youth (ages 3-18)
Call the Fort Wayne Ballet at (260) 424-9646 for tickets, or drop by their offices at 324 Penn Avenue, M-F 1-6 pm