‣ It is quite unique (possibly, unprecedented?) for a choreographer to create a hip hop piece for a ballet company. How did this commission come about?
My cousins, Charles and Rose Flachs, danced with Marcello earlier in their career and remained close friends.
At Charles’ recent birthday Zoom (how very Covid-era), my Mom was bragging about some of my recent choreography projects and Marcello got the idea that bringing me to Tulsa could create a unique collaboration. He emailed me the next day and we met on zoom.
I could tell Marcello had great energy and a forward-thinking vision of ballet. I was so excited about what could be possible as I had never set work on a ballet company before, and I love putting myself in a room where I never
thought I would be.
I had had a bit of experience working with ballet dancers previously, but not a full company.
It all happened really fast and, before I knew it, I was quarantining in Tulsa and getting ready to work.
‣ What was the beginning of the process like?
Everyone was a bit nervous at first. Although the hip hop/ballet crossover is a plot of many popular dance films, what would it really be like to set work on dancers who speak a different language?
This was also my first time back in a studio creating something totally new since the pandemic began. How would it be to try and connect through masks? Would I even remember how to choreograph after so long? But as soon as we started, excitement took over and I quickly became inspired about all the possibilities of where our collaboration would take us.
I prepared a bunch of phrases so I would have material to teach on the first day. Instantly, I could feel the energy of the room and we all fearlessly dove in. The vibe in the studio was electric and somehow, we just clicked.
It felt so good and so special to all be together making something new. The dancers were open to what I was teaching them, and I was so impressed not only by their technical skills, but also about how they work. Tulsa Ballet is filled with truly incredible artists.
Hip hop is a really broad term and encompasses a lot of specific movement styles – bboying, locking, popping, waving, etc. I wanted to see how the dancers took to these different styles and what styles might start to create new concepts when fused with ballet.
I wouldn’t say I’m creating a hip hop piece on ballet dancers, but rather we are exploring what happens when you start to mix these two movement languages together to create something totally new. For me, this is much more exciting. I’m always interested in fusion and creating things no one has done before.
‣ What specifics can you share with us about the new work, i.e. storyline, music, costuming, staging etc.?
For my piece, While You Were Gone, I wanted to look at the idea of the ghost light (For anyone who doesn’t know, a ghost light is a single bulb on a stand that is left on overnight in a theatre after all the workers have gone home. Some people think it is simply a safety light, while others believe the light is left on so the “ghosts of performers past” can have a light to still perform on stage at night instead of haunting the theatre during the day.)
With all theaters closed, I imagined all these ghosts having a year to put on a performance and what they might create while the audiences were gone for so long. So in my piece, the dancers play the ghosts.
There are twenty-eight dancers in the piece, so I am exploring a lot of different ways ghosts could move and their relationships to the light itself. Sometimes the ghosts are very aggressive, other times they are joyous and playful. I imagined the ghosts having their own relationships and created a pas de deux for principle dancers Madalina Stoica and Arman Zazyan which explores a complicated love separated by the light and uses the breaking concept of threading mixed with lifts and floorwork.
Although most of the piece is done in socks, I created a section with women on pointe. I’ve always wanted to explore pointe work and found this created a very powerful character.