Spring repertory programs are traditionally tough sells for dance companies. Unlike big story ballets such as “Swan Lake” or “The Nutcracker,” they feature shorter, more contemporary works the audience might not know. Yet they’re the lifeblood of ballet, the creativity that keeps the art form alive.
Tacoma City Ballet has made the smart move of using that creativity to promote its own Spring Dance Extravaganza this weekend – by offering two public previews of the whole creative process by its three in-house choreographers.
“For (our fall production) Haunted Theater and ‘Nutcracker,’ our primary audience is children, with the traditions around the holidays,” said ballet mistress Melissa Goldman. “That’s not something a mixed repertory has.”
Goldman, plus artistic director Erin Ceragioli and assistant director Joel Myers, spent a lot of time figuring out just who that repertory audience is – and how to attract them.
In the end, it was Myers, an accomplished modern dancer and choreographer who recently joined TCB, who came up with the idea to hold previews with each choreographer explaining how they came up with their work, and showing excerpts with TCB dancers and local musicians. It had been a long while since the company had done such a preview, but the first was so popular that they offered a second.
“If we want to get Tacoma audiences excited about what we’re doing, we’ve got to get them educated,” Goldman said. “I do think it helps (to build the audience).”
Such previews do go a long way toward demystifying ballet. It also helps that TCB choreographers are using local musicians and artists as inspiration, as well as memories, relationships and the environment itself.
Ceragioli’s program opener is a great example. “Angelus Angelorum” was inspired years ago by glass artist Dale Chihuly’s spatter-paint technique: Ceragioli asked him to paint some black unitards, then added flowing fabric “wings” in the predominant color.
On hearing TCB rehearsal pianist Elizabeth Naccarato improvise a flowing Chopin-esque piece, Ceragioli decided to choreograph a work to one of the pieces on Naccarato’s subsequent CD, creating solos and pas de deux to look like angel statues coming to life – a tribute to the Venetian angels that have, in turn, inspired Chihuly.
Ceragioli’s other piece, “Whale Songs,” was written 20 years ago to the soundtrack of humpback whale songs. Created for a regional festival, it won a national award from Dance America and is still captivating. Dancers flow over, under and around a 60-foot-by-60-foot square of undulating blue and green silk.
Myers’ choreographic style is heavily influenced by the companies he’s danced for, including Seattle’s Spectrum, plus his own athletic grace.
Two of his works use local musicians: “20” features music by Seattle’s Buddy Ross and was created collaboratively with the dancers, while “Songs for my Father” – an homage to Myers’ late father, a contemporary dance and gospel music fan – has guitarist Alex Tapia playing and singing live on stage with his band in gospel-based numbers. The ensemble dancing is reminiscent of Martha Graham, highly unified with strong arm gestures, spins and occasional claps in a work that synthesizes both personal grief and happy memory.
Myers’ other work, “Grand Hotel,” is a comedy about flirtatious hotel patrons influenced by golden-era Hollywood icons such as Fred Astaire and the Marx Brothers.
The third choreographer is Travis Goldman, a longtime TCB dancer and teacher whose creative work stems both from his extensive experience in partner lifts as well as his own cello playing. Goldman wrote the dance steps and the music in “For Suzy” simultaneously, intertwining the two; the music will be played live by cellist Taryn Tieu. “Adnama,” meanwhile, explores the contrasting rhythms of a Bach violin concerto.
As all three choreographers took turns to explain their work at the TCB previews, answering audience questions and asking dancers to break down phrases into movements, one thing stood out: the sheer amount of work that goes into a program of all-new ballet.
“Sometimes a minute of dancing will take hours of choreography,” Ceragioli explained to an audience member who asked how long the whole process takes.
“Or a month,” Goldman added.
But it’s worth it for dancers, who get to expand their repertoire and abilities, and the audience, who sees something quite new created in Tacoma.
Rosemary Ponnekanti rosemary.ponnekanti @thenewstribune.com 253-597-8568