In these times, it’s hard to know with any certainty what the future holds for the ballet world. While there still seems to be plenty of room for the status quo, with big ballet companies staying afloat, it’s a challenge for new, small dance companies to emerge. The audiences for smaller troupes, particularly the younger audiences, are being drawn further into art that engages with technology. To answer that call, Post:Ballet Artistic Director Robert Dekkers, a 25-year-old choreographer, explores the quick changes his generation experiences within a fractured world when his company’s debut at the Cowell Theater this July.
Dekkers, a strong, sensual dancer, known to the Bay Area for his former dancing days with ODC Dance, now performs with Company C Contemporary Ballet. His new company, Post:Ballet appeals to a younger generation who don’t go to concert dance, a generation who Dekkers says can be made to cry by television shows like So You Think You Can Dance. He sees his generation of 20-30 somethings, caught up in technology and how it’s changed the world in the last five to ten years. “This is a generation who texts and doesn’t talk,” says Dekkers. “Dating is like that now. However, I believe that people respond to seeing people.” Company events with food and wine give dance-goers a chance to mingle. Post:Ballet’s slick, state-of-the art website features gorgeous photographs of the dancers all taken during performances. As Dekkers navigates the multiple avenues of communication available today, he sees live performance as essential. The Cowell concerts bring especially composed live music to the stage. “Dance a primal, instinctual thing like singing,” Dekkers says.
His team of eight dancers is largely imported for the upcoming concerts, with dancers coming from such troupes as Ballet Idaho, North Carolina Dance Theater, Oregon Ballet Theater, and Ballet Arizona. Dekkers’ choreography has been presented in Vienna, New York, and most recently he directed Novaballet, a contemporary dance company in Arizona. Dekkers has a strong musical background having played the cello for ten years. His intense interest in creating Post:Ballet centers on collaborating with visual artists and musicians. He’s engaged Marin composer Daniel Berkman for Milieu, a work about evolution. Berkman’s scores combine New Age, electronic, jazz influences, and the stringed gravikord instrument, which will be played live at the Cowell Theater. “The work begins with the energy of creation, then moves towards the animal realm,” says Dekkers. “The pas de deux deals with our abilities as humans to reason and care, and then the work asks where do we go next? The use of technology expressed in the score has vocals set to technological sounds and we’re using a grid-like lighting design. The work returns at the ending to a sense of one-on-one connection.” On an initial viewing Milieu’s vocabulary reveals Dekkers’ fascination with contemporary ballet technique emphasizing partnering, floorwork, and lifts.
Pointe shoes are not a feature of Dekkers’ choreography and many of his works focus on duet work for a central male/female couple. His vocabulary incorporates contractions, parallel-oriented positions, and pedestrian walks across the stage.
Flutter, is a work for three women struggling to find sexual self-expression, and is set to a clapping score by Steve Reich, which Dekkers says expresses society’s relentless expectation of conformity. The second part of Flutter is set to J.S.Bach’s Partita for Solo Violin, which Dekkers says, provides the context for each dancer’s vulnerability and individual expression. Dekkers’ process involves talking to the dancers about issues in their lives and then interpreting that discussion through the creative process. “What I found here was a double standard surrounding female sexuality. That something so natural is stigmatized in different ways at different times. How does a woman in 2010 experience growing up? Some are partying. Some are getting married. There are still the worries about pregnancy—the women continue to provide and pay for birth control. So we looked at individuals developing within a rigid social structure.” The movement for Flutter moves from restricted with lifted shoulders in turned-in positions to what Dekker terms as ‘silky phrases and suggestive rawness.’
Berkeley composer Jacob Wolkenhauer provides the score for Dekkers’ latest piece bearing the working title I Was Born Free. Again Dekkers sees our worlds’ frazzled times. “We hold onto fear, doubt, desires,” says Dekkers. “My yoga instructor says, ‘There is nothing to hold onto and everything to let go of.’ So I’m working with the dancers on movements that deal with looking at different aspects of ‘holding.’”
“We’re experiencing such quick changes and technology can be a wall to hide behind,’ says Dekkers. Despite some wariness, Dekker sees distinct advantages to technology. “A lot of people feel that the internet is not for small companies. But the internet can be a way for artists and small businesses to survive, giving them access to a world community.” Dekkers is working on a short film especially composed for YouTube, which will be comprised of a series of eight short clips, lasting from thirty seconds to a minute in length.
At the Cowell, inner struggle is portrayed in the duet B-Sides staged to music by Grizzly Bear. Department of Eagles provides the score for No One Does It Like You, an erotic love story that two dancers perform on a ladder.
“I’m saddened that it’s harder for people to open up now. After all, our real connections are with people,” says Dekkers. In an increasingly confusing world, it will be up to the next generation of creators to make dance relevant. And it will be even more important to answer the question of how to attract new audiences to ballet. Clearly through the creation of Post:Ballet, Robert Dekkers attempts to answer that question.
This article appeared in the July/August 2010 issue of In Dance.