Classic, Contemporary and Controversial: Previewing the Upcoming Bay Area Ballet Season

By Heather Desaulniers

October 1, 2011, PUBLISHED BY IN DANCE

The San Francisco Bay Area is home to a vibrant and diverse professional ballet scene: inventive choreography, groundbreaking collaborations, committed artistic staff and highly-skilled dancers. Companies here are able to appeal to a wide audience by marrying ballet’s historic lineage with twenty-first century innovation. The resulting programs have something for everyone–the classics, the contemporary and sometimes, even the controversial. Over the next two months, several local troupes will embark on their 2011-2012 seasons with productions that speak to this compelling combination of past and present.

Alonzo King LINES Ballet kicks off their season this October at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts with 1998’s Who Dressed You Like a Foreigner? and a full-company premiere that examines Sephardic music. Choreographer and Artistic Director Alonzo King has developed a Fall show that is all about the relationship between before and now. First comes logistics–the program combines an older piece with an original ballet. Then comes the creativity–a choreographic debut in which the Sephardic musical tradition (something old) is expressed through contemporary ballet (something new). Questions of origin, composition and value permeate the artistic field right now and King suggests that in dance, answers come from simultaneous research into history and newness. As King says, “you see the ancient and the current represented in form; it is the past and present as now, where nothing is as old and new as the truth.” Clearly, October’s performance has a strong focus on the mysterious independence and interdependence of yesterday and today.

Music is the inspiration and starting point for many choreographers and this is certainly true in the case of LINES Ballet’s current project. King explains, “music is a communicator that is beyond words, a consciousness that has been put into audible form, a world to enter–from that place of understanding, the choreographic work can begin.” In this new piece, the music is everything: the impulse, the motivation, the foundation. And, this particular choice is a challenging one. The five hundred year history of Sephardic music has resulted in a form that is broad, complex and varied. King is up to the challenge, working to discover what this music has to say choreographically. At the same time, he remains aware that with existing music (as opposed to collaborating with a living composer), there is “a danger of the dance becoming a surface illustration as opposed to a creative dialog in which the music and the movement are actively engaged.” Alonzo King and LINES Ballet are on a journey of artistic exploration, seeking a penetrating understanding of Sephardic music, a real connection between past and present and a deep visual communication of their concept.

Post:Ballet begins its third season with an integrative performing arts evening Friday October 28th at 111 Minna Gallery in San Francisco. Dubbed “Post:Arts” it will feature the choreography of Artistic Director Robert Dekkers. Dekkers has developed a pas de deux theme for this show, choosing three distinct duets: excerpts from 2009’s Milieu, 2010’s I need to be touched, and a world premiere. These three works are a living display of the repertory lineage being established in this young company; one from the first concert, one created during the second season, and a new ballet, which Dekkers shares, “will be a starting point for a piece to be shown this summer–here, we will be foreshadowing what will happen; giving the audience a taste of things to come.” A combination of older pieces and new material demonstrates the growth, progress and evolution of both the repertoire and the company itself.

Dekkers’ choreography has an unmatched level of accessibility, where the classical ballet oeuvre meets avant-garde collaboration, without losing or compromising the integrity and message of either entity. In addition, Dekkers has no qualms about utilizing ballet’s physical vocabulary while questioning the structural assumptions that still exist within the traditional school. He is like a master chef, who possesses an acute sense of how ingredients fit together, creating a clear finished product. His approach to dancemaking often begins with an abstract idea or concept and as the piece materializes, there is an emerging (albeit non-linear) narrative. The personal becomes part of the puzzle. An intimacy of experience is shared in these three ballets, though Dekkers is cognizant of “not being too literal so individuals can make it their story too” because “art can be so many things to so many different people.”

Post:Arts takes dance out of the proscenium arch and introduces it to a different and possibly new audience; those who may be committed to seeing visual art, photography and music, but not necessarily ballet. Increased exposure and accessibility is an integral part of Post:Ballet’s vision. Many of the Post:Ballet artistic collaborators will also be showcased at the October event, where they will be performing original music scores, producing visual art and contributing photography installations. Dekkers relays that the 111 Minna Gallery evening is about “cultivating artistic expression across disciplines and growth in the community where collaboration in the arts can lead to curiosity” and hopes that it will be an opportunity “to encourage audiences to check out more art.”

For Diablo Ballet’s 18th season, Artistic Director Lauren Jonas has constructed a mixed repertory evening with works that “are exciting and challenging for the dancers to perform and for the audience to see.” Opening November 18th at the Lesher Center for the Arts in Walnut Creek, her chosen program is a spectacular who’s who of current ballet choreographers: Val Caniparoli, Dominic Walsh and Septime Webre. Diablo Ballet already has several Caniparoli works in their repertoire and, this Fall, the company will premiere a brand new ballet he created directly with this talented group of dancers. Caniparoli’s much-anticipated new piece will offer a study of opposing forces, based on the mythological ideas of the phoenix and the dragon. There is no better concept for this brilliant artist, who has a gift for blending contrasting entities. He understands how classical syntax fits with forward-thinking vision and how to employ the traditional ballet lexicon in new and unexpected ways. Jonas and the cast are excited to share this new piece with the Diablo Ballet audience, noting that “it is a rare opportunity and extremely special gift to work one on one with such an exceptional choreographer.”

Over one hundred years ago (April 19, 1911 to be exact), the curtain rose on the Ballet Russes first performance of Michel Fokine’s Le Spectre de la Rose. Based on a Theophile Gautier poem, the ballet shares the dream of a young woman who, after receiving a rose at her first formal ball, comes home to imagine that it has come to life to dance with her. Fast forward to Houston 2006, where celebrated choreographer Dominic Walsh has envisioned and composed a new, contemporary version of Le Spectre for his company, Dominic Walsh Dance Theater. Recently added to Diablo Ballet’s repertoire and part of their November program, Walsh’s composition differs greatly from Fokine’s original ballet, yet still has the power to resonate with patrons across the board. For those who enjoy a more traditional take, Jonas notes that Walsh has “kept the classical music, the idea and the mood,” and for those who favor edgier choreography, she shares that “his pas de deux has a unique technical approach with an important sense of groundedness and connection to the floor.”

Rounding out Diablo Ballet’s Fall line-up is Septime Webre’s 1995 piece Fluctuating Hemlines which Jonas describes as “an exciting, athletic experience that never stops – movement in a continual crescendo, accumulating and building over its entire thirty minute duration.” Part of the Diablo Ballet repertory for almost ten years, this broad-reaching work will charm the purists with its choreography on pointe and will speak to the modernists with its percussion score. Diablo Ballet has chosen a smart, energetic, varied program that has traditional roots and contemporary wings, and its audience is sure to leave the theater feeling an inspiring connection with this company.

With a wealth of offerings ranging from a choreographic study of 15th Century music to new media collaborations to contemporary takes on the classics, the Bay Area’s Fall ballet season will keep you coming back for more.

For performance information, please visit: Alonzo King LINES Ballet:; Post: Ballet:; Diablo Ballet:

This article appeared in the October 2011 issue of In Dance.

Heather Desaulniers is a freelance dance writer based in Oakland. She is the Editorial Associate and SF/Bay Area columnist for CriticalDance, the dance curator for SF Arts Monthly, and contributes to several other dance-focused publications, including formerly to DanceTabs.