Expectations, definitely a loaded word, are what you’re hoping to find. I try hard not to have them. I try never to read the program before I watch a performance. I try to empty my mind of any pre-conceived ideas concerning what I am about to see. But how successful can a human be?
Nearly two weeks before I saw Sketch 3: Expectations, I attended an open rehearsal of it that previewed excerpts from the three ballets-in-progress. Discussions with each of the three choreographers, Marc Brew, Val Caniparoli and Amy Seiwert, alternated with the dancing. At the end, a question-and-answer session, moderated by dance writer Mary Ellen Hunt, added the voices of the dancers and the audience into the mix. Thirteen days later, after seeing the three works in the theater, I would say that the rehearsal was the far richer experience. Without the pressure of a bona fide performance, the dancers were free to experiment more, to dance without worrying about being perfect.
The premise of Seiwert’s Sketch series is to provide choreographers with a much-needed supportive environment where they can challenge themselves to take risks they normally would not attempt, and where they can be inspired to re-examine how they produce new work. It would be easy to assume that choreographers who have their own companies work like that all the time, and those who mostly create new commissioned pieces for other companies could feel constrained working in an unfamiliar setting. Yet, we all know single-choreographer companies where the work comes off an assembly line: same steps, different costumes and music. And we’ve seen the itinerant dance-maker who manages to mass-produce for a wider market.
Here the big question is how much does the audience need to know about the process an artist (in any field) uses to create a work? I would say nothing at all – each element in a finished piece needs to speak for itself. Any advance knowledge of the artist’s thoughts concerning the making of the work might reveal that the final product falls short of the creator’s own vision, even if it is still brilliant on its own. Many times ignorance really is bliss.
Marc Brew, an Australian based in Scotland, works both in the UK and internationally. He trained in classical ballet and danced with the Australian Ballet, PACT Ballet South Africa, CandoCo Dance Company, was Associate Director of Scottish Dance Theatre and currently directs his own Marc Brew Company. He has a lot of experience in different dance forms, not just ballet, while the other two choreographers on this program depend on ballet as the foundation for their work.
After an announcement that the program order has changed, the evening opens with Brew’s Awkward Beauty. This title proves very apt as the choreography portrays the relationships between the dancers with raw honesty. All is not smooth and neatly executed as in a Romantic ballet, nor always based on the ballet vocabulary. The result can be a unison section punctuated by deviations in direction or timing or, at other times, a disjunct group of dancers resolving into harmony, only to slowly succumb to entropy and disorder. The closing pas de deux covers the whole gamut of human feelings between a woman and a man, all in under five minutes. (And you thought speed dating was quick.) The point is not about sheer velocity – it’s about depth and how to express it efficiently. Katherine Wells throws herself into Ben Needham-Woods’s arms. He cradles her tenderly until she slowly extricates herself as tensions develop between them. They separate and he lies on the floor on his stomach. She literally steps on his back with both feet and stands firm in her determination. He slowly rises to his hands and knees while she remains poised upright. They gradually reconnect and he lifts her aloft by her hips into a swan dive over his head. Slowly they begin to turn, faster and faster in an ultimate display of trust as the lights slowly fade.
Val Caniparoli is a veteran choreographer with more than thirty years of experience making new work for dozens of domestic as well as international companies, including the San Francisco and Smuin Ballets. It’s not surprising then that his Triptych is meticulously crafted. Every step, every phase fits together like an ancient Roman mosaic. Brandon Freeman is one dancer who has found his own path through the steps and the music and has tapped into an emotional vein. He inadvertently points out that not everyone has arrived at the same place. The lack of unity in both the physical shapes and their timing could easily be fixed with more rehearsal, but discovering the deeper motivations and meanings will depend on each dancer.
Artistic Director and chief choreographer of Imagery, Amy Seiwert, is also choreographer-in-residence for Smuin Ballet and creates new work for many regional professional ballet companies across the United States. Her The Devil Ties My Tongue closes the show with some solid choreography. What it misses in innovation, it makes up for in showing definite growth away from her usual reliance on the pas de deux to anchor or fill out her work. A very warm audience enthusiastically shows its appreciation of the lovely dancers in these choreographic premiers.
Seiwert’s Imagery is a contemporary ballet company which is also basically a pick-up troupe. All eight dancers have previously worked with Seiwert in various contexts; they just haven’t danced together as an ensemble. With only four weeks to create three new ballets by three very different choreographers, who are all trying to push into new territory, something has to give. The result is a performance that still needs more polishing. These dancers are all fine technicians who hunger to make the very different styles work on, in and through their bodies. What they really need is more time to distill the choreographic material and to intuitively feel each other’s musicality and spatial awareness. The decisions concerning the scope and structure of the entire project, not just the performance, are related to the budget, which is never large enough. I would suggest several changes: using different cast sizes so that the entire company is not dancing in every piece (good idea to have understudies, too), extending the rehearsal period by two weeks, and making the final showing low-key – without costumes and lights – so the choreography alone can be the focus.