Editor's Note: Recently, Urban Tulsa Weekly sat down with Tulsa Ballet's Artistic Director Marcello Angelini to recap last season and look forward to the one coming up.
Angelini is entering his 13th year with TB, and under his leadership, the company has grown to the point it is being considered among the 10 ballets in the nation as well as a major international player by critics at Dance Magazine as well as leaders in the industry. The upcoming season is called "The Classics in Black and White With a Touch of Red."
UTW: Thank you, Marcello, for taking the time to speak with Urban Tulsa Weekly. I'll start off by asking you to recap last season for me. How did it go?
Angelini: The season went extremely well. It was overall a very interesting season because we had a little bit of everything from brand new ballets being created in the company to ballets that are from very important choreographers.
UTW: Did you have a favorite ballet of the season, or was there a moment or event in particular that stands out to you?
Angelini: My favorite part of the season is always bringing new works and new choreographers to Tulsa. I think that's a very important part of what this company's mission is, which is to bridge the gap between the big cities, the big communities in the country, and us. So every time that I can bring a new work, a new major work, to Tulsa, I am extremely happy. And this year we did a lot of that.
Starting from Serenade by George Balanchine, to a work that has been performed by all of the major companies in the world, Por Vos Muero by Nacho Duato. And he's very protective of it. For about five years he would not give it to anybody, and now he's giving it out, but so far there are very few companies that have done it. One is ours, one is the Royal Ballet in London.
And to bring a work like Por Vos Muero that was seen the year before in London, performed by the Royal Ballet, which is one of the top three or four ballets in the world, bringing it to Tulsa is a lot of value to me. Because I can show the same kind of works that are done in London here in our own city.
UTW: Tell me a little bit about the expansion of the Tulsa Ballet studios, the new theater and the money being raised to better TB.
Angelini: We realized about four or five years ago that the company was at a crossroads. We were on the brink of celebrity, if I can say that, and we had two choices: either remain a very good regional company or become a national and international player. And we decided all together that we wanted to grow, we wanted to go to the next level. And in order to achieve this growth, there were steps that had to be in place.
The first one was to put together an integrated campaign, meaning a campaign that would raise money to grow our operating budget, to establish an endowment, which would give us financial security going forth, and we needed more space for the school that was growing exponentially.
The school started four years ago with 60 students in its first year. It grew to 320 last year.
The year before, there were 180. It's growing very, very fast, to the point that now we are fighting for space.
We were lagging behind in the length of contacts for our dancers as well as the number of performances for the company. Up to a year ago we had about 20 performances, and we needed to be between 40 and 70 to be competitive (on national and international levels).
So we decided to build our own theater here in the building and add a series to our offerings. And this series will take place in the theater, in Kivisto Hall. Obviously, (arts patron) Tom Kivisto has been key here with this building.
This new series will take place in this theater with about 11 performances, going from about 20 to 31 in one shot.
The other part of being a national player is creating works here in Tulsa that are exporting art. The first step in being a major player in the ballet world is importing works from choreographers, meaning your company is big enough to perform works by those choreographers, like your museum being important enough to host a Picasso, a Rembrandt.
The next step in being a major player is saying now we create works and export them. Not only import them, having a group or an institution strong enough and important enough to import those works, but the next step is being so good that you can attract the big name choreographers to create work in Tulsa, which we will then export out of the state to other big companies.
How do we do that? With the Kivisto Hall. The series we've added to our season is a series of creation, so from now on, year after year, we will add an entire series of three short pieces created for our dancers by internationally known choreographers as well as young and upcoming choreographers.
UTW: What will be performed in Kivisto Hall this season?
Angelini: The first series will be called "An Evening of Tango" and will open in May 2008. For the opening, I wanted to do something fun and something that is very dear to me. My dream was always to learn to dance tango, but I never had the time to do it. But I love this art form so much. It's so intricate, so passionate, so beautiful to look at and also an important part of the Argentinean culture.
So I thought, why not open the new theater with a series dedicated to this art form, but not by introducing traditional tango; I wanted to pay tribute by creating three works about tango, but not necessarily three strictly ballroom tango works.
So I pulled three choreographers who are very different. One is Fernanda Ghi. Fernanda was a classical ballet dancer and then she became a tango dancer. So she has the classical background that will allow her to interact with the classical dancers. Because otherwise, classical dancers and tango dancers don't speak the same language. But she does speak the same language. She won a couple of Tony Awards for her tango choreography and has choreographed for five or six internationally touring shows. And she will create a work that will be as close as possible to true Argentinean tango, keeping in mind that to be a tango dancer you need years of training.
Then there is another piece by Ma Cong, who is Chinese and danced with the National Ballet of China, and is a choreographer whom we are nourishing, a true talent we are pushing. And this ballet is going to be about the culture of tango, not necessarily the steps of tango.
And we have another choreographer by the name of Young Soon Hue, from Germany. She is originally Korean, but she is a choreographer at the Düsseldorf Ballet. And so we'll see her interpretation, her view of this art form.
Everything will be done here and will be performed with a live tango band on stage.
UTW: How many people does the new theater seat?
Angelini: About 300. It was our magic number. We didn't want it to be too big because this theater has to fulfill yet another goal.
When you go to the PAC to see the shows, the company is very far away. It's almost like watching a movie. But then we bring people here to the studio, they get a totally different feel, a totally different perception of dance, because they can see the sweat, they can hear them huffing and puffing.
This closeness creates a different relationship, and we wanted to replicate the kind of atmosphere we have in the studio and yet have comfortable seating, proper lighting and the proper stage for the performance. So this theater should bring a totally new facet to the relationship between the audience and the dancers.
UTW: Tell me about the upcoming season.
Angelini: The upcoming season is another testament to where this company is. We start with Michael Smuin's Romeo and Juliet.
After that we move on to an evening with Stanton Welch (called "In White," November 2-4), who is one of the rising stars on the scene and the artistic director of Houston Ballet. Together with Jerome Robbins, who is one of the five most exclusive choreographers in the world, the only companies to have access to his works are the major, major companies.
He was very picky about who would perform his works, and when he died he left three adjudicators who knew his standards, so it's still hardly possible to get his works. And yet we have been blessed and fortunate and deserving to get his works. This is his third ballet (that we've performed), and what is interesting is that instead of giving us a work for four or six dancers as he has done in the past, this is a work for 21 dancers, saying that we have 21 dancers in the company who can dance Jerome Robbins.
What else is in that evening? Oh, yes, Hans van Manen's piece (which will actually be performed as part of a series called "In Black", March 28-30. The third piece performed in "In White" will be Vivace by Val Caniparoli). So funny, both The Concert and Black Cake are extremely funny pieces.
Hans van Manen and I talked last in 2001 and he said, "well, I think you're doing great work there. Let's keep in touch. One day, I'll give you one of my works. And I called him last year and I said, "I know you are very busy, but now that you're 75, I really want one of your ballets."
(Imitating van Manen) "Well, of course! I've heard so many great things about the company. Which one do you want?"
"Um, why don't we start with 'Black Cake'?"
In the spring we have Nacho Duato's Remansos (part of "In Black"), which he created for American Ballet Theater. (And we have a world premiere by Luciano Cannito), a fabulous Italian choreographer. He doesn't do a lot outside of Italy because he is very, very busy. We did one of his works about seven or eight years ago, and I saw him this year and said you've got to come back and create a piece, so he's creating a piece for us.
Vivace is a work by Val Caniparoli, who is our resident choreographer, and he created it for the company (in 2003) and it was such a wonderful work and was very well received and so we said let's do it again. And it's about time.
The other new work we are doing is The Great Gatsby, a fabulous, funny work by Andre Prokovsky. We have done his Three Musketeers and his Anna Karenina. This is all 1920s music, very Charleston-like, fun, entertaining.
I have been talking to him for a number of years about doing it and things would never quite work out. Someone else was always doing it at the time, so the sets and costumes were not available. And this time, everything seemed to fall perfectly. So finally we get to do this.
UTW: What are you looking forward to most about this season?
Angelini: I think overall it's going to be a very exciting season. Very few companies our size dare to do three--actually four--creations in one season, but I think, let's take the risk. We can do it. So, altogether it will be a very good season.
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