Tulsa Ballet offers an "abstract exploration" of Mediterranean cultures this weekend in Mediterranea, the final performance of its 2008-2009 season.
In keeping with its mission to create and premier new works by leading choreographers, the company will present four world premieres, three choreographed by international dance makers and one by the locally-grown Ma Cong.
"This new series is probably our most ambitious project, one meant to establish Tulsa, and Tulsa Ballet, as a creative force worldwide," said Tulsa Ballet Artistic Director Marcello Angelini.
Angelini said TB is probably the smallest ballet company in the world to be granted permission to perform the works of such a large number of top-tier choreographers.
"But there is something else that sets us apart from the rest of American dance companies," said Angelini. "We are the only dance organization so committed to fostering the growth of our art form to design, build and dedicate a proper theater around this purpose."
Mediterranea is the second performance presented in TB's recently-constructed Studio K at its studios at 4512 S. Peoria Ave. Last season's About Tango was the first.
"With this new venture, we aim to continue the tradition of the founders of Tulsa Ballet and of Le Ballet Russe, that of establishing a ballet company with a sharp focus on creativity and innovation, a company that will leave a large body of works for future generations to experience and enjoy," said Angelini.
Culture by the Sea
Mediterranea opens with a new work by Val Caniparoli, resident choreographer at TB, called Amor Con Fortuna.
The work is set to centuries-old Spanish music, blending "classical, neo-classical and contemporary movement with sections of gentle beauty and some fast-paced segments," according to Angelini.
"In true Caniparoli style, the research of new aesthetics is essential to transmitting his message. While abstract, its youthfulness, gentle duets and dashing solos will enthuse everyone in the audience," Angelini said.
Following Caniparoli is Matjash Mrozewski, a new choreographer who established himself as a force in dance in 2001.
At 32 years old, Mrozewski is considered "one of the most exciting and original voices of his generation in the dance world," Angelini said.
His work for TB is titled My Love and is set to North African music.
Tony Fabre, a long-time acquaintance of Tulsa Ballet who has most recently been directing Nacho Duato's second company, Compania Nacional de Dansa 2, has choreographed SeeAthrough, set to Spanish motifs, which mixes ancient sounds with contemporary movements.
The work offers "striking balance" and "a unique feeling, with a dance of rare beauty," said Angelini.
"It's a short work that will leave you wanting more. It will transport you under the sea, to a marvelous world of physical beauty and emotional engagement," he said.
Finally, the evening ends with a new work by Ma Cong, who, although a treasure to local audiences, has been increasingly sought after by national companies desiring his thoughtful and innovative works.
Cong's new work for TB, Festa!, is set to new music composed by Paul Cristo specifically for the ballet. Cristo is a film composer, and Angelini said Festa! "moves like a movie."
"Ma's concept is very original: One of the major communalities shared by every culture around the Mediterranean Sea is their fervor for food," said Angelini.
Festa!, which means "the banquet" or "the feast" in Italian, is centered around a cooking competition.
"My idea of this work is to present a Great Mediterranean Food Festival," said Cong. "All of the men are the cooks, and the girls are the food. As soon as the contest starts, they (divide into) two groups, trying to use the shortest time to make the most delicious food.
"Then, during the process of food making, of course there is love that has been rising and increased between (the groups). I called it 'love from the kitchen.'"
Cong said inviting Cristo to create a new piece of music for the ballet was Angelini's idea.
"Paul and I had very similar ideas to present something special from the Mediterranean," said Cong. "We have been sharing ideas, and, for both of us, it's a first-time life experience to create together a new score for a new ballet."
Cong also convinced Ballet Mistress and retired TB principal dancer Daniela Buson to make a special guest appearance in Festa!.
"A 'very simple acting role,' as it was apparently portrayed to Daniela, has morphed into a challenging dancing role. Being married to her, I can tell you that she always cherishes a good challenge. Why would she still be married to me if she didn't?" laughed Angelini.
Performing in Studio K offers both the audience and the dancers a rare opportunity for intimacy with one another. Being in such a small space, in such close proximity to the dancers, means that attendees hear every panted breath, every foot slapping the floor. You can see the muscles in their bodies tighten and the perspiration on their brows.
"Works created for this space are 'chamber works,' meaning ballets that are best seen in an intimate setting," Angelini explained. "There is an intimacy and connection that is instantly created between audience and performers in this space. For the audience, it's like being in the action rather then watching the action."
"For the dancers, their commitment to the works they perform has to be felt in every fiber of their body. There is no 'acting' -- it has to be real," said Angelini. "I spoke to many patrons, subscribers and occasional ticket buyers in the Q&A that followed the performances last year, and the comments were remarkably consistent: It was an experience like no other."
Angelini said Mediterranea is already 85-percent sold out, with half of the performances completely sold out. In fact, Tulsa Ballet added an extra performance to fulfill the demand.
Mediterranea will be performed May 1-3 and 6-10. Call 749-6006 or visit www.tulsaballet.org for showtimes and tickets.
TB to perform at the prestigious Joyce Theater in NYC and The Kennedy Center in D.C.
One of Tulsa Ballet's core artistic missions is to establish itself and the city of Tulsa as a "creative force worldwide," and it is achieving that mission, season by season.
Dance works created for Tulsa Ballet have traveled to other companies across the globe, and TB has received national attention and accolades (like a cover story on the March 2008 issue of Pointe magazine). The company itself has performed all across the world, always received by an appreciative audience.
August 10-15, 2009, Tulsa Ballet will perform at New York City's The Joyce Theater, for the first time in almost two decades.
June 15-20, 2010, TB will perform at The Kennedy Center's Ballet Across America II festival--alongside Morphoses, Houston Ballet, Pacific Northwest Ballet, The Suzanne Farrell Ballet, Ballet Arizona, Aspen Santa Fe Ballet, The Joffrey Ballet and North Carolina Dance Theatre--in Washington, D.C.
"The Joyce is the only house in New York totally and entirely dedicated to the presentation of dance," explained Marcello Angelini, TB's artistic director. "It can be rented outright--but the costs of doing so are very high--or you can be invited to perform in it. In this case, you pay a nominal fee that includes all the technical team: Stage hands, electricians, property managers, box office and so on."
Angelini said he started sending TB videos and materials to The Joyce's programming director in 2001, inquiring about being invited to be a part of the theater's season. For four years, he heard nothing. Finally, Martin Wechsler, the programming director, invited TB to dance at the theater.
For two years, though, TB's season schedule didn't coordinate with The Joyce's available dates.
"But then I received another message from Mr. Wechsler saying, 'I won't take no for an answer. New York needs to see Tulsa Ballet.' They asked us which dates would work for us and freed them for our company," said Angelini.
Angelini carefully considered what works his company should present at The Joyce.
"I wanted to take works that show the company at its best, works that show the versatility of the company, works that show our ladies both on pointe and on soft shoes, works of the top dance makers of the world, that are usually off limits to companies our size, and works that were created in Tulsa for Tulsa Ballet," said Angelini.
In fact, Angelini only recently decided which works the company would take to New York, and he's announcing those through UTW even before The Joyce Theater has announced them to its audiences.
At The Joyce, TB will present Elite Syncopations, a beautiful, jazz-inspired work by the late Sir Kenneth MacMillan, presented to Tulsa audiences last month in "Carnival"; Nacho Duato's Por Vos Muero, presented during TB's 2007-2008 season; and Young Soon Hue's This is Your Life, choreographed for Tulsa Ballet and premiered last year in Studio K.
As for the company's performance at the Kennedy Center, Angelini said he inquired about performing at the venue in the fall. In return, he received a full-fledged invitation to be a part of the Center's Ballet Across America festival.
"This invitation means The Kennedy Center will be given to us for free, including the marketing of our shows and the costs of operating it for the performances and, with the invitation, also comes a performance fee for our organization. That tells you how much they want us there," said Angelini.
TB's repertoire for that evening is still yet to be determined.
"Tulsa Ballet has indeed become an ambassador for the culture of our region, both nationally and internationally," said Angelini. "With tours to four international countries during the past six years and upcoming performances in New York and Washington, D.C., we are taking the culture of Tulsa and Oklahoma in the major dance capitals of our country and the world. It is our intent and mission to continue to showcase our community through our dance company."
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