Let it be more exaggerated. More swing, more weight. Get inside the counter rhythm. Have your own opinion on the ballet.
"Okay. Let's do the Hell's Angels section!"
When those are the sorts of directions being given to the dancers at Tulsa Ballet (TB), it's a safe bet that something exciting is going on.
Welcome to the future of the art form.
This weekend, TB presents a triple bill that features iconic works by three of the most important dance-makers in the world today: In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated by William Forsythe, Sechs Tänze ("Six Dances") by Jiri Kylian, and Nine Sinatra Songs by Twyla Tharp.
"It's something edgy, something humorous, and something classic," TB artistic director Marcello Angelini said of the program.
The "edgy" is the Forsythe ballet, commissioned by Rudolf Nureyev in 1987 for the Paris Opera Ballet, the oldest ballet company in the world.
Inspired by the pure classical style of its dancers (including superstar ballerina Sylvie Guillem), Forsythe -- who many believe is to ballet today what George Balanchine was in the last century -- undertook an exploration of counterpoint and counterbalance that resulted in this revolutionary tour de force.
"This piece started a new way of looking at classical ballet," said Forsythe Company stager and former ballerina Jodie Gates.
"Built on a structure of 'theme and variations,' it shifts in and out of the classical idiom," she explained. "Forsythe creates shapes that are similar to those in classical ballet, but the aesthetic is skewed, giving the effect of the dancers constantly falling off their verticality."
Combining a rigorous structure with moments of improvisation and accelerated physical extremes makes for a thrilling experience. There are only nine dancers in the piece, but the bare stage seems to swarm with living, complex, multidimensional patterns.
"Forsythe's choreography has been called 'architecture in motion,' and this is a ballet where you can really see that," Gates said.
"I want the dancers to feel a fierce joy in performing this piece -- almost something primal," she said. "I've been very, very impressed with the level of these dancers. They're not only hungry for new material and information, but capable of absorbing it. Angelini has made something special here in Tulsa."
Gates noted that the electronic score by Dutch composer Thom Willems "can be challenging" for some audiences.
"If you have a hearing aid, you might want to turn the volume down a bit," she laughed. "The main thing is not to get hung up on the harshness on the surface of the music, but to find an ease with its undercurrents. Let it carry you."
The music for Kylian's Sechs Tänze couldn't be more different: it's by Mozart.
Good Ol' Days.
"This ballet is like having your dessert in the middle of the program," said Roslyn Anderson, rehearsal director at Kylian's Nederlands Dans Theater. "If you've seen the movie Amadeus, if that's the way Mozart's character was, there was that little bit of something childish, playful, frivolous, slightly spoiled.
"Leonard Bernstein said that to me once when he was watching a performance of this piece in my theater. He said, 'That's exactly what Mozart meant.' It's like Mozart speaking and Jiri interpreting."
Sechs Tänze brims with unexpectedly silly movement: frothing hands, high-speed skips and tumbles, mock deaths, and "pleadings" ironically copied from Martha Graham. (Viewers may find that this work reminds them of moments in Nacho Duato's ballets. In fact, Kylian was one of the first to champion Duato's talent in the early 1980s.)
But such dry humor can be as challenging to portray as the intensity required by a ballet like Forsythe's.
"It's so rare that you have comedy in dance," Anderson explained. "It is very difficult to create and to perform. It's so easy to go overboard, to react to the audience's response and go too far. So I've emphasized with the dancers the cleanness of the movement. You don't have to do much 'acting' to carry across comic genius like this."
After all, it's often in the darkest times that the most liberating humor bubbles up. Sechs Tänze "shouldn't only be regarded as a burlesque," Kylian has said. "Mozart's ability to react upon difficult circumstances with a self-preserving outburst of nonsensical poetry is well known."
While In the Middle and Sechs Tänze are Oklahoma premieres, Nine Sinatra Songs is a welcome revival. The delectable, ballroom-influenced Tharp ballet is set to songs by Frank Sinatra from the 1950s -- a time, Tharp has said, "when my parents were still together, when all parents were together, the last time we assumed as a culture that of course men and women lived together and loved for a lifetime."
In tuxedos, evening gowns by Oscar de la Renta, and high heels, seven couples swoon and dive in deeply moving interpretations of some of Ol' Blue Eyes' most passionate songs, including "One for My Baby," "Forget Domani," and "That's Life."
"This is a piece where you can just sit back, reminisce, listen to the words, and watch this glorious dancing," said Shelly Washington, an original cast member who staged the ballet in Tulsa. "I have staged this ballet all over the world. I think this is the most divine company ever."
Tulsa Ballet's contemporary triple bill opens at the PAC on Friday, Oct. 28, at 8pm, with additional performances Oct. 29 at 8pm and Oct. 30 at 3pm. For tickets and information, call the TB box office at 918-749-6006 or visit tulsaballet.org.
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