POSTED ON APRIL 25, 2012:
Masters of Creation
Tulsa Ballet presents three new works and champions local talent
Ma Cong, Douglas Lee, and Darrell Grand Moultrie are all busy young choreographers, in demand by companies around the globe. And they come from around the globe themselves -- from China, England, and New York City, respectively.
Beginning April 27, they will join forces at Tulsa Ballet's Studio K to present three world premieres in the "Creations in Studio K" series, which runs for two weekends at the company's headquarters on Brookside and concludes its 2011-2012 season.
The new ballets are as distinctive as their creators, exploring themes from longing to submission to risk-taking in the adventurous spirit which has marked the annual "Creations" series as one of the most exciting arts events in Tulsa.
Lee, principal dancer and resident choreographer at Stuttgart Ballet, has won three Golden Mask Award nominations for his lush, mesmerizing dances, full of jaw-dropping partnering in which the dancers seem to operate in far more than three dimensions.
Lee's new work for TB, called Septet, is set to riveting music by contemporary composers Simeon ten Holt and Dustin O'Halloran.
"Music is always important to me and a huge inspiration," Lee said. "The pieces I have chosen not only offer very fast-paced, driven sections but have a lot of subtle variation which allowed me a range of color and emotion in different sections of the ballet."
"I thought of different ways I could incorporate ideas I have of submission and how they could relate to a non-narrative dance piece," he continued, "such as submitting to the music, total abandonment, and the sense of freedom that allows. [Thinking of] submission to others, one ballerina allows herself to be manipulated by three men. Resisting submission was also a theme I used for a duet which is more of a play on power.
"All my dancers in this piece have been great to work with: focused, intelligent, and creative."
Moultrie's background is in musical theatre and modern dance (he performed in the original cast of Billy Elliot and studied Martha Graham technique) -- styles that, when brought to a ballet company, create what he calls "a classic masterclass in bringing different energies together."
"This is a dynamic, colorful ballet called Box the Outside," Moultrie said. "It was my take on 'living outside the box.' I was thinking about taking the fearlessness, the extremes, the things that people say you should always live by, and bringing them inside your own experience. I wanted to create movement that stretches the dancers, moves them beyond their comfort zones."
Moultrie has worked with many ballet companies and enjoys the process of offering classically trained dancers new challenges. "The beauty of what we do," he said, "is that I give you a solo, and now it's yours. You can take the audience on any kind of journey you want without me sitting there saying, 'No, no, do it this way.'"
It may come as a surprise to learn that all three dancemakers waited until they arrived in Tulsa to begin their new pieces, but that's how they say they work best: on the dancers, in the moment, trusting the music and the special alchemy of choreography to lead the way.
Cong, whose new ballet Memorias del Viento (Memories of the Wind) completes the "Creations" program, compared his process to Chinese calligraphy. "There is only one brushstroke," he explained. "You put the brush on the paper and just keep going until it's finished."
The comparison to visual art is apt, since Cong's inspiration for this ballet came from a painting he saw when the company was on tour in Portugal.
"It was a painting of a woman standing on a hill overlooking the ocean," Cong said. "Far away, close to the water, there is a man waving at her, with a boat next to him. The owner of the gallery said it was about the villages around the Mediterranean Sea, where people rely on fishing for their livelihoods. But it's very scary because the men go out to fish and might never return. The women are left hoping they come back. The love connection just got me."
"I want to show the bright side," he continued. "I want to encourage people to love, even though all these scary possibilities are out there."
The Spanish music for Cong's ballet inspired his cast as well as his earthy choreography. "I wanted to give the dancers something from the heart that they could relate to. We have a lot of Spanish-speaking dancers and a lot of them knew the music I had selected. They'd start singing the songs as we were rehearsing. They feel it so deeply."
This year's "Creations" series features a different sort of premiere, as well: the first-ever inclusion of local companies as opening acts. Jennifer Mellor Dance Project (May 3), Portico Dans Theatre (May 4), Living Water (May 5, matinee), The Bell House (May 5, evening), and Tulsa Modern Movement (May 6) will present original works prior to each of the second weekend's shows.
Patrons don't need an extra ticket. They may simply arrive 30 minutes before the TB performance they already have tickets to and see what's happening in Tulsa dance before seeing the "Creations" program.
TB Artistic Director Marcello Angelini described the initiative as "the most significant collaboration between local dance companies in decades," noting that "the wider the dance scene in any given city, the richer the cultural landscape for that community will be. I feel we are at a pivotal point in Tulsa, a point where dance can become more than ever an integral part of the fabric of our community."
Performances are April 27-29 and May 2-5 at 7 pm, and April 28-29 and May 5-6 at 2 pm, with the local companies beginning 30 minutes prior to showtime May 3-6.
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