|| Dance Europe
|| May 13, 2013
|| Gerard Davis
After a 30-year absence Boston Ballet is returning to the London Coliseum in July for a week long run of performances to start their 50th anniversary in style. Gerard Davis met up with the company's artistic director to discuss the forthcoming tour and life at the American company.
Congratulations to the company on reaching 50 years of age. There must be quite a sense of celebration and pride back in Boston. Naturally. 50 years is a great achievement anytime but I also think in the last 10 years we've managed to revitalize the company in so many ways. Our 50th anniversary season is a great opportunity for us to re-establish ourselves not only in our own community but also nationally and internationally, so coming to London is one of the highlights.
Why did you choose London to start the season? Well, as a young dance student I spent my summers in London, Paris and New York and I've always seen these places as the major international dance centers, so when the 50th came around I figured that's where we should go. And we haven't been to London for 30 years; the last time was as part of the Rudolf Nureyev festival in 1983, also at the Coliseum.
You're bringing a wide range of repertoire. The big thing for me is that I didn't want to bring a full- length ballet. You know you see full length ballet after full length ballet from company x, y, and z. We are a ballet company but we are a distinctly American Ballet company, which is why I wanted to draw more attention to the neo-classical and the contemporary.
Why have you included Nijinsky's L'Apres midi d'un faune? I think it's the single most important piece of contemporary choreography - It was something so revolutionary that tides change. In today's world when a ballet company is venturing into the contemporary realm, it's a nice way to put things into perceptive. It's a very dear piece for me to try and show the quality of the company.
You're also bringing some Jiří Kylián, which, I believe is another chorographer you are close to. If I said I loved Kylian's work it would be an understatement; to me he is the quintessential choreographer, period. I've tried to see every possible performance I can; he's so honest and relevant and he communicates emotionally to the audience. It's an honor as an organization to perform his work.
Jorma Elo was appointed resident choreographer in 2005 and you're performing to his piece Plan to b in London. Absolutely. Jorma's a unique choreographer from several different perspectives. He was a classical dancer but from an early age he worked with Mats EK and also Jiří Kylián. You know there are so many choreographers where you can tell their exact lineage by what they do, but while I recognize the contemporary aesthetic in Jorma's work, there's definitely classical technique injected into it; he really understands both sides. He's helped develop not only our dancers but also allowed us to develop the way the company dances. He's been very influential and audiences have been responding - at first they didn't know what to think but they've got drawn in and it's this kind of audience interaction that's so important.
International touring's become a feature again for the company. Why do you think it's still important? Well, if you have a good thing, why keep it a secret? Touring is an external validation for our community, the city of Boston and the people who support us. We're a big player in the national and international scene, we're proud of what we do and we want to share it.
What do you think of the advent of cinema broadcasts? I think it's great. If anything I'm just a bit envious we're not part of it yet! All through my life as a dancer I've collected videos, I've always wanted to see everything. I know the limitations of video versus live performances but, with the amazing technology that's now available, for the first time I've started to feel that there's more coming across the viewer than just the skeleton of structure of a piece; some of the emotion is really starting to carry through. There's less lost in translation.
It must put lots of pressure on the company - if you make a mistake the whole world sees it! Yes, but you know what? Anybody who doesn't welcome pressure in this industry is in the wrong industry! Every performance should have a similar pressure. If you go back in time, some of the best dancers became great because they danced on the edge.
New media is now a big part of any organization. How has it benefited Boston Ballet? We've shifted a lot of our marketing into social media and it's opened doors. Unlike traditional advertising it's a direct communication with an individual and it's become more important, than, say advertising in a Sunday news paper. Messaging gets through quicker and more effectively and consequently we've been able to engage different generations much better than we could in the past. It's no longer enough to announce the season and put a poster on the wall - we have to work much more actively. Also, regarding our website, we try to have it not only as a source of information about what the company does but also as a gateway to the art form. It's the way of the future and we'd better start to understand the full extent of its possibilities sooner rather than later.
Outside of Boston Ballet, what developments in the wider ballet world have really caught your interest? I think ballet companies are evolving, especially in how they present themselves to their communities. Companies have started to do a wider range of programming, and that's important because if we just hang on to the same old things, we're going to lose market share. There's also a very interesting phenomenon in that there's this very young generation who's grown up in front of screens but when they discover live dance and theatre, they think it's the greatest thing ever. To make people feel their experience at the theatre is something so worthwhile that it becomes an important part of their life - I think that's what we should all aim at.
What do you think are the company's main strengths? My overall goal is to try and create a ballet company of the future, so I think the company's strengths is our versatility; the ability to do the classics the way they're meant to be danced - to dance the neoclassical - including the Balanchine rep with the kind of attack, detail and musicality that he needs - and then being able to perform contemporary dance, not like it's a ballet company trying to do it but like it was a contemporary company. That's the goal, the three doors that one can enter through. Everything's cross pollinating now, it's wonderful to see and everyone's welcome.
As well as the main company you look over Boston Ballet I (BBII), a touring company specifically for elite 16-21 year-old ancers. Well, the second company's a very interesting hing. A long time ago the talent that was coming up through the school would be taken into the main company and three years later they would be fully integrated, fully functioning company members. But with fewer resources available for the company they weren't able to do that anymore. So BBII functions like an apprentice program. The 'apprentices' take company classes and twice a week they have their own class where they get more detailed technical assistance. Also there's somebody to help with psychological support in case anyone's getting lost in the big company's machinery. Now 35 per cent of our main company has come through BBII, including several of our principal dancers.
And, of course there's the famous Boston Ballet School, which is the largest in North America. Oh my! Right now we have 5,600 students! There are over 3,000 young students, but we also have over 2,000 adults. Of course, there are 3 locations and a lot of studios, but the bottom line with the school is that we take the teaching seriously on every front. There's the professional track, there's a program for those who don't plan to be professionals and there are many adult classes and initiatives like the Adaptive Dance Program for children with Down's syndrome. But it's all about sharing the love of dance and there's lots of value in it for us as well because these are our future audience.
You've been credited with reviving the company's fortune since you took over as artistic director in 2001. What's given you the most satisfaction in that time? It's difficult to say one single thing. I get satisfaction when we do something really well - I'm attached to quality. I'm proud that we've managed to change the perception of the company and that now there's a tremendous momentum behind us; our visibility is very good and we're perceived as a winner. We need to capitalize on that and make it the new normality. I think the 50th anniversary is the last piece of the new normality so hopefully at the end of it we'll be a healthier organization than ever.
After London, what are the highlights of the 50th season? Obviously we have a very exciting 50th anniversary season at home and we have appearances in other major cities, including tours to New York and Washington. In Boston, we're taking a look at the past but we're not staring - we're looking forward as well! We have an alumni weekend planned and I'm also doing a lecture series on the company's history, examining each artistic director's era and bringing back some former personalities for interviews.
Any new work? There's going to be a world premiere by Jose Carlos Martinez and Jorma is going to rework a piece called C. to C. (Close to Chuck) that he originally created for American Ballet Theatre. Initially I thought it would be great to celebrate the 50th with lots of world premieres, but as the cards played out many of them have ended up happening for 51st season. I look at San Francisco's 75th celebration, which had almost a dozen new pieces, so maybe when we got to our 75th… but right now our 50th is not only an anniversary of the whole history of the organization but also a celebration of our past 10 years and some really incredible works.
What are the company particularly looking for in London? To be seen! The dancers are excited and so am I. It's a major undertaking and everybody understands the importance of it. I can't imagine the organization being more enthusiastic about anything else- it's a culmination of lots of hard work as well as the big kick off for the 50th.
Anytime for sight-seeing? I think the dancers will have some time…but not too much!