Oklahoma City Ballet presents contemporary steps in triple bills 

click to enlarge Photos by Shevaun Williams & Associates, Inc. - Dancers are Principal Alvin Tostovgray and Corps de Ballet Sarah Jane Crespo. - SHEVAUN WILLIAMS
  • shevaun williams
  • Photos by Shevaun Williams & Associates, Inc. Dancers are Principal Alvin Tostovgray and Corps de Ballet Sarah Jane Crespo.

In 2009, at the end of Robert Mills’ first season as artistic director of Oklahoma City Ballet, he decided that he needed to take the audience’s temperature. It was a pivotal year, one that saw a new name for the company and the leadership change that brought Mills to Oklahoma from Ballet Nouveau Colorado.

With the backstage adjustments settling down at the end of a successful year, he wanted to know what Oklahoma City desired from its premier ballet company, so as audiences left The Wizard of Oz, the final production of the season, they were handed a survey.

“It was a survey that people voluntarily filled out as they left the theater, and one of the questions on the survey was, ‘What is your favorite type of dance?’” Mills said. “The choices were classical ballet, modern dance, tap dance, jazz and contemporary ballet. The overwhelming choice was classical ballet. But later on in that questionnaire, one of the last questions was, ‘What was your favorite ballet of the season?’”

Amy Seiwart’s Finding/Almost came out as the clear winner among season ticket holders, but this was by no means a classical ballet piece; Seiwart, artistic director of San Francisco-based contemporary ballet company Imagery, is nearly synonymous with the vanguard of modern dance. Oklahoma City patrons thought they preferred Romeo and Juliet, but they really wanted something to shake them up.

Oklahoma City Ballet presented Finding/Almost in February 2009 as part of a triple bill featuring Frédéric Chopin’s Les Sylphides and Mills’ own Paris Rouge. In that triple bill, 1909’s Les Sylphides was the best-known piece of the evening and featured the original choreography by Michel Fokine, but the real eye-openers of the triple bill were the new, original works by Seiwart and Mills.

The triple bill became Oklahoma City Ballet’s Trojan horse for introducing the unexpected. The tradition continues with Scheherazade – 1001 Arabian Nights: A Triple Bill 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday at Civic Center Music Hall, 201 N. Walker Ave.

Scheherazade features the original Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov score along with acclaimed choreography by the late Dennis Spaight, while the other pieces — Without Words by Staatsballett Berlin Artistic Director Nacho Duato and a new, untitled piece by Tulsa Ballet’s resident choreographer, Ma Cong — offer the unexpected.

For this performance, Oklahoma City Ballet worked with Duato’s ballet master Thomas Klein, who flew from Berlin to lead the choreography for Without Words, while Cong was just a turnpike away. From selection to performance, Mills said Scheherazade took two years to produce, and a triple bill can be a particular challenge for the company’s dancers.

“Even with 35 dancers, some of the people coming in want to use the same people, and so there are some dancers who are in all three works,” Mills said. “So then it becomes a challenge to get the rehearsal schedule together.”

Mills said a triple bill can be the ultimate demonstration of Oklahoma City Ballet’s artistic skill. When Mills recruits dancers for the company, he looks for professionals who can go from classical to modern and back without losing balance.

“I look for people with versatility, so I’ll take them through a normal ballet class,” Mills said, “but near the end of the class, I’ll teach them some of the choreographies that we have in our repertoire that will reveal whether they can move in various, diverse ways. A program like this directly speaks to the kind of dancers I look for.”

Of course, Scheherazade is the main draw for good reason, since it draws from a classically exotic story and features equally classic ballet technique, but then Duato and Cong’s works will provide that new spark — something Mills values greatly in his programs.

“I sneak in these very current, modern works to educate our audience that ballet is relevant and it can speak to our times,” Mills said. “It can utilize the evolution that dance has taken over the years, and I’ve seen a lot of success with that. These triple bills are probably people’s favorite things that we do all season. When they come to our triple bills, they leave loving it.”

For more information, visit okcballet.com or call 848-8637.

Print headline: Magic three, Scheherazade – 1001 Arabian Nights: A Triple Bill offers OKC Ballet a chance to show its diverse repertoire.

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