Blending ballet, modern dance is creative challenge

Published: Sunday, May 16 2010 12:00 a.m. MDT

Charlotte Boye-Christensen is artistic director for the Ririe-Woodbury Dance Company.

Tom Smart, Deseret News

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A few months ago, Ballet West artistic director Adam Sklute talked with Charlotte Boye-Christensen, artistic director for the Ririe-Woodbury Dance Company, about choreographing a work for Ballet West's upcoming "Innovations" production.

Some may think the blending of ballet and modern dance is like mixing oil and water, but Boye-Christensen, who trained in ballet and is drawn to contemporary ballet choreographers such as William Forsythe and Edouard Lock, jumped at the chance.

"I thought it would be quite interesting," Boye-Christensen said during an interview. "I like (Ballet West's) dancers a lot. I think they are a phenomenal group of dancers."

In addition to Boye-Christensen's work, Ballet West will perform new works created by principal Michael Bearden, artists Aidan DeYoung and Megan Furse and choreographer Helen Pickett.

Boye-Christensen wanted initially to create a work using a large group of men, but after auditioning the dancers, she recruited women as well.

"I liked to continue my work with the dynamic between men and women," she said. "So, I ended up casting four women and eight men. I like the fact that the men outnumber the women."

The choreographer, who has worked with ballet companies previously, likes creating works for dancers on pointe.

"I continuously think of the challenges and the rewards of working on pointe in terms of the visual aspect of it, the elongation of the leg and the strength of the image," she said. "But there is also the fragility that comes with that — the vulnerability and the balance. I wanted to pull that into the piece."

Also, it was interesting to see the ballet dancers work with modern-dance movements, she said.

"I feel like the biggest challenge for them was the idea of going down to the floor because in ballet you are continually taught to push away from the floor.

"To allow yourself to be pulled down into the floor was a very different sensation to them, and I think they got to enjoy it."

One of the first inspirations for the work, which is titled "Row," was the 2005 Nick Cave-penned film "The Proposition."

"I love Nick's music and didn't know he did movies," Boye-Christensen said. "Anyway, we watched it and it was pretty inspiring.

"The soundscape was fantastic," she said. "It was so sensual and primal, but (it) also had a soft poetic side. The film feels very ritualistic, and I wanted to pull that ritualistic/tribal quality into the piece as well."

Once her mind worked out the foundation of the choreography, the piece took on a life of its own, Boye-Christensen said.

"The women are the pivotal characters of the work," she said. "They initiate the motion of the work. And they are the ones who return the piece to a human-sort of place. They move from the ritualistic tribal energy to a more softer calm phase.

"They are juxtaposed to the men who dance in a more ceremonial frame," she said.

Boye-Christensen titled the work "Row."

"I just love that word," she said. "It's so evocative. It can be a row as in a row of things lined up. Or it can mean a discussion of two people, and it can be the action of rowing. "Also, there is that musical phenomenon called the '12-tone row,' which I thought that was fantastic because the piece features 12 people and, in many ways, is built up around musical structures."

Seeing her choreography take shape with ballet dancers was exciting for Boye-Christensen.

"The dancers have such technical forte," she said. "To see my work done in an extreme exactness was beautiful. To see what areas they might end up emphasizing and see them take ownership of the piece, even in the simple movements, was lovely.

"There was a refinement of how the work was approached," she said. "There was a technical foundation that allowed for a lot of things to be explored. And there was a sophistication of how they understood their bodies."

If you go...

What: "Innovations," Ballet West

Where: Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center, 138 W. 300 South

When: May 21-29, 7:30 p.m.; May 22 and 29, 2 p.m.

How much: $50

Phone: 801-355-2787, 888-451-2787

Web: www.arttix.org

e-mail: scott@desnews.com

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