Associate Artistic Director, Michelle Martin, discusses how one choreographer’s personality, background and constant curiosity combine to make Hansel and Gretel a ballet you won’t forget.
Nelly van Bommel’s Hansel and Gretel, is one of those rare examples of a work that appeals across generations, and its success is as much a reflection of her energy and sense of humor as it is of her choreographic talent. Nelly’s curiosity provides her with a limitless pool of inspiration, and she draws on her background in street theater, and modern dance technique to express her discoveries.
I came to know Nelly through Ballet Austin’s biennial choreographic competition, New American Talent/Dance. She was one of the three finalists in 2010 and I spent two weeks in the studio with her as she created a new work, Fanfarneta, for our main company. As she worked, I was fascinated by her interest in human interaction and her eye for nuance, particularly within interpersonal encounters. I thought her highly theatrical aesthetic would be a wonderful match for a narrative work, and her collaborative approach would provide a rich experience for the dancers in Ballet Austin II. I was thrilled when she accepted our invitation to create Hansel and Gretel.
Nelly’s work on Hansel and Gretel began with a series of facilitated games for the dancers. Some were based on movement and others involved vocalization. Through this process she began to know the dancers as individuals, in terms of both physicality and personality; and from this foundation, she matched each dancer with her ideas of the characters from Hansel and Gretel. Using the movement from her games, she crafted the dance portions of the piece first. Set to a series of traditional German folk songs, they’re high energy and playful, establishing her whimsical perspective on the story and its characters. The narrative scenes, particularly with the Witch, Hansel and Gretel, and their parents, were made in a very collaborative way – the dancers contributed to the development of the characters and the progression of the story. Nelly’s unique perspective is interspersed throughout the ballet with quirky interjections of props that are brilliantly out of context and absolutely hilarious – a wildly retro vacuum cleaner, baskets of apples and mountains of marshmallows .
Kody Jauron, “Hansel”, lets us in on why Hansel and Gretel isn’t your mother’s fairy tale.
I’ve thoroughly enjoyed being a part of the creation of Hansel and Gretel! Working with choreographer Nelly van Bommel has been an enjoyable and memorable experience. Nelly is whimsical, playful, theatrical, and innovative. Her sprightly personality is reflected in the choreography of this production, the theatricality she built into each individual character, and the fantasy world that she invented.
This is not your mother’s Hansel and Gretel. For starters, the story takes place in the 1950s. Hansel and Gretel are not expelled from their house because their parents cannot afford to feed them; instead, the two run away from home after accidentally breaking their mother’s most prized possession; her vacuum. Children can also look forward to a newcomer to the story, the forest fairy!
Perfect for the entire family, Hansel and Gretel has something for everyone. Kids will enjoy the fun-loving characters and seeing a familiar fairy tale translated on stage. Adults will appreciate the cutting edge choreography and unique movement quality.
This is definitely a Hansel and Gretel you won’t forget.
Improvisation, “ugly” movements and commands. James Fuller discusses Loni Landon’s choreography style.
Loni Landon started her choreographic residency at Ballet Austin by asking me and the other dancers in her piece to close our eyes and explore our feet. I turned my feet out and in, rolled my weight onto my heels and then onto to the tops of my arches and crossed my feet so far that I could barely move. In ballet class, all of these positions would have been horribly wrong, but Loni wanted us to find ways of moving that would normally feel awkward or ugly. She explained that movements that feel awkward and ugly can be fresh, interesting and beautiful in ways that traditional steps can’t.
From our feet, we moved up gradually into our knees, hips, torso, head and finally arms. After giving each part of our body its due, we started to work with each other, first in pairs and then as a group. One of us would call out a command like “freeze”, “collapse” or “rescue”, and the other dancers would respond. We soon discovered that much of Loni’s choreography was like these commands: very specific but also open to many interpretations.
The last exercise Loni gave was to perform a short solo about ourselves. She encouraged us to both speak and dance. Everyone was nervous, but the results were magical. We danced and talked about our childhoods, our years of training, our relationships and our quirks. In just a few minutes, I learned things about my coworkers that I would never have dreamed. Loni gave us this assignment because she wanted to get to know us. She wanted our personalities to be part of her piece.
For the next few days, we learned phrases and created short group dances. I found this part of the process difficult both because of the volume of material and because Loni’s approach to movement is very different from ours. Loni approaches movement holistically, and wanted us to grasp her material’s shape, dynamic and intent simultaneously. At Ballet Austin, we usually approach movement more analytically. We break down the mechanics of each step, figure out when each step happens, and after all that work is done, we think about intent. I found it very hard to break myself out of this pattern. Loni would ask me to perform her movement with full dynamic and intent before I had had a chance to break it down and assimilate it.
Fortunately, as the piece gradually came together, I started to feel more comfortable in Loni’s movement. The piece is dark and smooth, but I can see glimpses of our jagged improvisations and cheerful solos in it. It’s fascinating to see two weeks of improvisation, tension and sharing woven into a piece.
Tickets on sale now for New American Talent/Dance.
New American Talent/Dance benefits choreographers and dancers alike. See how company dancer Beth Terwilleger learned to speak a new language.
A dance career is often too short, therefore the work that goes into it must be intense and full of passion in order to squeeze as much out of it as possible. Any chance to work with a new artist or choreographer is a gift that promises the opportunity to grow in many ways. I am lucky enough to dance for a company that not only has a director who challenges and allows his dancers to grow with his work, but one that also brings in artists to add to the richness of the company’s dancers and repertoire.
New American Talent/Dance allows for choreographers with a variety of voices and interpretations of movement to come into the world of Ballet Austin and help us grow. I feel very lucky to be a part of this project and constantly try to embrace the opportunity. With every choreographer, it is like turning into a sponge and soaking up as much as I can from the experience. Every choreographer I have worked with for NAT/D has spoken a new and different language. Some you will learn to speak better than others and some you may feel like you actually speak a little of already, but there is always a great amount of opportunity for growth.
This year I was chosen by Greg Dolbashian to be a part of his creative process and dance in his piece for NAT/D 2012. The experience of working with Greg was one that was truly unique to my dance career. Never, while growing up in a classical dance training environment, did I ever imagine I would be asked to explore the movement possibilities of dancing improvisational work, eyes closed, onstage during a performance. And this, exactly, is what Gregory asked me to do. The improvisational work in Greg’s piece is heavily inspired by his own choreographic voice and movement style. Greg’s language is unique and inspiring, but it was also exceptionally challenging ; attempting to speak his language was no easy task. Watching him move and hearing his deep understanding of movement and the emotion and the art that goes behind it allowed for me to fearlessly dive into his rehearsals. While I still feel I have a lot of work do to before I could even scrape the surface of what he is trying to pull from me as an artist, I know I have already really grown from the experience.
The beauty of a project like NAT/D is the opportunity for growth for all involved. Not only do the dancers gain from it, but the choreographers are given a group of artists willing to explore with them and, ultimately, help them develop as well. The dancers grow, the choreographers grow, and Ballet Austin as an organization grows and benefits greatly as well. This type of support in the art world is imperative for growth, and the more we all support each other, the stronger the art world will be.
Tickets on sale now for New American Talent/Dance.
Recently we asked our Company Dancers to name one thing or two… or three… they would like for the holidays. Their answers may surprise you. Take a look to see what’s on the wish list of YOUR favorite dancer.
James Fuller: Pyke’s Philosophers
A flock of silly looking chickens
Preston Andrew Patterson:
A pair of custom-made Air Jordans size 11… oh yeah and peace and goodwill towards men, and all that jazz
A composting system
Snow in Vermont so I can take my boys sledding!
Paul Michael Bloodgood:
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 for Xbox 360
Anne Marie Melendez:
Cookbooks related to my new hobby… “Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day” and “Artisan Pizza and Flatbread in Five Minutes a Day” written by Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois. (The followups to “Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day”)
Ian J. Bethany:
Terry Pratchett novels, Wii games and juggling rings!
A few extra windows in my living room
To be free of debt
Warm clothes for my trip with my husband to Portland & Seattle!
A house. (We got it! We start moving in the day after Christmas.)
A trip to Disneyland
A Wii and a peacoat
Orlando Julius Canova:
A red bike helmet (but a good one)
Ashley Lynn Gilfix:
A new digital camera to take photos on our African Safari Trip over the holiday break
Michelle Thompson: Time, wine, massages and diamonds
Company Dancer Jaime Lynn Witts at Fête 2010 Photo by Tony Spielberg
We hope you can join us tonight at fête*ish 2011 for a dazzling night of dancing and dining. Check back on Monday for a handful of party pictures – featuring not only YOU but our beautiful Company Dancers, all dressed to the nines.