REVIEW: Tulsa Ballet celebrates Creations in Studio K with Three World Premieres

World-class Ballet Ready for Export
By Glenda Rice Collins, Published September 15, 2015

TULSA, Okla., USA–A trio of world premieres, by a trio of internationally acclaimed choreographers, recently  produced three world-class contemporary ballets, ready for immediate export, from the unique Tulsa Ballet Studio K theater, in this heartland city with a rich history concerning international ballet luminaries.

Creations in Studio K 2015 world premiere performances began September 11 and continue through September 19 & 20 at 3 p.m.

Oklahoma Ballet Exports

Says Tulsa Ballet artistic director Marcello Angelini, “The (new) works are not kept exclusive, but are contributed to the world quickly.”

Dwight Rhoden's Ballad Unto... World Premiere for Tulsa Ballet

Dwight Rhoden’s “Ballad Unto…” World Premiere for Tulsa Ballet

Boston Ballet’s resident choreographer Jorma Elo’s Creatures of Prometheus, set to Beethoven’s Allegro con brio from Symphony No. 3 in E-flat Major, Op. 55, Eroica, was followed by Dwight Rhoden’s Ballad Unto…, set to Bach’s Fantasia in G minor, and Chaconne in D minor. Rhoden is the founding artistic director of Complexions Contemporary Ballet, where this new work will soon be next performed in New York.

“This doesn’t happen many places,” says Rhoden, of the Tulsa Ballet Studio K opportunity for exemplary choreographic creativity.  “I long for that in New York, but I have to come to Tulsa to get it.”

Tulsa Ballet Studio K Lighting Designer Les Dickert

Tulsa Ballet Studio K Lighting Designer Les Dickert

Also from New York, lighting designer Les Dickert has set diverse moods that inform our senses for the three Studio K world premieres. Today’s contemporary ballets usually require less stage clutter and more mood, hence the lighting expert’s major contribution.

Dickert has “gotten into the heads” of many such notables as Tulsa Ballet resident choreographer Ma Cong, having collaborated with him since 2004, and is a regular consultant for Studio K new creations. He soon travels to Paris and Marseilles, France to face new challenges and celebrations.

“Lighting is very important,” says Cong, as I realize anew that along with the music, brilliant  lighting techniques strongly influence our emotional journey and feelings, whether light or dark on stage.

Dickert’s work, both subtle and at times intense, could be called shadow play.

Just Be[autiful]

Ma Cong’s Just Be[autiful], not far removed in tone and temperament from his Angeli, recently presented by Tulsa Ballet II during an Oklahoma On Your Radar program premiere last month, took spiritual flight to the uplifting music of Max Richter’s Dona nobis pacem 1 from The Leftovers; and Kerry Muzzey’s An Invincible Summer, The Architect, and Broken People.

Of this new work, Cong says, “It’s a little more into the soul.  Max Richter’s touching music can push you to go further.” The result is a buoyant, breath of fresh air, pure and clean.

Jorma Elo's "Creatures of Prometheus" World Premiere in Tulsa Ballet Studio K

Jorma Elo’s “Creatures of Prometheus” World Premiere in Tulsa Ballet Studio K

Jorma Elo

Elo’s Slice to Sharp was performed by Tulsa Ballet in 2011, featuring Ma Cong in the cast of dancers, before he expanded his own international reach as both a resident and jet-setting choreographer. Cong will soon premiere another new work in Beijing, China, a frequent destination of late.

Watching the three diverse ballets unfold last week, it seemed to me that “slice to sharp” could well define the current trends for contemporary choreography.  Though each master of his art brings a different twist, twirl or tumble, the technical demands of new-age dance require ever-more strenuous positioning, speed, and overall precision with intricate partnering, — more than ballet demanded even ten years ago for the physically evolving, healthy and honed human body.

Elo’s sharp ballets include his 2002 Sharp Side of Dark, and his 2012 Sharper Side of Dark for Boston Ballet, plus dozens more works for major world-class companies globally.

The Creative Process

During a Tulsa Ballet special event Q & A session last Thursday night, the three choreographers revealed details of their diverse creative processes.

“We don’t usually watch each other choreograph,” says Jorma Elo, who trained with the Finnish National Ballet and Kirov Ballet schools, later joining Netherlands Dance Theater. “The other choreographers rooms are (each) like a holy space,” while they are working with dancers. Elo tends to encourage patrons to “Please come and see the process…when Marcello invites me back again.”

Inspired by the complexity of Beethoven’s music, Elo says of his Creatures of Prometheus, “The music is very structured…like architecture…The dancers and I try to fill up that space.” He does so with energetic fluidity and exuberant movement for ten dancers, many in vibrant jewel tones. Sleek costume designs by Christine Darch enhance his work, and that of Rhoden.

“I’m free to change anything in the moment with the dancers. It’s a collaboration.”

Dwight Rhoden

In his Ballad Unto.., Rhoden echoes the “slice to sharp, …and sharper” influence, perhaps unknowingly.  In this work for 14 strong and disciplined dancers, the movement is at first robotic in nature, the speed and precision evolving into an eventual solo for one female dancer who appears to be driven by some uncontrollable force as if crazed and possessed, until a partner appears to ‘rescue her’ from herself in a somewhat calming pas de deux, no less intense in choreographic demand — at the speed of modern life in a ‘get over it’ world.

Dickert’s dramatic lighting design effectively provides for the dark misty entrances and exits throughout this work, which features seven couples in various complex ensembles, or in pas de deux.  Youhee Son, partnered by Rodrigo Hermesmeyer; and Gabriela Gonzalez, partnered by Joseph Steinauer are repeatedly eye-catching in shades of orange and deep burgundy, respectively.

“Your reputation precedes you,” says Rhoden, regarding the seemingly infinite capability of Tulsa Ballet dancers to take on demanding complexity and new directions…This is really one of the most amazing companies here in America…There are no limitations with theses dancers.”

“The (creative) process is integrated with the dancers…We have two weeks to complete the new work…Dancers have so much power. They can influence the work.  They actually take the music (and movement) to a place you wouldn’t dream of… I tell them, ‘the work is nothing without you inside of it’…There are so many things that you put together that you can’t describe in words.”

Elo echoes, “It’s beautiful to start with something that is impossible…dreams…it never ends for me..the making better.”

Ma Cong

From his recent Angeli to this new work, Ma Cong elevates the human spirit along with the women who are literally lifted at times with pure eloquence, to rise above the mundane.  His dance vocabulary, and dramatic reach, captures truth and sincerity through a subtle, but very radiant form of emotional expression — what one would hope to find in aspects of pure love.

Creative costume design by Rebecca Baygents Turk, stages the dancers in soft pastel shades of ballet pink and gray, producing contemporary, yet classical elegance, with figurative details.

Cong, a former, very popular Tulsa Ballet principal dancer, says he intends to “put positivity and honesty” to the work.  Like the Cinderella movie he watched, he seeks for dancers’ interpretations to “have the courage to be kind…and show each other honesty in the choreography.”  Inspired by “the stunning music,” Cong calls working with Tulsa Ballet “a stunning process,” which has propelled him into an international career since his first choreographic work for Tulsa Ballet in 2004.

Some 20 new works later, Cong produced his most recent Tulsa masterpiece premiere in just five days, according to Marcello Angelini, the George Kaiser Family Foundation artistic director, who now celebrates 20 years of visionary leadership with this distinguished company.

For additional details, visit

Banner photo shows Tulsa Ballet dancers in Ma Cong’s Just Be[autiful].
All photos courtesy of Tulsa Ballet.

# # # # #Glenda Rice Collins 9-15-15   All rights reserved.

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