Ballet: Where Have all the Tutus Gone?

By Glenda Rice Collins

Oklahoma City, Okla., USA – Oklahoma City Ballet’s recent Future Voices choreographic showcase world premieres responded to familiar pop music history, as well as the classics, for inspiration.

The short, dramatic works were inspired by such themes as: sudden death, Analog Form, and jukebox memories, all in contemporary mode, up-close and personal in the same studio where they rehearse – the Inasmuch Foundation Theater at their home base. –Has spare costuming created a ‘tutu dilemma?’ 

Vibrant New Dance Works vs. the Classics

OKC Ballet 2022 Future Voices dress rehearsal images provided.

The recent Future Voices results were manifested in the sleek, spare costumes one would expect, the best way to appreciate the intricacy of the demanded technique, exemplary fit bodies in space, and sometimes useful ‘pedestrian’ influence, which brought to life these diverse choreographic gems. With some staged in black socks and shorts, or thrift shop blazers, these dancers are strong technicians, intelligently-focused, and ready for the challenge of such personally-inspired diversity, here and now.

So Where have all the tutus gone?

Pandemic-masked dedication: A scene from the OKC Ballet 2021 Future Voices choreographic showcase shows the expansive rehearsal and performance space at the Inasmuch Foundation Theater at their home base, the Susan E. Brackett Dance Center. Photo by Bill Crouch.

On March 18, 2022 I found myself seated in the Future Voices audience, front row, still pandemic-masked, near a first time ballet-goer, Jeanna Outlaw, from Wanette, Oklahoma. 

Commuting from a small town, she attended the performance with her adult daughter, Teresa Atkinson, and explained that they had won the tickets. It was Ms. Outlaw’s first ballet performance to experience “live.”

“So there are no more tutus?” Jeanna commented, quizzically, to which I responded, “They are still there, and will be coming back this Spring season in productions like Tulsa Ballet’s (recent) Swan Lake, and Oklahoma City Ballet’s forthcoming full-length Sleeping Beauty production, May 6-8, 2022!

(See the magazine-style arts review here, at this website link for related spring season references): 

Ms. Outlaw touched on a very relevant “tutu” point that made me wonder if today’s young ballerinas are simply more comfortable now with the current sleek and contemporary dance works, minus tutus?

–And yet, Jeanna said, “It was beautiful,” apparently moved by the powerful Future Voices creations. while still assimilating the immersive experience. Sitting in the front row, we were almost a part of the choreography and the energetically inspired action of the memorable performance! And we were certainly part of the “up close” vibe! We need time to reflect!

Trending: More Diversity in Music and Message

The inspired 2022 Future Voices event opened with OKC Ballet acting artistic director Ryan Jolicoeur-Nye’s Whirling, set to music: Quiet Contentment, by The David Roy Collective, wherein dancers Courtney Conner Jones and Erik Thordal-Christensen invited us into another realm, leaving the mundane behind.

Daniel Cooke’s Realm of Fate followed,– set to music: “Concerto KV 488,” (Mozart) by Ohad Ben Ari; “The 5th Season” by Nono; and “Chapter Two” by Brianna Tam -–  providing inspiration for a strong, dynamic showing of accomplished dance technique as demonstrated by the male trio: Joseph Hetzer, Jameson Keating, and James Klump, who are superbly refined artistic “athletes,” as in those revered in ancient Greece (Olympics) and Rome (Roman art) for exemplary physical strength, physique, and masterful control! Bravo!

“I was inspired by…(a male version idea of) the three Fates in Greek mythology… (in dance) for three men…trios united on the stage, and (to show) unity among us,” said Cooke, during a recent post-performance Q & A. The results were powerful!

Next: Mayim Stiller’s A Dash of Life, inspired by the sudden death of a close friend, and set to diverse music: Small Steps, by Elad Perez; Wherever We Go, by Miles Kredich; and Unwanted Tears by Philip Daniel. According to Stiller, “The title is inspired by a poem by Linda Ellis.

–Read more about The Dash Poem at this LIFEism link:

https://lifeism.co/the-dash-poem-by-linda-ellis

–A profoundly moving experience evolved in Stiller’s A Dash of Life dance form, –life unexpectedly cut short – which brought to mind the mixed inspirations French composer Maurice Ravel (1875-1937) must have felt in composing the music for Le Tombeau de Couperin in 1917 (later a 1975 George Balanchine ballet for New York City Ballet’s Ravel Festival). Ravel’s music –at times cheerful, at times haunting themes – honors his friends lost during World War I. The music evokes timeless emotions, also felt in Stiller’s recent choreography! Bravo!

Classical yet abstract contrast: New York City Ballet dancers are shown in George Balanchine’s interpretation of esteemed French composer Maurice Ravel’s Le Tombeau de Couperin, such as the ballet was premiered for the 1975 Ravel Festival. The music was composed (1914-17) as a tribute to Ravel’s friends who died in World War I. Photo provided from NYC Ballet archives at nycballet.com.

Jukebox Memories

Spontaneous mood: OKC Ballet choreographer-in-residence, Sarah Tallman, at left, captures some of the vibe of her 2022 Love in a Jukebox, posing with Oklahoma City Ballet principal and Future Voices ‘en pointe’ Composition choreographer DaYoung Jung, post-performance on March 18. Recently retired from a 22-year performing career, Sarah currently serves as Ballet Master/ Associate Choreographer for Wonderbound, a new American dance company based in Denver, CO. Photo by Glenda Rice Collins.

Sarah Tallman’s Love in a Jukebox, infused her energetic and engaging new work with effective, so-called “pedestrian movement,” and such cheerful pop tunes interpretations as:

“Daydream Believer,” by The Monkees; “He’s a Rebel,” by The Crystals; “True Love Ways,” by Buddy Holly; and “Happy Together,” by The Turtles. 

Along with Tallman, OKC Ballet dancers, listed in order of appearance, brought youthful, vivacious memories of mostly happy days to life:

Courtney Connor Jones, Erik Thordal-Christensen, Mayu Odaka, Joseph Hetzer, Kara Troester Blyth, and Nicholas Keeperman. Cheers!

OKC Ballet Creative Newcomers

Preceded by Alexandra Schooling’s Whale Fall, inspired by “…ecosystems that flourish when a whale dies,” 

Benjamin Tucker’s Analog Form, set to the music of: “The Grand Chopin Nocturne,” by Sebastian Pangal; and “Witness,” by Olive Michael, utilized OKC Ballet dancers: Ryland Acree, Gabrielle Mengden, Alison Ramoran, and Alexandra Schooling in choreography interpreting “reactions to relationships,” and the “influence of group dynamics.” Tucker is new to OKC Ballet this year.

Another newcomer to OKC Ballet: Ryland Acree’s To/Let, –set to music: “Digital Prelude in C Major” by Johnny Gorillas; “The Last of Our Love,” by Duce Williams; “Tonight, Tomorrow,” by Jacob Pavek; and “Go Season,” by Milano, –further exemplifies the diversity of dynamic musical influences on profound choreography and mood!

OKC Ballet principal dancer DaYoung Jung’s Composition, en pointe in blue, began with  “ideas for movement,” rather than the music up front, eventually utilizing the music of ANBR, Brianna Tam, and 8opus. DaYoung is a distinguished choreographic up-and-comer, with continuing recognition and honors. Brava!

The Medium is the Massage

As Marshall McLuhan said decades ago, ”The Medium is the Massage,” sure to be an ongoing theme, globally, through seasons of joy and trauma. And today’s “medium” and “massage” dance works influences are from such a different era, tutus could eventually seem obsolete! I hope not, anytime soon!

Swan Lake Sublime at Tulsa Ballet

Jaimi Cullen soars, as Odette, the White Swan, during Tulsa Ballet’s Swan Lake, March 24 at Tulsa PAC. Photo by Bethany Kirby.

Tulsa, Okla., USA –Tulsa Ballet’s recent Swan Lake production, at the Tulsa Performing Arts Center, brought back the grand staging, courtly manners, and mostly traditional choreography of a distant era, like a dream or like stepping into a fairy tale for both children and adults, –full of royalty, romance, and traditional tutus! 

And, of course, dear Tchaikovsky, and his breathtaking, masterful music, ranging from elevated, soaring swan themes to passionate Spanish dances! – Our mesmerizing escapes to sublime, mystical Swan Lake environs. Though the story is laced with ever-present evil forces and deception, we still count on true love to prevail!

–(Watch for Ma Cong’s Tchaikovsky: The Man Behind the Music, during Tulsa Ballet’s 2023 season, March 23-26, 2023, at the Tulsa Performing Arts Center, Single tickets go on sale August 1, 2022).

The tutus and classic elegance were back,

with a highly capable company, but I must admit, I think many ballerinas now look slightly more comfortable with the contemporary! 

A reluctant prince: Tulsa Ballet’s recent, resplendent Swan Lake featured Arman Zazyan as the rather aloof Prince. Centered among the elegant princesses seeking marriage, he has been commanded to choose on his 21st birthday. Photo by Bethany Kirby.

Ovations and curtain calls are still well deserved, but it must seem like a “whiplash” demand to transition from world class contemporary ballet back to the classics, at times masked, mid-pandemic, during the season which is heavily weighted with contemporary influences! –Could it be, Less is More?

Trouble evolves: Aina Oki strikingly portrayed the deceptive Odile, the Black Swan, on March 24, during Tulsa Ballet’s Swan Lake classic at the Tulsa PAC. Photo by Bethany Kirby.

Swan Lake Impressions Among Friends

A young, perceptive Oral Roberts University student, Angel Ibrahim, shares her thoughts here about recently attending her first “live” ballet performance in Tulsa, March 24, at Tulsa Ballet’s Swan Lake, choreographed by veteran artistic director Marcello Angelini, after Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov. Accompanied by Tulsa Symphony, scenery and costume design by Peter Cazalet, and lighting design by Julie Duro, conductor Peter Stafford Wilson raised his baton over an iconic classic that historically demands exceptional brilliance and endurance from the leading ballerina as Odette/Odile (white and black swan characters — both in tutus)!

–Angel’s meaningful impressions speak volumes:

“For one, I could not have gone to this Ballet with a better group of people. Sharing the Arts with (best) friends is always a great way to spend your time. Starting out the trip was a complete adventure eating out and then went straight to the Tulsa Ballet where we took our seats. 

“This being my first Ballet and being a Theatre Production and Design Major at Oral Roberts University, I was mainly blown away by the heavy use of stage presences and acting. Watching a production like Swan Lake where no dialogue is spoken but the audience can so clearly see a conservation through something so powerful as dance and how a character carries themselves. This added a level of pure and raw emotion into the source of what story they wanted to communicate to me as an audience member.

“The use of communicating like this shatters the language barrier in a beautiful way and pulls me farther and deeper into the world onstage. This brings me to the set and the stage scenery. My. Goodness. My field of study as a college student is focused on the design, backstage, make up, costume and setting of a theatre performance. 

“The background of Swan Lake was beautifully designed and helped tell me where and what was happening in the story. The actions of the villain (Rothbart, portrayed by Chong Sun, March 24)…wonderfully delivered and I would very much love to see this again, along with more Ballets and productions similar…Many thanks, and blessings,” – Angel Ibrahim. 

“Art is a language we all can understand” ~unknown.

Contemporary FOCUS NOW at Tulsa Ballet

April 15-23, 2022

At Studio K, Tulsa and Broken Arrow venues

Jack and the Beanstalk

–Tulsa Ballet will present the second installment in the Hardesty Family Foundation Children’s SeriesJack and the Beanstalk!  Follow Jack up the giant beanstalk, with Tulsa Ballet II, to a world with castles in the sky, magical treasures, and one despicable Ogre. With sets and costumes by New Zealand’s top designer Tracy Grant Lord, and dazzling choreography by the gifted Ma Cong, will transport children of all ages!

See the link below for details:

May 12-15, 2022

Tulsa Ballet presents Signature Series at the Lorton Performance Center, University of Tulsa

For additional details, visit the link below:

Tutu FOCUS NOW: At the University of Oklahoma

April 22 – May 1, 2022

Oklahoma Festival Ballet will present The Sleeping Beauty Suite, with additional exciting new choreography by multi-disciplinary guest artist, Robyn Mineko Williams, at the OU Arts District, in Norman. See additional details at: http://dance.ou.edu/performances/

Tutu FOCUS NOW: Oklahoma City Ballet

May 6 – 8, 2022

Oklahoma City Ballet presents Robert Mills’ The Sleeping Beauty full-length ballet classic at the Civic Center Music Hall, featuring the OKCPhil. See more details at the link below: 

CREDITS:

Banner photo by Bethany Kirby, for Tulsa Ballet Swan Lake.

New York City Ballet photo provided from nycballet.com archives.

###4-4-22

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