Native Texan Margo Sappington returns to her home state for the Ballet Ensemble of Texas’ Spring Performance where she will premiere her new rock ballet Plaza Del Fuego to music by Carlos Santana. The Ballet Ensemble of Texas’ Spring Performance takes place March 29-30, 2013, at the Irving Arts Center and will also feature George Balanchine’s Walpurgis Nacht, Gordon Pierce’s An American Portrait to music by Copland and No Pressure by Tammie Reinsch.
Margo Sappington began her professional dance career when she joined the Joffrey Ballet at the age of 17 and her choreographic career at the age of 21. She has created works for the Joffrey (New York/Chicago), Pennsylvania Ballet, Houston Ballet, Atlanta Ballet, Kansas City Ballet, Milwaukee Ballet, Carolina Ballet, Hubbard Street Dance Chicago and Ballet Jazz de Montreal.
Sappington is most well-known for using popular music on the concert stage, including songs by Prince, William Shatner, Indigo Girls and now Carlos Santana. Her opera credits include Live from the San Francisco Opera, La Gioconda, Samson and Delilah and Aida. On Broadway, she was the dance captain in the original Promises, Promises and has choreographed revivals of Pal Joey, Oh! Calcutta! and Where's Charley!
She currently contributes works yearly to the Dreyfoos School of the Arts in West Palm Beach, FL.
TheaterJones asks Margo Sappington about working with the students at the Ballet Ensemble of Texas, her inclination for popular music and the inspiration for her new ballet Plaza Del Fuego.
TheaterJones: How did you get involved with the Ballet Ensemble of Texas?
I knew Lisa Slagle when she was dancing with the Joffrey Ballet. When she left the company I happened to be choreographing an opera in San Francisco and she auditioned for me and I hired her and that’s how we met.
Have you choreographed other pieces for the Ballet Ensemble of Texas?
No I haven’t. I was teaching master classes at a festival in Houston about two years when our paths crossed again. After my first class I went up to one of the little girls and asked her who her teacher was and she said Ms. Lisa Slagle. So, in the next class after only a few minutes of dancing I could pick out which students were hers based on their technique. Lisa’s students are very refined and trained so well. So, I talked to Lisa and told her I would love to do something with her group. I don’t normally choreograph on students, but I just think Lisa’s girls are really wonderful and I knew I could do a lot with them.
What was the inspiration behind your new rock ballet Plaza Del Fuego?
Well, it is Texas and so I was very interested in doing Santana. I thought it would be something different for the company to interpret. It’s contemporary ballet so it has the classical ballet technique, but I push it a little bit over the edge. So, the dancers have to utilize everything they have learned already and then take it a little further. They have to be a little more off balance and a little bit corkier.
You have a preference for using popular music when choreographing. What challenges have you encountered by doing this?
I like to figure out ways to get a sense and feeling of a song without illustrating the lyrics. I find this challenging and interesting. With Santana, of course, there isn’t any words just wonderful music. His music gives opportunities to do rhythmic things that are very different from what you would typically see in a ballet.
Do classical dancers have a harder time adapting to your musical choices?
I don’t think so. If anything it draws them in more because the music is popular so it’s not as intimating to them. They can relate a little better to it than something that is only classical. They get a little more excited and can really feel the rhythm in the music more.
What advice do you have for young dancers?
I think it is important for dancers to realize that there is more to being a professional dancer than just being a good dancer. Your love of dance has to also lead you to understand that you have be able to do basic life skills like washing your own dance clothes, sewing your own pointe shoes and getting yourself to places on time. They should also know their own schedules. Students shouldn’t have to always rely on their parents. They need to know these things so when they get out into the real world they won’t be so overwhelmed.
What is your biggest pet peeve as a teacher and choreographer?
What makes me sad is when I mention to a dancer the name Margot Fonteyn and they have no idea who I am talking about. Or names like Wendy Whelan or Lourdes Lopez. There are dancers who don’t know that Lourdes was a dancer with New York City Ballet for 20 years before she became artistic director of Miami City Ballet. This just makes me really sad. I mean if you were a racecar driver or baseball player you would know who came before you and it should be the same way with dancers. Dancing to me is still an expression and the technique is only a means to get there; it’s not an end by itself.
Did you enjoy working with the Ballet Ensemble of Texas?
I so enjoyed working with Lisa’s company. I was only there a week and it was really intense, but the dancers were so focused and it was just a lovely experience.
◊ Katie Dravenstott is a freelance writer and dance instructor in Dallas. Visit her blog at www.kddance.wordpress.com