Dallas — Starting at different times from seated positions, the members of Avant Chamber Ballet (ACB) alternate performing a movement phrase that has them going to the floor, coming off the floor and moving around themselves in pairs. As the phrase evolves the dancers begin to play with their musical timing and the order of the choreography to create beautiful bursts of rippling energy. Throughout it all, the dancers appear content to stay in uniformed lines and repeat their movement until dancer Melissa Meng makes the bold decision to remain standing while everyone else goes to the ground, thus marking the start of her journey to finding home.
“It’s an easily relatable concept,” Fernanda Oliveira says about the narrative of her new ballet, Homebound, as part of ACB’s fifth annual Women’s Choreography Project (WCP). “It shows the lead character’s journey to finding her true home and it’s in four different movements. First she tries to find it in a different place, then in a certain person, and finally within herself. It’s very abstract in that it’s not a physical home, but more like a sense of love and belonging that you carry with you.”
For her musical selections Oliveira has chosen four songs from the Australian string quartet band FourPlay, which will be played live by the Cezanne Quartet. Oliveira says the first time she heard them she fell in love with them and since then has listened to all their albums. She adds that their music also compliments the choreography in Homebound, which is very musically driven as well as rich in balletic content and story development.
“The music really helps me tell the story,” Oliveira says. “Each movement is a different mood and kind of a different section of the story so it helps a lot.”
Originally from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Oliveira is currently in her fourth season with Colorado Ballet. She trained at The Washington School of Ballet before joining The Washington Ballet Studio Company under Septime Webre. Since joining Colorado Ballet Oliveira has performed in works by George Balanchine, Anthony Tudor, Twyla Tharp and Val Caniparoli, just to name a few. She has also choreographed two works for the company: Saudade (2017) and All Strings Attached (2018). The WCP marks Oliveira’s first commissioned work and also her first time choreographing on dancers outside of Colorado Ballet.
Going into rehearsals Oliveira says she had very good expectations for ACB as she was already familiar with a few of the dancers, including Emily Dixon Alba, Regan Lawthers and Meng, all of whom had danced previously with Colorado Ballet. “I did know from Emily that the company was strong and that they are able to do amazing repertoire. So, I expected them to be very capable strong dancers already, which is what I did see and what I had to work with and it made my life much easier.”
She adds, “The Company is beautiful and it was a little intimating as it always is for me to be in the front of the room and start giving instructions and just take charge of the room. It’s a big responsibility and it’s a little bit harder when I don’t know all of the dancers in the room, but they were amazing and it was very exciting for sure.”
I didn’t see any of Oliveira’s nerves when she was in town last week reviewing the choreography in Homebound with the dancers before they present the work at ACB’s Romance and Ragtime performance this weekend. She was very soft spoken and respectful toward the dancers who in return were quick to make corrections and comfortable enough to ask questions regarding particular steps and emotional intent. Oliveira was also very patient when it came to breaking down the narrative in the work as well as describing the mood in each section. One sentence I particularly like was when she told the dancers to make the movement more dreamy.
Rehearsals is also where Oliveira got to spend time with ACB’s Artistic Director Katie Cooper whom Oliveira says she admires as a choreographer and a business woman. “She is just brilliant! She is very sort of quiet and understated in a way, but she is so intelligent and her choreography is amazing and intricate, and you can tell that she’s had experience doing just really rich choreography in her life as a dancer and then as a choreographer. You can see that in the way that she creates.”
Oliveira continues, “She also has an ease of being a leader too. It’s kind of natural for her, I felt, and it was cool to see a woman in that position and just taking charge. She’s still approachable and sweet and easy to work with, but she is definitely in charge and she’s a great leader for the company.”
Homebound will be performed at ACB’s Romance and Ragtime performance, Feb. 22-23, at Moody Performance Hall in Dallas. The program also includes Christopher Wheeldon’s The American pas de deux and the premieres of Cooper’s The Seasons with music by Vivaldi and Ragtime with music by Scott Joplin.
» Katie Dravenstott is a freelance writer and dance instructor in Dallas. Visit her blog at www.kddance.wordpress.com