Dallas — Dallas Neo-Classical Ballet (DNCB) has never been afraid to present works showcasing the darker side of ballet. If anything, the company thrives on performing work that is raw, dark and peculiar. Case in point, The Company’s annual Horror Series where the dancers are decked out in drab clothes covered in fake blood and crazy hair and makeup. Other works that come to mind include DNCB’s retelling of The Red Shoes in 2015 and Masque of the Red Death in 2016.
So, when I head DNCB was doing its own version of Vaslav Nijinsky’s and Igor Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring at its Myth & Magick performance on March 22 at the Sammons Center for the Arts in Dallas, I couldn’t wait to find out what kind of twist Artistic Director Emilie Skinner would be adding to her recreation of the infamous ballet.
When she told the nine female dancers would be portraying witches my first thought was that these characters were well-suited for the ballet, which is already steeped in pagan rituals, including a human sacrifice near the end. And second, what would make Skinner decide to take on such an ambitious project.
Skinner says the ballet wouldn’t have been possible without the help of Lane Harder, a professor at Southern Methodist University and the director of the music ensemble SYZYGY. She says Lane was the one who threw out the idea of doing The Rite of Spring at one of their brain storming sessions. “I remember the first time I saw the ballet live, which was when the Joffrey Ballet did it in Dallas in 2013. I was really impacted by it and so, it has stuck out in my mind ever since. When Lane brought it up he said we had the players so we decided to go for it.”
Going into the process Skinner says the most challenging aspect for her was taking a work that has a large number of dancers and translating it onto just nine female dancers. She goes on to say that she wanted to stick closely to the original choreography, but had to take into consideration the intimate space they would be performing in due to the frenzied nature of the ballet. “I don’t think our version looks as chaotic as others, like Joffrey, because I don’t have as many dancers doing as many different things. And because we are doing this at the Sammons Center and in a round I didn’t want it to be too much for the audience to take in when they are sitting right there at stage level.”
She adds, “I really like the setup at the Sammons Center. I think it’s a fun way to present the piece and it makes it a little more raw that it’s right there and it’s just so aggressive and weird and unfamiliar movement for a lot of people including us.”
The all-female cast was a purposeful choice made by Skinner to bring attention to the strength and femininity that she picked up on while researching the culture of witches. She did make it a point to say that while she is drawn to certain aspects of the culture she is not a practicing Wiccan.
“I am not a witch, but there is something about that style and aesthetic that fits really well and I can just plug that into The Rite of Spring. And when I think about the Pagan rituals and sacrifice in the piece I just automatically go to this Wiccan history.”
She continues, “This piece is more focused on the feminine side of that culture. It’s just seems so powerful and feminine and nice and beautiful, but also kind of scary and dark, which is kind of what our company is about.”
The all-female cast represents different degrees of witches, including the neophytes (lowest degree), second-degree witches and third-degree witches or high priestesses, which will be represented by long-time DNCB company member Lea Zablocki. The dancers will be wearing long black skirts and crops tops decorated by local artist Heather Lynn who says in a Facebook post that she was inspired by Pagan runes and celestial diagrams. Skinner says loose hair and body paint will complete the look.
“I wanted her to create different designs for each of those groups of witches,” Skinner says about the costuming. “And Lea is actually making herself this crazy huge head piece. So, this sort of barbaric nature, raw and down-to-earth kind of feel.”
The program on Friday will open with a re-staging of Erik Satie’s Mercure from 1924, which will also include live accompaniment by SYZYGY. Also featured in the first half will be an original work by a composition student of the Meadows School of the Arts Division of Music.
You can catch Dallas Neo-Classical Ballet’s The Rite of Spring at the company’s Myth & Magick performance at the Sammons Center for the Arts this Friday.
» Katie Dravenstott is a freelance writer and dance instructor in Dallas. Visit her blog at www.kddancewordpress.com