WE OFTEN view dance as an interpretation of music. But what happens when music and dance are created simultaneously, with dancers collaborating with both composer and choreographer?
Leading the way in this unique collaborative process is BalletCollective. Made up of dancers from the legendary New York City Ballet and directed by acclaimed choreographer Troy Schumacher, BalletCollective combines the precise athleticism of highly trained dancers with a communal approach to music and choreography.
Their Southern premiere at the Savannah Music Festival, with live music by Hotel Elefant, blends themes as disparate as an Allen Iverson jump shot, the isolation of Manhattan life, and New York’s new Lowline urban reclamation project.
We spoke to Schumacher last week.
Tell us about the actual process of how these works come to life.
We start with a conversation, about something important to us. When we join the right people together at the right time, the conversation becomes more and more fruitful. Utilizing that conversation as a third point, from there the composer begins working on the music.
I come from a very musical place myself. So I will spend hours and hours listening to that piece of music, planning out larger points.
We’re essentially using a piece of art that is made for us, or bundled, as a communication tool. We use that tool as a point going forward.
We have no preconceived ideas. When you go into these processes they lead you to places you didn’t think you would go.
That said, dancers don’t improvise during BalletCollective performances.
Not at all. We’re providing a very cohesive theatrical performance. However, as with any performing art, no two performances will be exactly the same.
There are three basic elements of choreography: The actual movements of the dancers, the shapes the dancers are making and how they utilize the space on the floor, and then the larger structure of who is dancing when.
In the typical choreographic setting, the choreographer takes a recording they want to use, they press play, and they start writing out the moves. This isn’t that at all.
We spend months and months constantly questioning ourselves and each other, questioning our decisions.
I’m very lucky to have a group of dancers whose styles and abilities I know very well. They each have very different dance personalities. We try and utilize their strengths.
And of course in our conversation we’re always pushing people outside their comfort level. But their reaction might push you out of your comfort level.
In other art forms, the artist can spend time in solitude working on their art, whether it’s composing music, writing a novel, or painting. But in our process you have to be malleable in the moment. That is what’s unique about our choreography, in this method that we use.
It can be a terrifying thing to write a symphony in front of the same orchestra that will play it! But that’s a good description of what we do.
What can we expect at this particular performance?
We curate each season around a particular art form. This year we picked architecture, and we’re working with two renowned architects, James Ramsey and Carlos Anaiz.
Going into the whole thing we thought, well, architectural drawings are beautiful, but they could also be a literal blueprint of how to intellectually transcribe an idea into dance.
But in working with these architects we realized the great emotional and contextual place that their work comes from. We started channeling the emotional starting points of the concepts that drive them, rather than architectural ideas and techniques per se.
BalletCollective doesn’t do classical repertoire, so it seems like the use of “ballet” in the name is a deliberate decision, rather than “modern” or “contemporary.” Why?
We do use it deliberately, mostly as a reference to the level of our training. These dancers are amazing beings. They spend decades teaching their bodies to do amazing things, to superarticulate every joint. They are superhuman in a way. They exhibit a level of precision unlike many other dancers. We require a very high level of athleticism and musical ability.
This is the first time the South will see this performance.
I’m originally from Stone Mountain, Ga., so I’m very excited to bring this show to my home state!
But you’ve never brought your work to Atlanta?
No! Savannah will be the first. There are friends driving in from all over to see it. It’s going to be so much fun!