Robert Mills, artistic director of Oklahoma City Ballet, and guest choreographer Alan Hineline are, to paraphrase Shakespeare, well past their dancing days. But while that chapter in their lives may have come to a close, both are making significant contributions that will ensure a sound future for this choreographic art form.
Mills has scheduled a trio of works for the Oklahoma City Ballet's upcoming program: A world premiere, an Oklahoma premiere and an iconic 20th century ballet that made its composer an international celebrity.
The spring program will open with Hineline's “Junctures,” a new work created for Oklahoma City's company. Set to Michael Nyman's “Exit, No Exit” for bass clarinet and string quartet, “Junctures” is based on the ways in which people impact our lives.
“People who come in and out of our lives create an impact on us or leave a resonance with us,” Hineline said. “You then pass that on to someone else. That idea threads the whole ballet together.
“I came in with concept of how the work would pull together but when dancers or their steps took me somewhere else, I've allowed those changes to happen. Sometimes a mistake becomes a step. When that occurs, the process feels much richer than if I had asked for something specific.”
Hineline was drawn to Nyman's “Exit, No Exit” because of the way in which the composer wove short snippets of sound into a larger whole. The music, in turn, inspired him to take a similar approach in regard to the dancers' movements.
“In ‘Junctures,' relationships are implied through physicality rather than through narrative,” Hineline explained. “We spent the first week developing the vocabulary for the piece and then used that vocabulary to create sentences and paragraphs. It was a way for the ballet to feel like a complete structure that related all those bits.”
Mills combined the music of Estonian composer Arvo Part and the Austrian Gustav Mahler to create “In Between Dreams,” a work he created for Ballet Nouveau Colorado in 2007. This will mark its Oklahoma premiere.
“I'm using the adagio from Mahler's fifth symphony which I've admired for a long time,” Mills said. “I've wanted to choreograph something to it because it has a sound that's almost otherworldly. It lent itself to a dreamlike atmosphere I wanted to create.”
“In Between Dreams” will also feature two works by Part: a 1976 piano piece titled “Fur Alina,” and “Cantus In Memoriam Benjamin Britten,” a work for string orchestra and bell dating from 1977.
“The dancers won't hear Part's music until we move to the Civic Center. They've had to learn the choreography to their own internal cues. The music will then be laid over it. I wanted it to be almost like film where the music (happens) in the background.”
The dominant feature in Mills' ballet is a wall-size panel covered with black spandex.
Dancers will make their entrances and exits through the flexible material.
“You can put your arm through it and (the audience) will only see that appendage,” Mills said. “You can also manipulate the spandex and do a lot of intertwining. It's been a fun experimental process.”
The program's finale is Stravinsky's “The Firebird,” a ballet that created a sensation when it premiered in June 1910. Based on Russian folk tales about Prince Ivan's journey through the magical kingdom of the evil Kashchei, “The Firebird” was the first of three ballets Stravinsky composed for Serge Diaghilev's Ballets Russes. “Petrouchka” followed in 1911 and “The Rite of Spring” in 1913.
“I started with the original ‘Firebird' libretto and (Michel) Fokine's choreography,” Mills said. “It's such an iconic piece of music. I'm using all of Stravinsky's 1945 suite but I'm splicing in some sections from the 1910 original version.
“We're actually using a professional body painter to airbrush the unitards. By using some fluorescent paint, the Firebird will give off a glow that looks like she's on fire. It's going to be an incredible visual for the audience.”