From Commissioned to Commissioner | By Julie Potter

“For me this year, the parameters have been pretty strict where I’m actually going against instinct sometimes…following our instincts is something that makes us [choreographers] good at what we do so actively turning your back on that in search of a different path is something that SKETCH allows me to do. The process is great, but I do miss my instincts. I want them back.”

Amy Seiwert bravely interrupts habits embedded in her choreographic process through the parameters of SKETCH, a series she created in 2011. According to Seiwert, the purpose of SKETCH is to provide a safe environment for risk-taking in contemporary ballet choreography and encourage innovation in the art form.

Katherine Wells and Brandon Freeman in rehearsal for Seiwert's The Devil Ties My Tongue. Photo by Ben Needham Wood

Wells and Freeman. Photo by Ben Needham Wood

During a studio showing and discussion on July 13 at ODC’s Studio B, Seiwert notes how she usually starts with the music. Therefore, using text (a poem) to drive the composition for her new work, The Devil Ties My Tongue, introduced new paths to movement. “Really coming from text as a means for creation has been a wonderful challenge, which forced me into some new choices.” she commented. With the SKETCH series, Seiwert, who is often commissioned by dance companies to choreograph new ballets, assumes the role of commissioner.

This speaks to the leadership of ODC Theater’s resident artists, particularly on the heels of Hope Mohr’s season for which Mohr served as curator of The Bridge Project, bringing a work by Susan Rethorst to be performed alongside her own. Both resident artists have gone beyond their work as choreographers and artistic directors to lead processes often executed by performing arts presenters and venues, to ensure, in Seiwert’s case, new work creation and, in Mohr’s case, exposure of work by East Coast choreographers.

For SKETCH 3: Expectations, July 25-28 at ODC Theater, Seiwert engaged choreographers Marc Brew and Val Caniparoli to make new works, during a rapid process with the same eight artists: Annali Rose Clevenger, Brandon “Private” Freeman, Rachel Furst, James Gilmer, Sarah Cecilia Griffin, Weston Krukow, Ben Needham-Wood and Katherine Wells. (Over the past two seasons of SKETCH, Seiwert previously commissioned works by Julia Adam, Gina Patterson, Matthew Neenan, Adam Hougland and Susan Roemer.)

IMG_4697“Having a very short creative period has been very different. Usually it takes weeks.” Brew noted just days into his process with Seiwert’s artists during the studio showing. For Brew the relatively short time in rehearsal challenged him to work in new ways: dictating fewer phrases and giving the dancers more prompts for their own movement generation. Clevenger in particular welcomed the process, noting that sometimes “Ballet trains the mover out of you” and commenting that Brew’s approach felt particularly liberating. Seiwert met Brew as she worked with AXIS Dance, an experience which expanded Seiwert’s methods of creating, fueling her to reinvestigate the roots of her own vocabulary. Brew is trained as a classical ballet dancer and was determined to continue a career in dance even after experiencing a horrific car accident at age 20, which left him paralyzed.

For SKETCH 3, Brew’s Awkward Beauty investigates structures: both architectural and emotional foundations and environments. During the sections performed by the artists in rehearsal clothes, dynamic and unstable structures were suggested by the constantly shifting partnering of three couples. Points of contact for the weight sharing occur not at stable areas close to the torso, such as the waist or underarms, but rather distal intersections of forearms or unhooked body balances. The careful weight negotiations are visible, making effort, attention and connection between the partners central to the work’s essence. Dan Wool’s electronic score charges the landscape of bodies in which nothing remains static.

Having an artistic home at the San Francisco Ballet for more than thirty years, Caniparoli attracted Seiwert’s attention as a prolifically generative artist whom she wanted to engage for SKETCH 3.

“It was so freeing for me to walk into the room and have these eight dancers. The challenge for me was using photographs for inspiration.” Caniparoli remarked, having worked for just nine days with the dancers prior to the showing. He used Lalage Snow’s Triptychs of soldier photographs taken before, during and after deployment in Afghanistan as imagery for the dancers to revisit. They stand in line at attention, fracturing the order as they peel away one at a time running backward. As a frontal facing group, the dancers slowly recede cycling though individual gestures, active and pensive. In Caniparoli’s work, the pacing of stillness with the staggered initiation of movement phrases encourages the eye to notice both the ensemble as single unit as well as individual artists.  Caniparoli was trained in music and blames this training on his avoidance of cutting or mixing music. For his premiere he selected work for six violas by John Tavener and another piece by Alexander Balanescu.

While the choreographers are not in the room together during rehearsals, the three works composing SKETCH 3 are linked through the time constraints of a relatively short creation process, the challenge for the choreographers to work differently and an ensemble of eight artists with a can do attitude toward experimentation.

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