One night last week, after (for me, anyhow!) a fairly grueling Rhythm & Motion class at the Cincinnati Ballet Center taught by Heather Britt, I sat down with her in the lobby to talk about her newest choreographic work, Opus 5.5. It’s a world premiere (her fourth) for Cincinnati Ballet’s Kaplan New Works Series. Opus 5.5 debuts Thursday and runs through September 16, 2012, at the Mickey Jarson Kaplan Performance Space (513-621-5282).
Britt is a charismatic personality, a choreographer, dancer and teacher who (luckily for those of us who live here) makes her home in Cincinnati. I’ve seen her dance, teach, perform and choreograph during the past ten years or so. I am a fan.
In her choreography, Heather brings emotionally vivid rushes of imaginative movement, set in seemingly self-referential worlds, to the stage. Her style is a blend of modern, ballet, hip-hop, African, and pop, but to me has always seemed organic, and intensely physical, with center motivated jumps, twirls and sometimes vortex-like spirals. Her timing can be offbeat, weaving itself into the music like a needle and thread. There mostly is a narrative of couples or trios, but ensemble moments have been powerful and telling.
I’ll let her speak for herself with the occasional comment from me.
There’s a gender imbalance in ballet especially. It’s a fact that women choreographers are underrepresented. Any thoughts?
I’m sure it has to do with funding, and the conservative forces behind huge companies with huge budgets. They have not taken the woman as seriously as they do a man.
What does it mean for Cincinnati Ballet to highlight women choreographers during this season?
I really believe the benefit is that it is more about equality. I think that each human being brings an individual approach to the table as an artist.
What do you think about the contributions your dancers make to your work for Cincinnati Ballet?
Oh my gosh. Huge. And I think I have a very collaborative approach with the dancers. Not so much in the group work – I’m usually telling them “okay, here’s what it’s gonna be.”
But when I’m working with someone individually or in a duet where the dancers have to interact with each other, their input is so important. So that it’s organic. So that they are pulling something out of themselves that feels real.
That’s what I am looking for, so the benefit is of having them there to help me kind of figure it out.
For instance, with my lead couple Cervilio [Amador] and Janessa [Touchet] (Sarah [Hairston] and Zack [Grubbs] are also doing it), I gave them three duets.
I love the process of creating. It is awesome. In Opus 5.5 I’m kind of playing with different ideas about energy. Bascially, we are all energy.
I mean that we can hold our energy, or share it intimately. Or we can share it in the community. Or we can perceive that we can be isolated.
If I may say (she laughs here) to me we are all kind of a big pot of energy – kind of like little nuggets in a big pot of energy!
Is this way of seeing the world a philosophy of yours?
Yeah, it really is. I’m not religious by any means and I think now in my own work I am working out my own spiritual beliefs.
How did it work in the studio?
I gave Cervilio and Janessa this idea: “In the first duet I want you to have an energy we can see, and I want you to play around with giving the energy to each other.” Well, we literally, the three of us, bit by bit by bit, went onwards. They were so organic with it.
They’d tell me “if I move like this, I feel like I have the energy.” And I’d say “Okay,” but they argued about it a few times . . . Janessa would say “wait, I’m not actually feeling that,” so I’d say “what if you put your hand here?”
So, it was awesome working with them. Bascially, in the first duet of three I made for them, they share energy very intimately, but then they get blown apart. Later in the piece they come back in the space for another duet.
But they don’t actually connect. They don’t see each other, but the idea is that each one’s energy is still affecting the other. And finally, they come together for a split second, realize it, and get pulled apart again. At the end of the piece, they try to revisit some of their connectedness, but realize that they will never have that exactly again, and they decide to call it quits.
And they each wish the other well, but it’s kind of sad ending, honestly.
So this one is about not being able to recapture the past?
Yes, but I need to rewind! The music, from Peter Adams, has been my inspiration. I feel like it’s cinematic, like a movie with scenery flying by.
But also, to me, it feels disconnected. Peter calls it “dense with not a lot of space.” It feels very percussive, more angular. Its impact is like separate little flashes: each little section feels separate. At first I kept thinking “what’s the through-line, what’s the through-line . . .?” and then I realized that I don’t know that there is a through-line. It’s meant to be disconnected! So, inspired by that, I worked with the notion of connectedness and disconnectedness.
And this time, I’ve put the women on pointe. This was weird for me, because I’ve never choreographed a duet on pointe before [for Cincinnati Ballet dancers]. And, after I already decided, I thought more about it. And, it came to me – on pointe, they are not grounded – they are disconnected!
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