Last month, I interviewed Texas Ballet Theater’s artistic director Ben Stevenson as his company was preparing for their Masterworks performance at the Winspear Opera House—and for their most daring program to date. Stevenson planned a doozy of a line-up with the classic Rubies by George Balanchine set against the contemporary Petit Mort by Jiří Kylián, and Stevenson’s own Five Poems. If it were possible, he is pushing his company even further this weekend at Fort Worth’s Bass Performance Hall, by replacing Five Poems with the world premiere of Crash from acclaimed British choreographer Jonathan Watkins.
The company has been in rehearsal this month with Watkins learning the new work and preparing for their season-closing performance. This was after they spent about six hours per day for 10 days in the studio auditioning for the piece. Crash explores the ebb and flow caused by the challenges of modern life, with choreography that draws inspiration from everyday movement and blurs it with the classicism of modern ballet. The piece also deepens Watkins’ Texas connection by utilizing the talents of Dallas-based composer Ryan Cockerham and Kari Perkins, the Texas-based costume designer who recently worked on the award-winning film, Boyhood.
I spoke with Watkins about his own journey in dance and about creating this new piece for Texas Ballet Theater.
When did you first know you wanted to be a dancer? Was there one pivotal moment?
JWWhen I was younger, I had a lot of energy and used to do all sorts of things such as tennis, gymnastics and swimming. Another of these activities was a “natural movement” class where the participants had to respond to tasks and music. The teacher suggested that I should also try ballet, and as well as taking his advice, I would dance at every opportunity I got. It was when I got into the Royal Ballet School at 12 years old that I realized I could make dance my profession and that was exactly the right place to learn how to do that.
When did you begin the transition from dancer to choreographer?
JWIt was actually at the Royal Ballet School that I started choreographing and I was encourage to do more after winning the Kenneth Macmillan Choreography Award when I was 15. After I graduated into The Royal Ballet Company I was juggling being a dancer there with choreographic commissions in and outside the company.
How would you describe your choreographic style?
JWI would say that my choreographic style is based in the neo-classical ballet vein, but has added dynamics and influences from both the music and a more everyday, pedestrian movement style. I am interested in what things we as people have to deal with in our day-to-day lives and conceptually, how this can be represented through dance.
What inspired this new work for Texas Ballet Theater?
JWFor this piece, I am looking at many different situations where there is the possibility of a breaking point. Inspiration such as a physical collision, a technological crash, or a relationship having too much friction and ending all enter into the work. I was interested in how we can recover from these occurrences and how by looking at the crash point, we can equip ourselves with the knowledge to deal with future events.
The music and costumes for this piece also have a Texas connection. You’re working with Dallas-based composer Ryan Cockerham and Austin-based designer Kari Perkins. How did this collaboration come about?
JWThese collaborators came about due to my interest in working with artists from the Texas area. With Ryan, I had an alumni list from The Royal College of Music, London and as I was going through them, I found that he was now based in Dallas. After getting to know some of his music and speaking about possibly working together, I decided it would be a great match and he agreed. Similarly with Kari, I came across her work online, and coincidentally I had just seen Boyhood, and after learning that she also has a lot of experience working with dance, she seemed like a brilliant addition to the team.
Without giving too much away, what can we expect from this piece?
JWA high-energy ballet with dynamic music that looks at when situations get too much, they have no option but to break and crash. Also on the bill this weekend is Rubies, the second movement of the three-act ballet Jewels by George Balanchine, and Jiří Kylián’s Petite Mort. The former is set to an upbeat score from Igor Stravinsky and is a musical party that is fun to watch and even more fun (but challenging) to dance. The later is a sensuous take on the juxtaposition between pleasure and death. The 18-minute work features six men, six women and six swords. Kylián requires a company to audition in order to perform his work, so TBT’s performance is a testament to versatility and artistic growth of TBT dancers.
Texas Ballet Theater presents their season closing performance Friday, May 29 and Saturday, May 30 at 8:00 p.m. and Saturday, May 30 and Sunday, May 31 at 2 p.m. at Bass Performance Hall.