Avant-garde ballet shocked the world in the early 20th century with crazy costumes, music and movement. This weekend, Dallas Neo-
Classical Ballet and musicians from SMU come together to re-stage some of these works. I spoke with Emilie Skinner, co-founder of the ballet, who says to expect air raid sirens – and airplane propellers.
Let’s start with “Parade”. This dance debuted in 1917 and it caused a riot when it came out. The term “surrealism” came from this dance. Why did it provoke such strong reaction?
“Parade” was the first ballet to bring popular culture to the stage. The absurdity of the music and the costumes and the fact that there was not really any plot going on, except that there were these performers trying to bring you in to see the circus, trying to get your attention. The choreography was absolutely, I’m going to use the term insane. But brilliantly insane. I think it was way too much, way too different for the audience to handle.
Was the movement just so different?
It really is. Even when we started re-staging it and I was starting to show the dancers what they had to do, it was just like, what in the world are we doing. It was so bizarre. There were no terms I could give them. It was just, now you’re going to lay on the floor and flop around like a dead fish because I think that’s what this character is supposed to be doing at this time.
Picasso created the costumes for the original “Parade”
Correct, it was his first time to create costumes for ballet.
And here in Dallas, you have artist Francisco Moreno doing the costumes.
They are similar to Picasso’s ideas. There’s a cubist aspect to them, but it’s just completely different design. He decided to work in grey scale. So we’re all in greyscale. Picasso’s originals were all very bright and colorful. But these are all very streamlined, black, white, gray. And I think it makes a nice geometric, just beautiful look to the costumes.
How will the evening unfold Sunday?
We have two acts to the performance. The first act is “Parade” and “391,” which is with the full ensemble, directed by Lane Harder, the director of Syzygy, which is a contemporary music ensemble from SMU. And then the second act is “Ionization” and “Ballet Mechanique,” which is directed by John Lee. He’s the director of the Meadows Percussion Ensemble at SMU.
We gotta talk about the music because it’s pretty crazy, am I right?
Yeah, there’s a light of found sound, such as something called an amplified puddle, which is basically what it sounds like. There’s tap shoes, a roulette wheel. There’s lots of airplane, air raid sirens going on. All this was happening right after WWI and then some of the pieces getting into WWII. I think that was rattling around in all these composers brains.
There are some unusual instruments in “Ballet Mechanique”
We actually have two handmade propellers that were made specially for this performance by Tom Conte, who owns a hobby shop in Plano. You’ll be able to see two propellers. And I had to warn the dancers not to go near them because they are a little dangerous. So that adds an element of suspense to the ballet.
Yes, and for the dancers!
Definitely. It’s all about the love of the dance. You gotta do what you gotta do.