Nicolas Blanc was creating the dance “Under the Trees’ Voices” for the Chicago-based Joffrey Ballet at the height of COVID, when he learned his grandfather had passed away.
“Like many other stories, he died alone in hospital, and it was a tragic moment for the family,” said the French choreographer.
“I wanted to pay homage to him by dedicating the piece to him. When I had the chance to return to France and pray at the cemetery, my cousin’s 8-year-old son did something strange. He picked a little tree, a plant, and put it on his grave. I thought that was my grandpa talking to me and telling me to go with what you think is good for the room and he’s watching me from wherever he is now.
“Under the Trees’ Voices” is one of three original dances included in Joffrey Ballet’s upcoming program presented by the La Jolla Music Society.
Uniquely, each of the dances reflects the transition to life after the pandemic.
Blanc’s “Under the Trees’ Voices” was set to Italian composer Ezio Bosso’s Symphony No. 2, a composition Blanc listened to while running along Lake Shore Drive, where Lake Michigan breezes rustle the branches ashes and oaks.
The music is reminiscent of the sounds of nature, beginning with a rushing, repetitive violin melody that evokes thoughts of running through a forest as flower buds burst at the speed of accelerating film. The melody climbs up the musical scale, building tension before the tempo slows and becomes pensive and lyrical, like the slow drift of falling leaves.
Blanc’s dance was created at a time of yearning to be freed from isolation, and Bosso, who died in 2020 at age 48 after a long battle with a neurological disease, brings that poignant urgency to the score.
“Bosso was so in tune with me that I thought, this is the score for Joffrey’s new work,” said Blanc, who is also the company’s rehearsal director.
“I felt it needed an extra sensuality and the music dictated it. By choosing Ezio Bosso, I wanted to get in touch with something more emotional, melancholic and nostalgic, but also full of hope .
Like many dance companies, the Joffrey Ballet had to come up with a program to stay solvent during the pandemic and it introduced a digital season to keep dancers paid. 28-minute ‘Under the Trees’ Voices’ first premiered online last year as a hybrid, meaning the dance was created for film knowing it would eventually be performed in direct.
For Blanc, it was about developing a new way of thinking about the staging of dance.
The digital ballet directs the viewer’s eye so that the choreographer decides what the audience will see. But Blanc prefers the choreography of a live performance.
It allows viewers to change orientation at will and get an expanded view of the “Under the Tree’s Voices” forest stage, where more than a dozen dancers perform under eight, large golden leaves floating at the above their heads.
“You see a lot less in the digital version,” Blanc said.
“At the beginning of the third movement, the dancers drop petals on the ground. For the Internet version, you zoom with the camera on stage with the dancers, but in the live version, the rendering is different. This gives the audience the freedom to capture all the details they want.
Creating dance during social distancing rules was a challenge because, at one time, only five dancers at a time were allowed in the studio.
The “Voices” duets were easier to choreograph, Blanc said, because they were originally performed by real-life couples who lived together, so the rule didn’t apply.
“It’s really interesting to think about how I functioned during a strict lockdown, when I was stuck at home,” Blanc said.
“I couldn’t really move around my apartment and jump over the couch, so I refocused my energy on creating movement and what I could do in sequences. I filmed myself and it helped me a lot. The last moment we have on stage is hopeful, when they all reach for a canopy of leaves. I wanted to connect the dancers to nature in a way that suggests one element cannot live without the other.
The Joffrey Ballet will also perform two emotionally charged works, one with a sad story and the other joyful.
The program includes “Vespertine” by the late British choreographer Liam Scarlett, a grand ballet inspired by the Baroque era and danced under a ceiling of chandeliers. Scarlett died by suicide last year after visiting Chicago in 2019 to put her work on the Joffrey Ballet, just before the pandemic hit.
Justin Peck’s “The Times Are Racing,” on the other hand, is an upbeat, jazzy piece reminiscent of Gene Kelly’s “Singin’ in the Rain” number, with big sweeping arm movements and supple dance segments that show Peck’s penchant. for tap dance.
Currently Resident Choreographer of New York City Ballet, Peck most recently choreographed the dance scenes for Steven Spielberg’s adaptation of “West Side Story.”
He refers to “The Times Are Racing”, “West Side Story” and his recent work “Partita” as “sneaker balls”.
“What I’ve found is that putting on a dance in sneakers allows for a different kind of physical weight bearing,” Peck explained in an email from New York City, where he lives with his wife and a family. baby girl born last year.
“The center of gravity of the dancers drops slightly. And sneakers provide a distinct type of traction that allows dancers to develop a little more fully in certain movements. It’s a subtle change from having dancers in slippers and pointe shoes, but it helps set these dances apart in their own unique style.
Peck grew up in San Diego and was a student at the former California Ballet in San Diego. His mother, Luisa Peck, was a member of the board of directors of the City Ballet of San Diego.
“Last time I was there was in 2013,” Peck wrote. “I would love to come back in person. Maybe it signifies the right project or the invitation to re-engage with my hometown community.
La Jolla Music Society presents Joffrey Ballet
When: 8 p.m. Saturday. A prelude interview at 7 p.m. will be hosted by Molly Puryear.
Or: San Diego Civic Theater, 1100 Third Ave., Downtown
Call: (858) 459-3728
In line: ljms.org
Luttrell is a freelance writer.