May 3, 2013

Company C Ballet Presents World Premiere of "Natoma" by David Van Ligon

I want to entertain the audience. Not make them feel as though 
they have to turn in a paper afterward. 

This is an exciting week for choreographer and dancer David Van Ligon. This weekend, the world premiere of his ballet Natoma (set to music by San Francisco composer/cellist Zoë Keating) is debuting as part of Company C Contemporary Ballet’s spring season.

Last March, Natoma was showcased as part of the Company C In-Studio Choreographic Workshop. Because it was so well received, the company decided that it should be a part of the 2013 season programming.

It requires a lot of work to transform a workshop effort into a main-stage production. For the past few months, David has been taking his Facebook followers on the journey with him, restructuring choreography, costume designs, and a totally new arena for him — lighting.

But even though he has been tremendously busy rehearsing his ballet, as well as his dancing assignments in the other ballets on the program, David took the time for an interview about the newest aspect of his career:

Dance Blitz: Are you finding that you need to make changes from the workshop performance in the studio to a full-blown stage presentation? If so, what type of things have you changed?

David Van Ligon: Definitely. In my opinion, I had to throw the piece together so quickly that there are sections needing more definition, more flavor. I am also adding a central pas de deux for Edilsa Armendariz, which should make a smoother transition from the first and what used to be the second movements. I remember last year working on what now is the third movement — I was still teaching some of the dancers the movement on the final day. I have made a lot of critical changes, so people who have watched Natoma online or who saw it live definitely will see a more polished ballet.

What attracted you to the music?

I first heard Zoë Keating’s music when I was performing with Nevada Ballet Theatre in its first Choreographers’ Showcase in partnership with Cirque de Soleil. Dancer/choreographer Krista Baker, who is still a member of NBT, used two of Keating’s pieces in her work. I instantly was hooked by her melodies and the percussive quality of the music. Listening to more of her music, I discovered she performs solo, layering each of the parts to create something truly original.

Impressed by that, and the fact that it’s hard to find 21st century classical or even neo-classical composers, I bought her entire collection. Keating’s music has a repetitive quality to it, much like Phillip Glass; but her music has a high degree of versatility, coupled with complete unpredictability.

The three movements I’ve chosen sound completely different from each other. The first movement has a lyrical quality, the second movement adagio has an unexpected sound, and then it’s an all-out fierce urgency in the third movement (the music that first inspired Natoma. I couldn’t help but dance to it, with the goal of enhancing the power in her music.

Keating’s music has inspired me so much, that immediately after finishing Natoma, I began working on another piece using four movements. Entitled Escape of the Last Bird, it’s now waiting in the wings. 

How much involvement have you had in the tech aspects — costume design, lighting, audio, etc.?

I have had a lot of involvement, and it is so exciting to learn different parts of the artistic experience.  I didn’t know anything about lighting, but we have a very talented lighting designer, Patrick Toboe, who designs most of the shows. I learned so much from him about lighting.

Costumes are always something I think about once a piece is in process. I’ve had at least three ideas for this piece. I won’t deny the fact that most of my costume creations are inspired by the collections of the late Alexander McQueen. His clothes were meant to be danced in. In fact, another ballet of mine, SanVean, was inspired by one of his earlier collections.  I’m so fortunate to have had the very talented Laura Hazlett, our company designer, to help me with the overall design and creation of the costumes. She’s one of the best designers I’ve ever worked with. Lauren is able to fully realize someone’s vision with just a few words. Each time she and I met during the process, I became more and more excited to see the overall vision on stage. 

How much rehearsal time were you allowed?

Thankfully, much more than I had for the workshop. I received the same amount of time as most incoming choreographers — three consecutive weeks of working with the dancers. Which was such a help, especially for those who had to dance in every workshop piece last year and didn’t have the time to get fully comfortable with the movement. It also gave me time to really look at each section and make sure the fluidity, musicality, and purpose was there. 

David Van Ligon rehearses the Company C dancers
What did you enjoy most?

It’s been an anxious year waiting for the moment to start the process of re-staging and choreographing new sections. I was worried I wouldn’t be able to express the right things. It’s such a different and exciting challenge to face away from the mirror. In preparation, I tend to watch the biographys of George Balanchine and Jerome Robbins, who are my choreographic idols, right before I start projects. I listen to what they have to say about bringing their visions to life throughout their careers, and it just simply inspires me.

Also, knowing that I had my first commissioned ballet when I attended the National Choreographers Initiative last year, I watched very carefully the woman with whom I was lucky enough to work — Melissa Barak. She has been in this business as a choreographer from a young age, and I learned and absorbed so much by being in her presence: how she ran rehearsals, giving a phrase, and building on that or changing it. Also by not wasting time detailing during the rehearsals, something I had definitely struggled with in my earlier works.

What I have enjoyed most is the feeling after working with these amazing dancers at Company C. It must be strange for them to be taking “orders” from the person they stand with on stage and in class, but after each rehearsal, the dancers have smiles on their faces, and even some giddiness about dancing my ballet. This has helped make all the anxiety go away. In fact, I was able to just enjoy the process with the dancers and with the costume designer. I was able to relax into it without the pressure of time or overloaded dancers. In Las Vegas, when we worked on the annual Choreographers’ Showcase with Cirque de Soleil, it was so difficult to get the dancers to maintain focus, including me.

But, to have my parents enjoy will be the greatest joy for me. Of course I hope for good reviews, but my parents’ review is the one I’m looking forward to most. And, obviously, I hope this will open more doors for what feels like the real start of my choreographic career. 

See David’s Natoma as part of Company C’s spring program this weekend (May 2 to 4) at Z Space in San Francisco and next weekend (May 9 to 12) at the Lesher Center for the Arts in Walnut Creek.

Z Space, San Francisco

Thursday, May 2, 2013 at 8pm
Friday, May 3, 2013 at 8 pm
Saturday, May 4, 2013 at 8pm

Lesher Center for the Arts, Walnut Creek

Thursday, May 9, 2013 at 8 pm 
Friday, May 10, 2013 at 8pm
Saturday, May 11, 2013 at 8pm
Sunday, May 12, 2013 at 1pm

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