dancers Sarah Webb and Joseph Walsh in the Houston Ballet production of Peter Pan.
dancers Sarah Webb and Joseph Walsh in the Houston Ballet production of Peter Pan.

Get notified of new Blog PostsThis week, I’ve started back in Australia, working with Queensland Ballet on the re-staging of Peter Pan. It occurred to me yesterday that this marks the 15 year anniversary of its premiere at Houston Ballet. It’s unbelievable that the production has had this kind of longevity. When I was a dancer, any piece we did that was older than 10 years seemed like they’d have to open a crypt to retrieve ancient scrolls notating choreography.

But now with Peter Pan the material is fresh in my mind as if it has never been put away. I understand the nuances of story and character with greater and greater detail. It seems there’s enough breathing room in the piece for new dancers to discover more and to make each production of this particular time. Working with the dancers in Australia, I’m giddy sometimes watching their thoughtful creativity and I feel creative too, not just duplicating a structure from 15 years ago, but finding more.

There are certain bits of historical clean up I’m doing. The tradition of handing choreography down to new dancers is based so heavily on the use of video. It’s incredibly helpful because a very nuanced record is easily captured in every detail. The downside of this is that it’s subject to a dancers particular interpretation during a particular performance. And that interpretation will migrate and evolve over time. Sometimes amazing things are discovered; sometimes certain integrities are eroded.

Peter Pan
dancers Joseph Walsh and Sarah Webb in Houston Ballet’s production of Peter Pan

And then there’s my own evolution in the studio. Sometimes when things are reset and I know in my mind that something has not been taught correctly, I don’t know necessarily how. Instead of referring to the video, I will use the opportunity to invent and find a new way to solve a problem. Often, this has a wonderful effect on the ballet. I’ve become more skilled with time and the answers have greater maturity and invention. And then sometimes I set in motion a chain of events that just fucks everything up. And I arrive at a situation currently were certain details have gone through so many different interpretations and revisions and drifts that I’m fixing it by going back to the very original production (video) and remembering certain things that were just right the first time. The dancers of Queensland Ballet are so present and curious that this process for them seems to be one of opening rather than backtracking.

Being back in Australia is so energizing. Everything seems too good to be true. Kind and funny, straightforward people. Saying “no worries” literally means no worries. They are not going to worry about it. Nobody is taking themselves too seriously. A random flower patch is fragrant enough to make you dizzy and there are seriously turkeys just wandering around the city, Bush Turkeys. Even the things they hate are amazing: the glut of filthy ibis jumping out from the bushes instead of pigeons as tiny, faceless aliens…bats as big as your head swarming the sky at sunset. It’s easy to imagine here again, since being a child, since the last election, that everything is going to be ok.

Las Vegas acrobat, Brandon Scott

3 Comments

  1. Would love to come see, but it’s fur piece for the old lady to travel. What you have to say about staging, restaging, or as Trisha Brown put it, set and reset (referring to something entirely else) is valuable indeed, for the dancers, for yourself, for other choreographers, and for someone (meaning this old lady) who has been following your work for a very long time. And Peter Pan from the beginning, Dance Magazine feature story, part of a presentation I gave at Dance Critics Assn meetings. g’day to you.

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