Artistic Director’s Notebook: Black on Black on Black, Wonderland, Let Me Mingle Tears With Thee

Ever wonder about the timeline for creating a new ballet? Famously Jerome Robbins took two years to choreograph Dances at a Gathering. George Balanchine believed in one minute of choreography for every hour in the studio, cranking brilliant works out in days and weeks. As you might imagine, timelines are all over the place. A closer look at the development of the works in BOUNDLESS may offer insight into how the process unfolds, pivots, and pauses.

Let’s talk about Alejandro Cerrudo’s work first. Alejandro is in his third year as PNB’s Resident Choreographer. As we outlined the residency over four years ago, Alejandro was just leaving his position as Resident Choreographer with Hubbard Street Dance Chicago. Our conversation revolved around time – Alejandro wanted two weeks to workshop with dancers plus six weeks to develop a new creation. Fast forward to the present – Alejandro is now Artistic Director of Charlotte Ballet and the demands on his time are ever-present. Though we were able to offer a few days for workshopping in December, the piece you are about to see was made in 15 rehearsal days over the past month. This may well be a record for Alejandro. Natural instinct and impulse replaced planning and experimentation, and innovation took hold resulting in something that feels and looks freshly minted. If this work were a painting it would still be wet.

In 2020, Penny Saunders was slated to set a work on PNB which she had just made for Royal New Zealand Ballet at the invitation of Artistic Director Patricia Barker. As the pandemic altered everything about our profession and our lives, a change in direction was needed. In the spring of 2020, I asked Penny to create something new for our digital season. Before she said ‘yes’ I wanted her to know we would be working in dancer pods of four, with ninety minutes required for air exchange in the studio before the next pod could enter. Masking, mopping, fogging, wiping, and social-distancing would all need to be factored into the creation process. Penny was game and Wonderland became a testament to the adaptability and ingenuity of a great choreographer. It helped us realize dance could still thrive in one of our darkest hours and a new standard was set for dance on film.

Jessica Lang is one of the most organized choreographers I know. Months before first rehearsals for her new PNB creation in 2020, we had designs for sets and costumes, marked musical score, casting, and concept. On the shelf it went with so many other dream projects as the cloud of the pandemic claimed another pause. Jessica quickly pivoted to a new concept working within all of the same restrictions as Penny, but we knew when the time was right we would return to her original concept. That time is now. Let Me Mingle Tears With Thee uses Pergolesi’s haunting “Stabat Mater” as a point of departure with evocative costumes by Jillian Lewis and atmospheric lighting by Caroline Wong. A word of appreciation for our talented singers Maria Mannisto, Sarra Sharif Doyle, and Christina Siemens. Christina is our secret weapon at PNB, doubling as rehearsal pianist and resident soprano with a recently revealed talent for Latin text translation. The team of Otto Neubert, Ezra Thomson, cast, and crew helped Jessica bring this powerful work to life after a pandemic dormancy.

Each new creation has a timeline all its own, some are made in minutes or days as creativity flows and time demands. Others take more time because of unforeseen events or the need to hit pause. Ultimately they all come to life when they reach an audience, through film or live performance. That moment happens now. Welcome to BOUNDLESS.