San Francisco Ballet, choreography by Christopher Wheeldon, Justin Peck, and George Balanchine
Watching Dance with Dad
Some of my earliest memories of watching dance are with my Dad. The most vivid was seeing Pilobolus Dance Theater when I was about 13 or 14. At the time, it was the “newest” kind of dance I had ever experienced. The dancers slid across a wet stage for their curtain call; they were mostly naked. It was odd, and I loved it. As a ballet dancer in training, I didn’t know dance could be so big and different.
So when my Dad came to visit in April and mentioned that he really wanted to see the ballet, we ended up at the San Francisco Opera House for Program 7. My Dad is an artist – although he might not call himself that – so he sees movement differently and notices relationships between moods, colors, and music that I might tend to ignore while watching dance. It was fun to notice how my perspectives on the 3 dances moved the more my Dad and I talked about the pieces we saw.
My Dad really liked Christopher Wheeldon’s Continuum – there was something there to relate to. Maybe it was the clean stage and lighting or the way the choreography embodied the music. There was an ease to the dancing that made its abstractness relatable, the “art” in the dance. In the program notes, Wheeldon states that “audience’s shouldn’t just be entertained. They should be challenged.” While I can’t say for sure whether or not I was challenged by Continuum. I did enjoy watching it with my Dad; he didn’t shy away from bursts of happy.
People are talking about Justin Peck’s, In the Countenance of Kings. Even Vanity Fair has something to say or rather ask: “Is Justin Peck Making Ballet Cool Again?” I’m not sure how I would answer this question, but it seems to imply that there is something “uncool” about ballet or maybe that ballet is, as Jennifer Homans claimed in her 2010 book Apollo’s Angels, dying. Does Peck’s growing popularity serve as a refutation this claim?
Underneath the question posed by Vanity Fair is a fear – or the perception of a fear – that ballet is becoming irrelevant or less relatable to our present moment, which begs the question: Is In the Countenance of Kings relevant? How does it matter?
In the program notes Peck states, “it’s not a narrative, but it’s like a semi-story.” There is a protagonist, foil, and hero. The corps de ballet is “the school of thought” and there are three others, Quantus, Electress, Botanica. I’m not sure the names of the “semi-story” matter, but should they? In the Countenance of Kings is a “semi-story” of a present moment that is “cinematic” with “freeze-frame kodak moments.” There is a relatable surface here, but it is just that, a surface that is just skimming the possible and ways of perceiving the possible. I want Peck to be more than “be cool,” and I want this dance to matter more because I truly like how Peck cuts the stage with his choreography. For the record, my Dad only liked the second ½ of this dance.
Last on the program was Balanchine’s Theme and Variations. My Dad really liked this piece – the tutus, the symmetry, the classical lines – I wasn’t surprised. The woman sitting next me asked her partner if they could leave: “Oh god, not Theme and Variations.” This begs the question: is Theme and Variations relevant? How does it matter? For me, it was enough that my Dad enjoyed the dance – it mattered enough at the moment.