I am actually not very sentimental. I only have the ability to look forward, and now I actually think that is a gift. I don’t remember bad things. I almost don’t remember what I did yesterday. I need to be reminded. I have always been about tomorrow. Even with hitting this milestone, I am not spending too much time reflecting on it because all I am thinking about is how much more we have to do – what are we producing next. Although, I have been looking at some tapes of my old ballets while working on my pieces for Director’s Choice – suddenly 20 years of work feels like a very long time. Typically, in the first rehearsal I don’t remember any of the choreography. Then suddenly it all comes flooding back intensely – all of it – the musicality, execution, in no time. I don’t know where that comes from or how it is even possible. It is amazing that something you did 15 years ago stays inside of you, because it is part of you.
There are three moments that jump to mind that feel like milestones: when I choreographed Mosaik, it felt like it was a milestone for me personally and for the company, then premiering Romeo & Juliet, then maybe, the first time we did Topia. They all spring out in a different way and it is not just because I choreographed all of them, but it just felt like we were on a plateau and those moments took our company to the next level. Now that you have got me going, Eroica, The Firebird, and Napoli all feel like huge milestones. To be the first company to premiere Napoli in its entirety, in the U.S. was a big deal to me, not just because of its Danish roots and history, but also because it was such a humongous feat to stage. I guess you could say I dream big – I always have.
I like a challenge – a real challenge. I have done that from the very beginning. The first time we did Theme and Variations, I asked my friend from New York City Ballet to stage it. She said, “Are you out of your mind? There is no way they can do that.” And I said, yeah… let’s do it. Performing a ballet with that level of difficulty made the company grow. I have always done that, and I am still giving them more than they can chew. But if you don’t constantly challenge people, they won’t rise to the occasion. Then you are definitely not going to create an audience or an interest.
Nayon (Iovino) is choreographing a world premiere that will include an 11-piece Cuban band on stage performing Mambo! I am doing works that celebrate my twentieth anniversary, and we are finally able to do a Frederick Ashton piece. I have always wanted to do something by Ashton and the timing has not worked out until now. This is going to be a very celebratory and fun program.
I am including different pieces from my ballets Mosaik, Indigo Rhapsody, Romeo & Juliet, Play, and Preludes and Fugues, and I am still missing a few more pieces. Will it be interesting? Maybe, I hope so. There is a rhythm to it. I am not trying to show a highlights reel, rather, I am trying to create a completely new ballet from the pieces I have already done. So I am interested to see how it turns out. It might not necessarily be ballets that others would choose if they had a pick. It is a piece that honors the Arizona audiences that have come to love my work. I am trying to do something that takes something they have seen before and showcasing it in an entirely new light.
Astrit Zejnati and Natalia Magnicaballi in Ib Andersen’s “Mosaik.” Photography by Rosalie O’Connor.
I am much clearer now in my choreography than I have even been before – looking back some things are overly fuzzy or too complicated for their own good. I tried to put too much into something that didn’t translate well to audiences. I have gotten better in that sense. I have always wanted to do super simple things in a complex manner, simple things that have a lot of depth and meaning. I will never get there but I keep trying. I am a late bloomer – so it has taken me a while to find that clarity. But it is my journey and that’s okay. There are some people that at a very young age are so bright and they somehow know things without having lived it – which I find very peculiar. How can you know things without having lived it? They are on a different planet – but I’m not that bright. You have to have constant curiosity, a constant need to be creative, and an innocence in your work. All I want to do now – in this time of my life – is have fun. If it is not fun then why would I be doing this?
For my next 20 years at Ballet Arizona…is that the question? Well…my hope is that I live that long! Who knows what will come to be 20 years from now. Technology will change everything. Maybe we won’t even be performing on a stage. Maybe live performances become like virtual reality scenarios and the audience will dance with the dancers and have the ability to interact. Maybe then, there would be such an emotional connection from the audience, that they experience the same high as the dancers do when they perform. In the performing arts, if something is well done, you can lose yourself in that journey, and maybe we need to take it a step further. That would be cool.