Choreographer Charles Anderson stands at the front of Ballet Idahos large rehearsal studio briskly counting as he runs a group of dancers through Akimbo, Andersons choreographic biography that spans 15 years of his life.
The fast and complex music of San Franciscos Kronos Quartet plays, its musical phrases in sequences of 7s, 6s and 8s, sounding both familiar and new.
Andersons movement is richly contemporary and is just what this classical company hungers for. The physicality pushes these dancers out of their neoclassical comfort zones with new shapes and styles of moving breaking body lines into sharp angles and bows that tax every muscle.
When the movement stops, the dancers are breathless.
Dance goes by fast, Anderson tells them, both in this piece and as a career.
You want to be fully used while youre here, he says. Youll be spent as a human being and as a dancer. I think thats the most you can hope for.
Akimbo is one of two new ballets the other by company member Daniel Ojeda that will balance the return of last seasons stunning Serenade, one of George Balanchines masterworks, and artistic director Peter Anastos 1940s-style comic ballet Footage.
Andersons Akimbo requires great physical and emotional resolve from its cast.
Its a piece that will completely challenge you on an athletic level, on a technical level, he says. Your timing and artistry have to be impeccable.
Anderson created Akimbo over the course of more than 15 years, pulling inspiration from his personal journey as a performer and artist.
When I first started working on this piece I was fresh out of New York City Ballet, and the influence of Balanchine and his technique and vocabulary was very present in me, he says.
A few years later, he took another look at it and threw out everything except the pas de deux a dance for a couple at the center of the work.
Three years later, I was influenced by other choreographers, such as Juri Kilian and William Forsythe. Then by the end, I found my own choreographic voice. In this piece, youre getting things I loved then and things I love now. Those many influences keeps it exciting.
Anderson is the founder and artistic director of Company C Contemporary Ballet in San Franciscos Bay Area. His company performs a diverse repertoire of Andersons work and other contemporary choreographers, many of whom he discovered or worked with during his years (1985-93) in NYCB, such as Twyla Tharp, David Parsons and Daniel Ezerlow, Charles Moulton, Anastos and Anderson.
Last season, Anastos set Footage on Company C.
We needed a funny ballet, and Ive known Peters work for a long time, Anderson says. Its hard to do funny well, and Peter is great at it.
Anderson comes from a long line of dancers and choreographers. His grandparents were dancers. His parents were both soloists with San Francisco Ballet. His father, David, who died in 2009, danced the role of Cavalier in SFBs 1965 Nutcracker, the first televised production of the holiday ballet by an America dance company.
His mother Zola Dishong danced as a soloist with SFB and American Ballet Theatre, and now is the co-artistic director with her husband, Richard Cammack, of Contra Costa Ballet.
Growing up in a dance family had its perks and its downsides, he says.
I was known as the kid under the piano, playing quietly while Mom and Dad danced, he says.
It was assumed that he would go into the family business. He landed in New York, where he worked with Balanchine and started his choreography career.
There were very high standards to live up to, he says.
His family was not easily impressed.
Theyve seen it all, theyve done it all they worked with Rudolf Nureyev. They come to a performance I choreographed and I get notes.
That expectation pushed him to develop his own style not just in steps but in intension and taught him that if youre not bearing your soul, youre not doing it right.
Thats what Akimbo is all about. Its a highly charged work, in which every count, every moment, is about making an emotional connection.
Thats how you get through the timing, he says. At every turn youre connecting with another dancer. Its really about the relationships.
The trick is to feel your way through the piece.
On the other side of the equation is Ojedas Qualia, which comes from an approach of the mind. The title is a term used in philosophy that refers to the subjective nature of life.
Experiences such as the taste of wine, the color red, or listening to Schubert cant be truly communicated, Ojeda says.
I could tell you the subsequent feeling associated with experiencing these things, like the wine makes me warm and coats my tongue, or the music sends a trail of electricity down my spine. But the raw experience is something indescribable, but it also is universal, he says.
Its the idea more than the technique that places this piece in a contemporary vein.
This is my interpretation of classicism, a clean aesthetic that never deviates from the music, he says.
Originally from New York, this is Ojedas third season with Ballet Idaho and his first piece for the companys main stage season.
He has been experimenting with his movement in Ballet Idahos Innovations, an annual performance Anastos created for his company to explore their own choreography.
Im always attempting to do something different, he says. I want to surprise people who are familiar with me as a dancer and who have seen my work in Innovations. I feel I have something different to offer from both Peter and Charlie, and Im excited about the chance to expand the companys repertoire.