Join Associate Director of Audience Development, Jennie Scholick, PhD for an exploration of the ballets on Program 2: Classical (Re)Vision. Hear from choreographer Stanton Welch and find out what to look for in his Bespoke, the rotating Director’s Choice ballets, and Mark Morris’s Sandpaper Ballet.
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David Dawson’s Anima Animus is part of SF Ballet’s 2020 Season. It will be performed as part of Program 05, Ballet Accelerator, which runs from March 24 to April 24, 2020.
Program notes by Cheryl A. Ossola
David Dawson’s first commission for San Francisco Ballet, Anima Animus, is, as he puts it, “physically emotional virtuosity combined to make something human.” It is indeed physical, emotional, virtuosic, and human—but there’s something transcendent about this combination. It’s most tangible in the section Dawson calls “Angels,” when the dancers seem to move beyond their mortal selves into a state of throat-clenching beauty. “Don’t do what you know,” he tells his dancers in rehearsal, “do something beyond. Unbound.”
Anima Animus offers a rich mix of contrasts, most meaningful among them Carl Jung’s concept of animus (the male aspect of the female psyche) and anima (the female aspect of the male psyche). Another contrast can be found in the music by Italian composer Ezio Bosso. “It felt to me like music that looks to the past and the future at the same time, much how I like to make dance,” Dawson says.
In making this ballet, Dawson found himself responding to the polarized present-day world. He understands the world’s opposites—light and dark, humanity and architecture, individual and group—“but between those opposites, there’s so much room where people can have choice without judgment,” he says. The spaces between extremes are a kind of fluidity, which Dawson wanted to explore within dance. “My language is the classical art form; I’m trying to do something with that,” he says. Historically, some ballet steps are for women or men only; Dawson shifts this by giving “the opposing energy as a starting point”—in other words, giving animus choreography to a dancer who seems more anima, and vice versa.
In the “Angels” part of the second movement, “we go to archetype,” Dawson says. “In Jung’s philosophy, the female is the nurturer, the mother, the angel, the pure. And the man is the warrior, the strong, the hero. I’m trying to show it all.” Even in these archetypes, the theme of contrasts shows. When the female dancers women float high above the stage, “that’s when they show their form as angels,” Dawson says. “That’s when they touch the sky and they show who they really are.”
Dawson sends his dancers skyward, but he wants them grounded too. This reads as a paradox—the dancers fly through intricate moves that do indeed make them seem as untethered as angels, and yet they have weight, form, and substance that goes far beyond the light, lifted aesthetic of classical ballet. In rehearsals, Dawson constantly asks the dancers to let their classicism go, asking for movement that is “deeper, squashed, crunched. I want it odd.”
But don’t think for a minute that Anima Animus is odd or ugly. Dawson compares traditional ballet to Rembrandt or Leonardo da Vinci, “and of course I’m not that. I don’t want to be that; I want to be [graffiti artist] Banksy. I want to take history and show somebody my view on it.” To get there, he starts with an internal process—which leads us back to this idea of physically emotional virtuosity. In choreographing, “I feel my way through the movement,” he says. “Because for me, physicality is driven by emotion. If someone’s angry or sad, it becomes physical—it’s expressed through the body.”
In Bosso’s music, Dawson hears both hope and doom. “You are here to tell us something,” he tells the dancers. “You’re saying to the public, ‘Be careful. It’s not going to end well if you keep going this way.’” Though his message acknowledges doom, it keeps reverting to hope. He’s interested “in the power of the human being,” he says, a mindset that is, in effect, his spirituality. “I believe in the universe,” he says. “We’re energy and carbon and atomic; creation is happening all the time. That’s why I love what we do, because we’re embodying what life is all about.”
What Am I Seeing?Divertimento No. 15 may be a pretty tutu ballet, but it’s anything but stuffy. This sparkling masterpiece—choreographed in 1956 by 20th-century genius George Balanchine—features five principal women, three principal men, and a corps de ballet of eight. Keenly attuned to its music, this ballet showcases its dancers, highlighting their technique, musicality, and the pure joy of dance.
What Am I Hearing? Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Divertimento No. 15, composed in 1777, plus a cadenza by John Coleman, added in the 1960s. Balanchine considered this piece the finest divertimento Mozart ever wrote, and this 1956 version was his second attempt to choreograph to this music.
What Should I Look For? Note the solos for the principal women and one principal man—Balanchine made this ballet for some of his favorite dancers and each of these variations on a theme showcases something unique about their personalities and technique. Also note the numbers games he plays. Like Mozart’s music, which exemplifies the clarity, balance, and formality of classical style, this ballet moves its dancers in pairs and threes to create a sense of symmetry and proportion.
What Am I Seeing? An intimate exploration of love and passion created by LA Dance Project director Benjamin Millepied. First created for the Paris Opera Ballet, where Millepied was director from 2014 to 2016, this ballet features three couples who fall in and out of love over the course of its 30 minutes.
What Am I Hearing? Ludwig von Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 23 in F minor, commonly known as the Appassionata. Fiendishly difficult to play, this sonata is explosive, volatile, and impassioned—a stark contrast to the sunny clarity of Mozart’s Divertimento.
What Should I Look For? The heart of this ballet is in the central pas de deux set to the andante. This romantic interlude interrupts the frenetic pace set in the opening allegro and transforms the emotional energy of the ballet.
What Am I Seeing? An example of physically emotional virtuosity by UK dancemaker David Dawson. Anima Animus is ballet pushed to every extreme; technique stretched to its outer limit. Playing with the idea of opposites—man-woman; black-white; lifted-grounded—this work nods to ballet’s past while pointing toward its future.
What am I hearing? Ezio Bosso’s Violin Concerto No. 1 “Esoconcerto.” Bosso’s score creates a sense of driving motion matched by the dancing.
What should I look for? The second movement and its virtuosic play between the two principal women and the four men. For the way that Dawson manipulates ballet technique: rarely is a dancer truly upright—everything is leaning, at an angle, off-balance. And for the wing-like gestures the dancers make with their arms, evoking flight.
David Dawson’s Anima Animus is ballet pushed to the extreme; technique stretched to its outer limit. Created for the Unbound festival, this ballet returns as part of Kaleidoscope, Feb 12–23, 2019. Choreographer David Dawson talks about his creative process and the making of Anima Animus.