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Choreographer Nicolo Fonte in conversation
with Otto Neubert
by Francis Timlin
March 9, 2004
On Tuesday, March 9, I attended
a "Pacific Northwest Ballet Conversations" event featuring choreographer
Nicolo Fonte interviewed by PNB Ballet Master Otto Neubert. Mr. Fonte
is currently at PNB to choreograph and rehearse his new work, "Within/Without"
for the March repertory program. This is his second work for PNB.
From Brooklyn, New York, Mr. Fonte described his training as an eclectic
hodgepodge, including the Joffrey School, SAB and Ailey School. When his
parents announced that they wanted to move to Florida, he refused to follow
them away from New York. Instead, he decided to attend the State University
of New York at Purchase and earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree. He
returned to New York City and performed with a small company that ended
its short life with an unsuccessful run at the Joyce Theater.
Rather than "hang out"
and wait for another opportunity to emerge, he decided to audition for
companies and was hired by Les Grands Ballets Canadiens de Montreal. While
at Les Grands, he had the opportunity to work with Nacho Duato, who became
his ideal. After five years in the company and a promotion to soloist,
he felt that he had gone as far as he could go within the classical hierarchy.
He moved to Madrid to work with Nacho Duato's company, where he stayed
for six and a half years, part of that time as "house" choreographer.
Asked to describe his preferred style, he referred to it as "contemporary
ballet" -- that is, utilizing ballet training as a tool for the enhancement
of expression. While the movement may seem "modern," it is really
deconstructed classical movement and requires a high level of classically
trained virtuosity to execute.
His previous work for PNB, "Almost Tango," was originally intended
to be entirely for men. He was so impressed, however, with the performance
level of the entire company that he felt compelled to revise his plan
and include women. Ultimately, the piece is for ten men and four women.
He will be setting the work on Australian Ballet later this year.
Since he has worked with PNB previously, Mr. Fonte now feels more confident
in asking for movement that further extends the dancers' range. There
is no pointe work involved. He has chosen three unrelated works by Estonian
composer Arvo Part and shaped them around the theme of recurring dreams.
In the first section, which is driving and energetic, six men and two
women are moved in a seemingly arbitrary fashion to resemble the whirl
of activity that is often associated with the dream state. Another section
features a recurring dream of being chased and falling. The final version
is set for nine men and five women. The work required between four and
five weeks and was scheduled during daylight hours of the run of "Nutcracker"
Mr. Fonte chooses dancers who most readily apprehend his desired movement
quality and transmit it most readily. He is looking for particular expressive
qualities and mentioned several times that he considers dance to be a
metaphor for expression. He pays particular attention to how the dancers
"get into and out of" the specific movement and looks for a
high energy level.
This particular work has two complete
casts (although he is unsure whether the second complete cast will get
a performance). The dancers need to work to get his movement into their
bodies; it is not straightforward and depends a great deal on the dancers'
successful communication of nuance and texture. He likes duets -- two
bodies moving as one -- as well as trios -- an added challenge of making
three bodies move as one.
Otto Neubert mentioned that he
has videotaped as much of Mr. Fonte's movement in rehearsal as possible
in order to retain his particular movement qualities.
In response to a question about
what he thinks and feels about openings, Mr. Fonte stated that it is torture
to watch his own openings. He has too much heightened awareness of audience
Mr. Fonte subscribes to the dancer/choreographer collaboration favored
by William Forsythe. He does not come to the studio with a scripted set
of movements. Rather, he prefers to convey movement ideas to the dancers
and observe their execution and finish. He gains inspiration from each
dancer's particular movement qualities.
Asked whom he admires among contemporary choreographers, he immediately
mentioned Nacho Duato, whom he describes as "not easy to work for"
but "really gifted." He also mentioned Jiri Kylian, William
Forsythe and Finnish choreographer Tero Saarinen, whose works he described
as closer to "dance theatre" than works typically staged on
North American ballet stages.
Regarding projects on the horizon, Mr. Fonte mentioned his continuing
relationship with the Gothenburg (Sweden), where his choreography is one
act of a full evening entitled "RE: Baroque" and shares billing
with one act works by Nacho Duato and Jiri Kylian (see: http://www.opera.se/item.aspx?id=522).
This project was highly collaborate and international, utilizing both
a baroque score (Vivaldi) and a modern score by Diego Dall'Osto, both
of which utilize the popular baroque theme, La Follia. The stage set features
a huge, ornate baroque ornament inspired by Bernini.
A new project will be choreographed to the Stravinsky Violin Concerto
-- which he admits is an act of heresy -- for the Royal Ballet of Flanders
in June. He is scheduled to produce another full-length work for Gothenburg
based on Tchaikovsky correspondence and is now listening to and choosing
music for this endeavor. Also ahead is a new work for Stuttgart, but he
does not yet have a concept for this commission.
Mr. Fonte mentioned that it is not a propitious time for new, free-lance
choreographers. He remains committed to the task because he believes that
it is important to the dancers to have new work made on them and, consequently,
to the life of the company.
In parting, Mr. Fonte praised the work of lighting designer Michael Mazzolo,
whom he credits for making the dancers and his choreography look "spectacular."
Edited by Lori Ibay
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