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Kiyon Gaines Choreographic Exposure

Preview of Pacific Northwest Ballet’s Choreographers’ Showcase

by Dean Speer and Francis Timlin

March 22, 2006 -- Phelps Center, Seattle

We met with the affable Pacific Northwest Ballet company member Kiyon Gaines while he was on a break from rehearsals.  Here is a summary of that conversation.   For more information about PNB’s Choreographers’ Showcase, go to:

Tell us a little about your background.

I trained at the School of American Ballet, where Peter (Boal) was one of my teachers.  I came to PNB to join their school’s Professional Division.  Kent (Stowell) and Francia (Russell) asked me to join the Company and this is now my fifth season. My first ballet and previous piece – from last year’s Showcase – was “blitz...Fantasy.”

What’s the story behind your new ballet, “Schwa,” for the Showcase?  I was having a hard time imagining an “unaccented” ballet!

After my dancing career, I want to become a linguist.  I’m very interested in etymology and schwa is the symbol for an unstressed vowel [?].  I wanted my piece to be ballet “sort of” infused with tango – hence unstressed.

Where did you find the music?

I came across Piazzola’s music in my search for music for last year’s program and wanted to use it but felt it wasn’t right for what I had in mind at the time.  So this year, I decided on a ballet with tango accents.  “Schwa” has eight movements.  The opening is very brief – about a minute and 20 seconds – and it’s just long enough for the audience to see everyone.  The second is for two men and is of short duration.  The third movement is a quartet for tall women and is a bit longer.  Then there is a pas de cinq that has one short female and one solo male; four tall women and two men; then a pas de trois; and a double pas de deux which is the central part of the ballet and is the most tango-like.  One couple moves slower and is more fluid; the other couple moves with more attack and power.  Then it concludes with a finale.

Tell us about your creative process.  How did you come up with the movement, how did you select the dancers?  Do you work things out in advance or experiment?

I listen to the music a lot.  I then come up with thematic steps and try them out on the dancers.  I don’t play off the dancers that much as I have a vision of how I’d like the ballet to look, but I do edit as we try things.

It’s interesting that some people see movement when they hear music.  I see colors and in this case red.  There are lots of red accents in the ballet.  I think it’s my power color. [Laughs.]  Larae (Theige Hascall) did the costumes, and an intern, Giuseppe, was given this as a project.  James Daley, our new Technical Director, is orchestrating the lighting.

I then try the movement themes with each of the movements to see if they feel right to all the music.  Some phrases that are not used right away are used later.

I like a structured approach and want a beginning, middle, and end.  I believe unstructured works can be too much work for an audience.

Is this truly only your second ballet?

I made another work, “Zum,” for Patricia Barker and Karel Cruz which they’ve done a fair number of times, and also adopted a version of “blitz...Fantasy” which I titled “Rep/It/Ude” for Debra Pearse Rogos Tri-Cities Academy of Ballet in Richland (Washington).

How did you select the dancers for “Schwa?”

I wanted to use all of the dancers I had worked with last year – they were great and from the corps only – and also to include some principals and soloists.  I made a list and was told who I could have.  There are 11 women and 7 men: Kari Brunson, Maria Chapman, Chalnessa Eames, Lindsi Dec, Rachel Foster, Laura Gilbreath, Carrie Imler, Kylee Kitchens, Leslie Rausch, Brittany Reid, and Kara Zimmerman.  Karel Cruz, Benjamin Griffiths, Casey Herd, James Moore, Jordan Pacitti, Jonathan Porretta, and Josh Spell.

Anything else you’d like to say about your ballet?

I think this piece is choreographically more mature than last year’s work and the dancers are doing very well with it.

And how did you ever get started choreographing in the first place?

The dancers pushed me into it. [Laughs.] I’m often suggesting movement ideas to my colleagues, and when the Showcase came up last year many lobbied me to do it.  I think it’s all turned out great!

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