Brian Brooks On How Miami City Ballet—and Pointe Shoes—Are Making His Movement Evolve
Brian Brooks snaps a selfie with Miami City Ballet dancers. Photo by Alexander Iziliaev, Courtesy MCB
The inaugural choreographer in residence at Chicago's Harris Theater for Music and Dance has a lot of stretching to do. In the first year of his three-year tenure, Brian Brooks has worked with Hubbard Street Dance Chicago's main company and pre-professional dancers; advanced students from the Chicago Academy for the Arts; with street percussionists The Chicago Bucket Boys; his own New York City–based ensemble; and teachers from Chicago Public Schools. Next up is Miami City Ballet, which premieres the Harris Theater–commissioned One Line Drawn February 9–11, March 2–4 and March 17–18.
You've gone back and forth to Miami a few times now. How much time have you had on this project?
We did most of the work over the summer, plus two other short periods: one in January and one the week of the premiere. We're mostly finished, but I'm still editing, clarifying, shaping.
Brooks leads rehearsal at Miami City Ballet. Photo by Alexander Iziliaev, Courtesy MCB
Choreographers don't always get time for that.
We never do!
This must be nice, then.
It is. What I'm learning through working with all these different companies is the creative timeline has to be negotiated around each company's structure. I'm learning to prioritize based on when the deadlines fall, and I'm building a lot of skills for different scenarios. It's still a pressure cooker, but, with Miami City Ballet, it allowed me to be pretty adventurous. I made things that were fairly messy and trusted that, with time, we would gain confidence in them.
"I tend to work in the lateral plane," says choreographer Brian Brooks. Photo by Alexander Iziliaev, Courtesy MCB
The company is fairly pointework-oriented. What does that mean for you, as someone who leans more on contemporary techniques?
There's great fun in finding where you meet other people in the middle. We started in bare feet and flat shoes but by day three or four, it was clear that the women should be on pointe, so it became a translation of how my work changes and evolves, informed by their classical DNA. I tend to work in the lateral plane—I have this tilt and this plié, this ebb and flow, to what I do. It washes across the stage laterally, like hydroplaning or tai chi. With dancers on pointe, you also get verticality. It's electrifying how it gives contrast and height to fall from and how, also, it fractures movement more sequentially through the body. Up until now, I've only sequenced through movement in that way in the port de bras and the back. This project—and these dancers—helped me find similar qualities in the feet and legs.
Have you tried pointe shoes yourself?
Ha! A little bit. I tried Wendy Whelan's on, which I think made it to Instagram.
Miami City Ballet is an exceptionally musical group of dancers. How does that fit into the picture, given that there's original music being made, too?
Michael Gordon has composed a really epic, dynamic score. We've gotten rewrites and updates to it occasionally, and the dancers just respond to what they feel in the moment and they make very good choices. They've often helped me find something in the music I had not heard before, helped me see the sound, by being my lens and making it visible. Michael has long been at the top of my list of dream composers to collaborate with, but, honestly, that always seemed out of reach. This residency provides support and resources which are unprecedented for someone like me—and, it just so happens that Michael is from Miami!
James Whiteside (Jayme Thornton for Dance Magazine)
Say you're perpetually impeccable designer Thom Browne. Say you're planning your Spring 2020 Paris menswear show along a "Versailles country club" theme. Say you want a world-class danseur to open the show with some kind of appropriately fabulous choreography.
Who do you call? James Whiteside, of course. On Saturday, the American Ballet Theatre principal—wearing pointe shoes and a glorious pinstriped tutu—kicked off Browne's presentation at the École des Beaux-Arts with a 15-minute, show-stealing solo. Whiteside choreographed the piece himself, with the help of detailed notes from the designer.
I'd been a professional dancer for five years when I realized the pain I'd been feeling in my hip and down my sciatic nerve was not going away. I had been treating it for two years as we dancers do—with regular visits to my masseuse, physical therapy, baths, ice and lots of Aleve—but I never stopped dancing. It finally dawned on me that if I kept going at the speed I was going (which was, well, speedy), the pain would only get more severe and unrelenting, and I might never dance again.
I told myself I'd take two months off, and all would be better.
That first morning when I woke up at 10 am, I had no idea what to do with myself. My life until that moment had been dictated by class and rehearsal, every hour accounted for. How should I fill the huge swath of time ahead of me?