In The Studio: Monica Bill Barnes Gets Refreshingly Real About Happy Hour
If you've been following our "In The Studio" series you know that most of our episodes take place in just that—a studio. But at a dress rehearsal for Monica Bill Barnes & Company's latest project Happy Hour, I found myself in what looked like an episode of "The Office" on a day of shooting an after-work party.
Before the company began their rehearsal I sat down with Barnes to discuss the refreshingly relatable comedy of her work:
MBB & Co puttin' some moves down in "Happy Hour." Photo by Grant Halverson
When it comes to figuring out what's funny, do you let the audience's reaction dictate the work and tweak from there, or is it a more rigorous process during the development of a piece?
I'm interested in using comedy as a way to make the work relatable. I find often the audience is laughing at moments of failure, at moments where they've had a similar experience. The comedy and the laughter can actually be a release from the tension of some of the very sincere performing that Anna [Barnes' longtime performing partner, Anna Bass] and I are doing. So often I find the things that we're crafting to be heartbreaking tend to be the big laughs of the show.
Collaboration is a common theme throughout your work. Is that usually what sparks a new project or does it start from a more singular idea?
The process begins with Anna and I in the studio, anywhere from six months to a year, creating tons and tons of choreography. Then my collaborators, Robbie Saenz de Viteri (Creative Producing Director) and Kelly Hanson (Designer) come in the process and begin to shape the material—giving it meaning that makes it more relatable and broader than just the sequence of moves. So many of the things that I think our audiences really relate to are in the performances, the costumes and the environment that they enter into when the show starts. There are so many pieces that create meaning and the choreography is actually living within it, and that's really where the meaning and the weight of the show resides.
The hilariously smart styles of MBB & Co in "Happy Hour" Photo by Grant Halverson
Do you feel like it's a deliberate choice to make socially conscious work with an element of comic relief?
For the past 20 years we've been invested in thinking about the way that women are represented on stage. How that relates to the world and how that relates to how we're talking and thinking about gender. It is very deliberate that we make work that asks people to think differently about what's funny and how we see women on stage, and how we feel the art form of dance is readable and relatable.
Happy Hour invites audiences to "come for the free drink, stay for the hope of a life-changing experience."
New York City Ballet principal Sara Mearns wasn't sure she was strong enough. A ballerina who has danced many demanding full-length and contemporary roles, she was about to push herself physically more than she thought was possible.
"I said, 'I can't. My body won't,' " she says. "He told me, 'Yes, it will.' "
She wasn't working with a ballet coach, but with personal trainer Joel Prouty, who was asking her to do squats with a heavier barbell than she'd ever used.
"The show must go on" may be a platitude we use to get through everything from costume malfunctions to stormy moods. But when it came to overcoming a literal hurricane, Houston Ballet was buoyed by this mantra to go from devastated to dancing in a matter of weeks—with the help of Harlequin Floors, Houston Ballet's longstanding partner who sprang into action to build new floors in record time.
Her Dying Swan was as fragile as her Juliet was rebellious; her Odile, scheming, her Swanilda, insouciant. Her Belle was joyous, and her Carmen, both brooding and full-blooded. But there was one role in particular that prompted dance critic Arnold Haskell to ask, "How do you interpret Giselle when you are Giselle?"
At eight, Alicia Alonso took her first ballet class on a stage in her native Cuba, wearing street clothes. Fifteen years later, put in for an ailing Alicia Markova in a performance of Giselle with Ballet Theatre, she staked her claim to that title role.
Alonso received recognition throughout the world for her flawless technique and her ability to become one with the characters she danced, even after she became nearly blind. After a career in New York, she and her then husband Fernando Alonso established the Cuban National Ballet and the Cuban National Ballet School, both of which grew into major international dance powerhouses and beloved institutions in their home country. On October 17, the company announced that, after leading the company for a remarkable 71 years, Alonso died from cardiovascular disease at the age of 98.
William Forsythe is bringing his multi-faceted genius to New York City in stripped down form. His "Quiet Evening of Dance," a mix of new and recycled work now at The Shed until October 25, is co-commissioned with Sadler's Wells in London (and a slew of European presenters).
As always, Forsythe's choreography is a layered experience, both kinetic and intellectual. This North American premiere prompted many thoughts, which I whittled down to seven.