Meet Budding Choreographer (and ABT Corps Member) Gemma Bond
Gemma Bond's intelligence—and knack for detail—never fails to shine through her dancing. It makes sense, then, that the American Ballet Theatre corps members is also a budding choreographer. After making works for ABT's Innovation Initiative and New York Theatre Ballet, as well as for her own pickup ensemble, her name is beginning to pop up with increasing frequency in ballet circles. She just made her first work for Atlanta Ballet, and was invited to take part in a festival at New York City's Joyce Theater. Next season she will create a work for The Washington Ballet. Her latest piece will be unveiled during a festival organized by fellow ABT dancer Isabella Boylston in Sun Valley, Idaho, August 22–24.
How did you get the Ballet Sun Valley commission?
Isabella has put together a wonderful program for the festival and wanted to do one new work. She has always come to see everything I've done; she's hugely supportive. She just said, "I want you to do this."
What is the idea behind the ballet?
There is this solar eclipse happening in Sun Valley on August 21, and we decided to use that as inspiration. There are two groups of dancers; Marcelo Gomes is the leader of one group and Isabella is the leader of the other. I call them the sun and moon. Judd Greenstein wrote the score. It's really about gravity and the tension and suspense that happens when everyone is there waiting for the eclipse to happen. It seems to take forever and then it happens and it's gone.
What drives your choreography?
For me it's more about the intent behind the steps—Why are you running to the corner? What are you saying when you run to the corner? How fast are you running? I want the audience to get the feeling behind the steps without having to look at a synopsis. I think it's because when I was younger I was watching Kenneth MacMillan's ballets, and I loved that way of telling a story.
Gemma Bond. Photo by Jim Lafferty for Pointe.
And you use classical technique?
I always want my ballets to be much cooler and sophisticated that I actually am. [Laughs.] In the beginning I would say, "We're going to do this in socks," and then I'd be like, "Can you put your pointes on? Can you turn out?" It would always go back to what I know and love.
You recently made your first work for Atlanta Ballet.
Yes, Denouement [premiered in March 2017]. I used a Benjamin Britten sonata for piano and cello. It was a bit of a point of contention because it isn't the most melodic piece. Actually, Alexei Ratmansky helped me a lot because I went to him and said that I'm hearing a few doubts about my music selection, and he said to go with how you feel and if you believe in it, you'll make the work that you want to make.
Do you feel like you're getting the opportunities that you deserve?
Yeah. I feel really fortunate that originally Diana Byer of New York Theatre Ballet was there to say, "You're doing something interesting. I'm going to give you studio space and dancers." I was talking to Kevin McKenzie recently and saying that I don't particularly like it when people are like, "Why aren't you doing a piece for ABT?" I'm very happy with the way my career is going. I learn so much from each experience.
Yvonne Rainer's Parts of Some Sextets (AKA "the mattress dance") hasn't been revived since it premiered in 1965. Nor has Rainer had any wish to do it again, to ask performers to heave 10 mattresses around while carrying out 31 tasks that changed every 30 seconds. It was an unwieldy, difficult dance. (Even the title is unwieldy.) But Emily Coates, who has danced in Rainer's work for 20 years, became curious about this piece and was determined to see it again—and to dance in it. She will get her wish November 15–17, when the mattress dance will be performed as part of the Performa 19 Biennial.
Back in 2011 when Joe Lanteri first approached Katie Langan, chair of Marymount Manhattan College's dance department, about getting involved with New York City Dance Alliance, she was skeptical about the convention/competition world.
"But I was pleasantly surprised by the enormity of talent that was there," she says. "His goal was to start scholarship opportunities, and I said okay, I'm in."
Today, it's fair to say that Lanteri has far surpassed his goal of creating scholarship opportunities. But NYCDA has done so much more, bridging the gap between the convention world and the professional world by forging a wealth of partnerships with dance institutions from Marymount to The Ailey School to Complexions Contemporary Ballet and many more. There's a reason these companies and schools—some of whom otherwise may not see themselves as aligned with the convention/competition world—keep deepening their relationships with NYCDA.
Now, college scholarships are just one of many ways NYCDA has gone beyond the typical weekend-long convention experience and created life-changing opportunities for students. We rounded up some of the most notable ones:
"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.