Michelle Dorrance will make her first work for American Ballet Theatre this spring. Photo by Jayme Thornton

Michelle Dorrance is Choreographing for ABT. Yes, You Read That Right.

If we weren't already looking forward to American Ballet Theatre's spring gala with trepidation and excitement, we certainly are now. The company announced today that Michelle Dorrance, MacArthur-certified genius and tap dancer extraordinaire, will create a piece d'occasion to kick off ABT's spring season. It will premiere alongside Wayne McGregor's AFTERITE and excerpts from Alexei Ratmansky's new reconstruction of Harlequinade. This marks her first creation for the company.


The work was co-commissioned by Vail International Dance Festival, where Dorrance is artist in residence. ABT is making its first appearance at Vail this summer, during which the company will perform a second work created by Dorrance, accompanied by as-yet-unannounced guest artists from the festival roster.

And if that weren't enough, ABT will debut yet another Dorrance work this October during its fall season. There's no word yet as to whether the dancers will be donning tap shoes, slippers, pointe shoes or some combination thereof for these pieces.

It's a decidedly bold departure for the company. Though Dorrance is known for being a generous collaborator and frequently works with dancers who specialize in styles other than tap (particularly at Vail, where cross-genre collaborations are a matter of course), she has not previously worked with a classical ballet company at this scale.

Dorrance with Nicholas Van Young at the Guggenheim. Photo by Matthew Murphy, Courtesy Works & Process at the Guggenheim

But then again, it wouldn't be the first time that Dorrance has taken an unlikely project—say, making a site-specific, sound-driven work for the acoustically-difficult Guggenheim rotunda—and turned it into something magical. And even though we can't begin to imagine what a piece made for ABT by Dorrance might look like, it will be nice to see the name of one female choreographer in a spring season dominated (per usual) by after-Petipas and male-choreographed story ballets.

We're curious to see what comes of this new collaboration in the coming months.

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Luke Isley, Courtesy Ballet West

How Do Choreographers Bring Something Fresh to Music We've Heard Over and Over?

In 2007, Oregon Ballet Theatre asked Nicolo Fonte to choreograph a ballet to Maurice Ravel's Boléro. "I said, 'No way. I'm not going near it,' " recalls Fonte. "I don't want to compete with the Béjart version, ice skaters or the movie 10. No, no, no!"

But Fonte's husband encouraged him to "just listen and get a visceral reaction." He did. And Bolero turned into one of Fonte's most requested and successful ballets.

Not all dance renditions of similar warhorse scores have worked out so well. Yet the irresistible siren song of pieces like Stravinsky's The Firebird and The Rite of Spring, as well as the perennial Carmina Burana by Carl Orff, seem too magnetic for choreographers to ignore.

And there are reasons for their popularity. Some were commissioned specifically for dance: Rite and Firebird for Diaghilev's Ballets Russes; Boléro for dance diva Ida Rubinstein's post–Ballets Russes troupe. Hypnotic rhythms (Arvo Pärt's Spiegel im Spiegel) and danceable melodies (Bizet's Carmen) make a case for physical eye candy. Audience familiarity can also help box office receipts. Still, many choreographers have been sabotaged by the formidable nature and Muzak-y overuse of these iconic compositions.

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