4PHOTOS with Ballet 5:8 Artistic Director, Julianna Slager
In every DancerMusic publication past, our writers and editors have been tasked with creating the introductions to each article. We have been held responsible for setting the scene and tone of the wonderful discoveries to come, but to each rule there is an exception, and here’s one now. When our editors Johnny Nevin and Kristi Licera started talking to Ballet 5:8 Artistic Director Julianna Slager about putting together this 4PHOTOS, we tossed around ideas of what insights her photo captions would contain, and to quote Julianna in a previous 5 Question Interview, we “let the fish swim.” When we received materials back from Julianna, they were as remarkable and insightful as ever, and it turns out that she had inadvertently written an introduction herself. So, instead of this editor writing the rest of this introduction, here are the words of Julianna Slager to set the mood:
“As the Artistic Director of Ballet 5:8, I want to bring fresh and dynamic work to my audience. In the pictures below, you can see how ballet intermingles athleticism and passion. Ballet requires athletic training as intense as an Olympian and the creative honesty of a seasoned artist. Dancers are asked, in front of a live audience with no second chances, to pull off feats of athletic virtuosity at the same time as their full body communicates the depth of their emotion. You can’t oversell the value of that kind of beauty. Dance feeds your soul on a different level from any other art form.
I believe dance is the pinnacle of art because it builds upon and brings together all the other art forms. The intricate geometry of choreography builds upon the architecture of modern art. The dancer’s body and costuming builds upon sculpture and fashion. Ballet requires the skill of the musical composer, as well as the skill to interpret the score into movement. The lighting design requires a painter’s eye for how color affects the mood.”
With those words in mind to guide us, let’s take a look at what Julianna told us:
When we encounter something profoundly beautiful, we are catching a glimpse of the way the world SHOULD be.
“In a ballet, you can allow yourself to get lost in the beauty. It’s difficult to wake up every day and see the trouble, sadness and frightening things in the world. Those two hours in a theater can be a refuge, a moment of stillness surrounded by transcendent beauty. It’s not just two hours of escapism and mindless entertainment. I believe that when we encounter transcendent beauty, we carry that with us back into the world.
Beauty has a powerful capacity to heal the depths of the human soul. I believe that beauty is a gift from the heart of God. He is beautiful and allows us as His creation to share in that beauty. When we encounter something profoundly beautiful, we are catching a glimpse of the way the world SHOULD be. Our world is broken, but it’s not broken beyond repair. I believe that God is going to make all things right and true and beautiful one day — and when we encounter beauty now, it’s just a taste of what is waiting on the other side of the horizon.” –Julianna Slager
At Ballet 5:8, the creation of new work is a fundamental value. We love and value the classics, but we want to be known as a company that continues to push the art form forward…
“Ballet must continue to grow, change and flourish, and the primary means of that growth is the creation of new work. It’s worth remembering that Swan Lake was at one point a “new work” and it had a world premiere many decades ago. At Ballet 5:8, the creation of new work is a fundamental value. We love and value the classics, but we want to be known as a company that continues to push the art form forward as we inject new ideas and life into the artistic ecosystem.
As a choreographer, I am acutely aware that new artistic work is always a risk. It’s bringing something brand new, unseen and untested, into the marketplace of ideas. It requires an immense amount of energy (and let’s be honest, funding) to choreograph, design and produce ANY ballet. When a board of directors maps out their upcoming year, they could have the temptation to play it safe with the classics. The Nutcracker, Swan Lake and Giselle have name recognition and fill the seats. The same tendency is at work in the film industry — it’s why we have 37 Marvel movies in the theaters, and they all do well. People like the familiar and are hesitant to spend their hard-earned money and time on something they don’t know.
But without new work, the art form stagnates and becomes a mere looking glass into a former generation of risk takers and entrepreneurs. If art doesn’t continue to speak toward its context it will atrophy, the audience will dwindle and eventually the art will not be sustainable. Nostalgia can only carry an art form so long. There must be an injection of new life and work to carry ballet into the next generation.” — Julianna Slager
We have a deep well of resources that we can draw from if only we can get over the stigma of our own traditions. It’s time for more women (and more women of color) to be given the opportunity to create and lead.
“New voices must continue to be allowed to speak into the exchange of ideas in the dance world. I myself take great pride in being a Latina choreographer. It’s true that most ballet dancers are female, and yet the vast majority of Artistic Directors and Choreographers are male. Ballet has always been empowering to my female voice. In ballet, a woman can use her body to tell powerful stories without being sexualized. She can take center stage and be recognized on her own merits. And yet for as progressive as the art form of ballet can be, it has followed the same curve of paternalism in gender power dynamics as the rest of culture, with many of the same consequences. The stories coming out of the ballet scene in the #MeToo movement make this all too clear. No one should have to give up their body to receive promotion. No one should have to be degraded or cast away because they said no.
Ballet has an opportunity to excel and show the way. The ballet community has trained many brilliant artistic women that can lead the art form into the next generation. We have a deep well of resources that we can draw from if only we can get over the stigma of our own traditions. It’s time for more women (and more women of color) to be given the opportunity to create and lead.” — Julianna Slager
Movement fills in the blanks where words fail.
“Bringing ballet to the stage in the 21st century means overcoming the stigmas that can be associated with the art form. People who have never seen a ballet often tell me they are intimidated by it. They have visions of dozens of tutu-clad dancers standing in formation looking pretty. The popular portrayal of ballet is that it’s pretty but boring – something for old ladies or aristocrats.
But ballet done right is both intellectual and visceral, especially when done by dancers who are experts in nonverbal communication. Something like 90% of communication is nonverbal. People understand the language of the body; we speak it every day. We understand posture, gesture, facial expression and energy without even realizing it. Movement fills in the blanks where words fail. When a loved one is in pain, sometimes it’s the gentle hand on the shoulder, or the tender kiss of the forehead that speaks. When we are filled with joy, we often do our own little jig as if our joy were electricity moving through our bodies. When we are afraid, we hide our face, lower our eyes or bite our lips. Our whole bodies are made to communicate – not just our lips and lungs.
Such is the language we see through dance. If we take the time to be still and listen, we can hear and feel the communication coming from the dancers into the audience. It is a refreshing change from the barrage of language that comes at us each day. In the darkness of a quiet theater we find time and space to be moved, challenged and inspired by movements that transcend language. We are no longer bound by the language that we speak; we are simply human, all experiencing the beauty of that moment together. Art has the ability to heal and nourish the soul. It is worth taking the chance, and you may find that you enjoy and understand a good deal more than you might think. I have never heard of anyone coming to one of our performances and walking away wishing they had not come!” — Julianna Slager
Ballet 5:8’s next performance of “The Space in Between” takes place on Saturday, February 16 at 7pm at Hemmens Cultural Center (45 Symphony Way Elgin, IL 60120).
For ticketing information and additional performance dates, visit www.ballet58.org/performance-calendar.