As cooler temperatures tease the start of autumn, dancers of Boulder Ballet are busy rehearsing for a varied show that will open the long-running company’s 40th season.
“Fall Passages” — taking place on Sept. 24 at Chautauqua Auditorium — will deliver a diverse selection of four contemporary works sure to leave audiences inspired, moved and perhaps ready for more of what the talented nonprofit has to offer.
“Honestly, my greatest excitement will be to see these dancers up on stage,” said Ben Needham-Wood, who took on the role of Boulder Ballet’s artistic director last month. “Everyone works tirelessly in the studio to prepare for performance, but once a dancer is on stage, their dancing takes on a whole new life and it is so exciting to see.”
Needham-Wood is an Emmy-winning choreographer who, before moving to Colorado, was influential and active in San Francisco’s art scene. Bringing cutting-edge pieces to area stages and the screen, he’s excited to embark on a new chapter with Boulder Ballet.
“Knowing this will be my directorial debut definitely has its butterflies, but it will be really fun to meet audiences at Chautauqua and connect with them in person,” Needham-Wood said.
Fans of the movies “Clue” and “Knives Out” will no doubt enjoy Needham-Wood’s latest work, which will have its world premiere as part of “Fall Passages.”
“The murder-mystery ballet is titled ‘EviDance’ and is set to music by Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass,” Needham-Wood said. “This piece has already been so much fun to dive into. It’s essentially a big dinner party with lots of characters, all of whom get to keep their own secrets. I can’t wait for audiences to see the first section.”
In cinematic fashion, Needham-Wood plans to let “EviDance” evolve throughout Boulder Ballet’s season, with the suspenseful dance story continuing through other performances and leading to a chilling conclusion.
“Ben’s (Needham-Wood) vision for his new work is so much fun — a season-long rollout of a mystery ballet where clues are discovered throughout the year and the secret is revealed at our Spring Gala,” said Claudia Anata Hubiak, Boulder Ballet’s executive director. “‘EviDance’ is theatrical and entertaining — an audience favorite for sure.”
For “Fall Passages,” Needham-Wood is also reviving a mythological piece he originally created years ago for Kentucky’s Louisville Ballet named “Apollo and Daphne.”
“This work was inspired by (Gian Lorenzo) Bernini’s statue of the same name,” Needham-Wood said. “I’ve always loved mythology, and the way Bernini captured it through marble was so delicate and poignant. I wanted to explore if we could take that single, frozen moment and expand it through movement.”
Much like the motion and drama found within the Baroque marble sculpture by the Italian artist, Needham-Wood’s choreography will likely bring forth emotion in viewers.
“I chose to include ‘Apollo and Daphne’ in this production because I feel it nicely balances the other works on the program, and for me, personally, is one that I feel really reflects my choreographic voice, so I wanted to share it as part of my introduction to the Boulder community,” Needham-Wood said.
Also part of the “Fall Passages” mix will be the comical piece “Junk Duet,” by renowned choreographer Twyla Tharp, now age 81, who pioneeringly brought innovative and humorous works to the art form.
“Twyla Tharp’s work is iconic,” Needham-Wood said. “For a company like Boulder Ballet to perform any of her pieces is a real gift to the dancers and greater Boulder audiences.”
In “Junk Duet” dancers engage in a cartoonish competition. Audiences can expect the funky recording of a score that innovatively used recycled materials as instruments.
“‘Junk Duet’ was chosen because it is playful, upbeat and uplifting,” Hubiak said. “We all need some fun in our lives these days, and this work offers superb choreography, alongside the bright music of Donald Knaack — aka ‘The Junkman’.”
For the work, Boulder Ballet received guidance and direction from a renowned dancer who worked closely with Tharp.
“To speak about the process, we were lucky to work with Matthew Dibble — one of Ms. Tharp’s répétiteurs and previous company members who set the work on our company,” Hubiak said. “The experience has been so fulfilling, and we can’t wait to share the work with you all.”
Jacob Mora — founder of Moraporvida Contemporary Dance — will premiere his work “Wait Less” at “Fall Passages.”
“It was inspired by the play of words and meaning the words ‘weight’ and ‘wait’ have,” Mora said. “My work, in general, explores the human condition, so I came to the title through exploring how to elevate oneself in the sense of calm and serenity and finding, in general, that time is the most driving factor — which I thought had an almost ironic effect on people’s lives, as time created more anxiety than release.”
Mora is known for bringing avant-garde works to the stage that are filled with fashion, imagery and inventive soundscapes that at times almost create a rave-like atmosphere.
Drawing from dance styles of hip hop, jazz, modern and contemporary, his work brings a fresh experience to the forefront.
“The other inspiration was to create a physical piece of work that would push through space,” Mora said. “I played with the music quite a bit and love the fusion and incorporation of multiple sounds. So I’m definitely incorporating lots of feelings and sounds into the work.”
For Mora, the need to create is fueled by his want to make others feel. He is hopeful that his work will perhaps spark conversations among viewers.
“I do hope the takeaway is that dance and art collide in amazing ways,” Mora said. “To watch dance as art and entertainment are equally important. So it would be awesome if people felt something that created a dialogue inside or with a friend. It would be interesting to hear other viewers take on the meaning, but at the end of it I hope that the audience was entertained and enjoyed the work.”
With his new position, Needham-Wood hopes to work with fellow creatives and continue to offer original works a chance in the spotlight.
“Jacob (Mora) is wonderful,” Needham-Wood said. “I would say I’ve been more of a sounding board, really. He is a deep thinker, and my role as artistic director isn’t necessarily to have a hand in another choreographer’s creation, but rather to empower them to realize their unique voice in collaboration with the dancers.”
Needham-Wood — also a creative who likes to dip into unexplored territory — is excited to see Mora’s final work at Chautauqua later this month.
“Jacob has certainly dug deep into this process, and the original soundscaping he’s designing brings a very different atmosphere to ‘Fall Passages.’” Needham-Wood said. “It will be a very dynamic piece.”
Tickets to “Fall Passages” are $25-$65. Doors open at 6:30 p.m., followed by performances at 7:30 p.m.
After “Fall Passages,” audiences can look forward to Boulder Ballet’s winter offering that exclusively showcases the work of women on Feb. 23-26 at Dairy Arts Center.
“I am so excited to be creating a new work for this season’s winter performance, ‘New Moves,’ a program of all-female choreographers,” Hubiak said. “I am collaborating with music artist Kwest — Swiss native Jonas Leuenberger — to create an original score, and we are in the planning process creating the structure of the music. This is a change for me, as I often create the dance before finalizing the music. It’s good to mix things up.”
Earlier this month, Hubiak’s short film “Before We Turned To Stone” was part of a looping installation at Sans Souci Festival of Dance Cinema. She is already working to shape her concept for next year’s piece.
“My work centers around the principles of relationship and human interaction, so physical partnering and a sense of embodied authenticity are my aim,” Hubiak said. “This specific work will come to life once the rehearsal process begins in January, so for now it’s all about research, sourcing visuals, costumes and music that will support and transport my vision to the stage.”
Boulder Ballet’s season
Sept. 24: “Fall Passages,” Chautauqua Auditorium
Nov. 25-27: “The Nutcracker,” Macky Auditorium
Feb. 23-26: “New Moves,” Dairy Arts Center
May 18-21: “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” Dairy Arts Center
June 2-3: “Ballet in the Park,” Glen Huntington Bandshell, Boulder
June 4: “Ballet in the Park,” Civic Center Park, Highlands Ranch