A Conversation with Medhi Bahiri and Ballet NY’s Upcoming Season at the Ailey Citigroup Theater, August 9th – 11th.
I arrived early to the studios of New York Theater Ballet and found a rehearsal in full swing. Jennifer Goodman and Jason Jordan were in the midst of Artistic Director Medhi Bahiri’s newest work, “In the Garden of Souls”, which will be one of the two world premieres offered by Mr. Bahiri in the company’s upcoming season at the Ailey Citigroup Theater, August 9th – 11th.
What I saw briefly of “In the Garden of Souls” was very exciting. It is a passionate duet with wide swiping movements that flow across and through the body. In the rehearsal each movement was reviewed and then done again. Each placement of the foot, tilt of the body and the direction of the head was examined, dissected then altered or adjusted.
Mr. Bahiri is incredibly patient with his dancers, fellow Artistic Director Judith Fugate adds her eye to the ballerina’s every movement and guides in building her relationship to her partner. These dancers are so fortunate in being able to receive the mentoring of two of the world’s greatest dancers.
Rehearsal then shifted to Mr. Bahiri’s “Trois Mouvements”, set to the Concerto/Konzert OP IX N. 2 for Oboe and Orchestra by Tomaso Albinoni. It is for eight dancers and is a more structured dance and strongly rooted in a classical vocabulary. Beautifully complex in its simplicity, it will be an exciting premiere.
I had met Medhi Bahiri when he partnered Kathy Thibodeaux in the 1982 International Ballet Competition in Jackson, Ms. where Ms. Thibodeaux won a Silver Metal and Mr. Bahiri received a Special Award for Best Partner. The last time I had actually seen him was in New York in the mid 80’s and we were walking down Columbus Ave. near Lincoln Center when we ran into Sonia Arova, then Artistic Director of the Alabama Ballet. So I was anxious to catch up with what had been happening in his life.
DW: So what have you been up to?
MB: For the last 12th years, Ballet NY was founded in 1997 by Judith (Fugate) and I, our focus has been the company. We have been creating work and having a season every year, this is our 12 year. I started choreographing for the company last year, it helps budget wise. But we still uphold our Mission Statement, to get young choreographers to work with the company. This year we have John-Mark Owen, who in the past has danced with the company, but he is now more focused on his choreography.
DW: How many pieces will be in this performance?
MB: There are four pieces, a duet from “The Other”, choreographed by Agnes DeMille in 1992 and originally performed by American Ballet Theater. It is just a duet from the ballet, “The Other” was Ms. DeMille last work before her death in 1993. There is John-Marks piece, “Triptych”, set to the music of H.F. Biber and Sergei Rachmaninoff. Then there are two new works by me. “Trois Mouvements” is for eight dancers and “In the Garden of Souls” is a duet which I hope to eventually develop in to a full twenty-five minute ballet, it still a work in progress.
DW: “In the Garden of Souls” has a beautiful flow to it.
MB: That what’s great about it. I like to set the work on the dancers and watch their interpretations of the movement, how it is absorbed by their bodies. Jason Jordan is such a natural mover and Jennifer Goodwin is just beautiful in everything she does.
DW: “Trios Mouvements” seems much more classical.
MB: Yes, that’s my background, classical. I’m not opposed to all the tutu ballets, but I wanted something contemporary. The audience gets bored with the same classical pieces, they want variety, innovation.
DW: What are your thoughts on the changes in contemporary ballet, in contemporary dance, the altering of technique to fit the body as opposed to the body’s conforming to rules of technique?
MB: I love it, I like edgy ballets, we did William Forsythe’s Artifact II that he did in 1984 for the Compañía Nacional de Danza in Spain. It was very well received, I loved it, Judith loved it and so did the dancers. Thaddeus Davis from the Dance Theater of Harlem once danced with us and he has done several pieces for the company. He produces some very edgy work that we love.
DW: Are you influenced by any of the choreographers you have worked with in your career?
MB: Béjart in my inspiration, I love his work. I also love Balanchine’s work. But my base is Béjart. I danced with Béjart’s Ballet of the Twentieth Century and it left a lasting impression. If you’ve learned from the best, you must heed what you learned and what you observed. I’m not saying to copy, but allow the inspirations of what you witnessed influence your movement choice or how you approach the music.
DW: What is “In the Garden of Souls” about, what are you trying to convey?
MB: I do not have a story behind it. I was drawn to the music and then found the movement in the music. I let the music carry me and I carry it on to the dancers. I’m not a storyteller; my approach to choreography is more abstract. I want movement, I see a dancer that can move I want to use that, to fully utilize that. Maybe one day I’ll do a story ballet, I remember Bejart, he was a great storyteller but he also did incredible abstract pieces too.
DW: What do you think of “So You Think You Can Dance” and the other dance shows that have become so popular lately?
MB: I watch it some. I think it’s terrific; it’s been giving dance a lot of attention. It put dance in the conversation and people are watching now. It has allowed people to see that dance is a real career, it’s not just a hobby and I hope they see that it’s an art form that requires a lot of talent and dedication to accomplish.
DW: I know you studied with Rosella Hightower and she produced some phenomenal dancers, what was she like?
MB: Oh, She was great! She was one of the great ballerinas of her era along with Maria Tallchief and Tanaquil LeClerecq. She was a great woman but very demanding as to the art itself. She expected a lot from you, she had a great eye, she knew if you had talent or not. A great teacher, a lovely person, but when she was in a bad mood you did not want to be anywhere close to her. But she was fabulous and that’s why her school was so successful.
DW: It was good seeing you again and thank you for talking to me. I’ll see you at the Ailey Citigroup Theater, August 9th – 11th.