COMMENTS In the dance world, every so often there’s a company that truly breaks the mold – but isn’t out for the fame and glory. They work tirelessly to keep creating art, whether they dance for five or five hundred viewers. Arch Contemporary Ballet (ACB) is one such company. Sheena Annalise, founder and choreographer, has a unique vision. Her dancers are right there with her, in a team effort to create work that propels that vision. It can be broken down into three main parts – here described, in no particular order of importance.
Arch Contemporary Ballet Artistic Director Sheena Annalise. Photo courtesy of Arch Contemporary Ballet. First, Annalise wants to join ballet and music in fresh, innovative ways. The company has a resident composer, Concetta Abbatte, and resident orchestra. Abbatte composes original music for the company’s original works, and the orchestra plays it live. That’s become a luxury for all too many ballet companies nowadays, with budget constraints leading to issues such as musician layoffs and entire orchestras going on strike. The musicians not only play live but play right on stage with the dancers. They become just as vital to the performances as the dancers.
That ties into a second part of ACB’s mission: to shake up the classical ballet tradition. “We’re trying to put dancers, audience and the music on a level playing field,” Annalise explains, “to break boundaries in all aspects of the ballet tradition and hierarchy.” Apart from the described collaborations with musicians, Annalise experiments with things like female partnering and choreographing from dancers’ structured improvisational work. “Most of the time, I don’t go home and make work,” she says. “A lot of the time, I’m creating right there in the spot (in rehearsals).” This breaks apart from how classical ballet is typically created – with choreographers coming in with movement material ready for the dancers to learn. Instead, Annalise and her dancers work together to create new phrasework, she explains. Annalise describes how dancers new to the company are excited to dive into this way of working – unexplored territory for most of them – but that it can be challenging trialand-error for them. Dancers Melissa Weber, Adrienne Riter and Hope Parker say that they highly enjoy being part of this kind of creative culture. Weber appreciates how because Annalise makes movement phrases on the spot with her dancers, as they can work together to create what really works for their body. Riter loves the feeling of working along with other artists to create fresh, new work. Parker describes feeling empowered from being able to learn and perform aspects of ballet vocabulary that she hasn’t had the opportunity to yet, such as lifting other dancers in partnering (traditionally a male dancer’s role).