BWW Intreviews: Davis Robertson
The world-renowned Joffrey Ballet School presented Tchaikovsky's The Nutcracker this past weekend with 355 dancers - the largest cast in the school's 60-year history
The Nutcracker ultimately was a ballet designed for children, by keeping the sequence of events and characters as simple as possible, the magic and artistry of the dancing really takes center stage," said Davis Robertson, Choreographer and Director of the school's Concert Group.
A tradition started by founder Robert Joffrey 60 years ago, The Nutcracker has been an important part of the history of the Joffrey Ballet School. For the first time ever, students from Joffrey Ballet School 's recently announced Dance Academy at Fort Hamilton public high school in Brooklyn were invited to audition and will be part of the 2013 casts of Joffrey Ballet School's The Nutcracker. Of the 355 dancers who participated in this year's program 89 are from the school's Children's Program, 54 are enrolled in the Young Dancer Program, 7 joined from the Fort Hamilton H.S. Joffrey Dance Academy, 145 ballet and 5 jazz and contemporary trainees, and all 30 pre-professional dancers from the Concert Group.
Jo Matos, the director of the school's Children and Young Dancer Programs, assisted Davis Robertson in producing this past weekend's charming program.
Broadwayworld Dance recently sat down to interview Davis Robertson.
Whre did you first begin your training?
At Douglas Anderson School of the Arts in Jacksonville, FL at age 16.
When did you first join the Joffrey, and what were some of your favorite roles?
I was 20 when I joined the Joffrey Ballet and danced with the company from 1991 - 2003. My favorite roles were in Vaslav Nijinsky's Afternoon of A Faun, John Cranko's Taming of the Shrew and the Cavalier in Joffrey's Nutcracker. Each of these roles and ballets were technically challenging and artistically fulfilling. It made me push myself to fully embrace a theatrical character as well as a technical challenge.
Faun is a historic masterpiece, danced by the likes of Nijinsky and Rudolf Nureyev. Tyler Walters, who had been there during the Joffrey Ballet reconstruction, taught me the role. He, in turn had been coached by Elizabeth Schooling, who had been coached by Nureyev. It was amazing to have an opportunity to interpret that role and be a part of that history.
John Cranko's Taming of the Shrew was great fun and very challenging. I had the honor of working with Georgette Tsinguirides, and it was one of the highlights of my dance partnership with Maia Wilkins. When the late Robert Altman saw us dance Shrew he was amazed at Cranko's ability to put Shakespeare onstage in dance terms. He was so intrigued by our lives as dancers that he later agreed to direct the film "The Company," which was about our lives at the Joffrey Ballet.
In the Nutcracker I danced the role of Cavalier and it was such a privilege to carry on the tradition of Robert Joffrey's vision. I started dancing the role when the company moved to Chicago after his death. In Joffrey's version the Cavalier is onstage throughout the entire performance, and it's not like that in any other version that I know of. The Cavalier starts out as the nephew and then transforms into the Prince and is with Drosselmeyer throughout the entire performance. It's a sustained character that is fully integrated into the production.
You've also danced with modern dance companies, David Parsons, Lar Lubovitch, Twyla Tharp. Was it hard adjusting to these companies when your background was in ballet?
Not at all. I was first introduced to dance through break dancing at age 11 and was very dedicated to it for five years. When I was 16 I starting training at Douglas Anderson and in my first week of training took my first ballet, modern, jazz and choreography composition classes. So my dance training and background were always well rounded and not just centered on ballet. That allowed me to adjust well to any role, style or company that I had the opportunity to work with, and I enjoyed the challenge of working to perfect different movement styles.
it like working at the Met, working with a diverse number of choreographers and directors?
Amazing. The Metropolitan Opera has one of the largest annual budget in the world. Having the opportunity to work in that environment with budgets that allow creativity and imagination to soar-it's like being a part of a brilliant team of artists where everyone is a principal, from the supernumerary to the principal singer. You work with great singers, dancers, directors...it's pretty much unparalleled. I've had the privilege to work with Christopher Wheeldon, Alexei Ratmasky, Julie Taymore, James Levine (music director at MET)-the entire list of "greats" that were part of the collaborative process in my time at the MET was vast. The collaborations provided the opportunity to learn and take away something different with each production. It was spectacular.
Can you tell me about some of your own original works Any inspiration from movement or certain music?
Plato's "Allegory of the cave" inspired my 1st work for Joffrey Ballet called Strange Prisioners (2000). Altman featured it in his movie "The Company." And Bartok's 4th Spring Quartet inspired my work Unequilibrium (2011), which I choreographed for Joffrey Ballet School's Concert Group. I chose it because of the blend of classical structure and atonal composition. It was the perfect fit to accompany the piece, which is a hybrid of classical and contemporary dance.
You're the board president and Dance Director of Live Arts Collaboration. What does that do?
The organization creates performances that highlight artists from more than one arts sector in order to bring audiences together. For example, one of the collaborative events that we're most proud off is when we brought four different choreographers and composers together. We matched:
David Parsons and Dave Matthews
Robert Battle and Paul Moravec
Davis Robertson and David Homan
Brian Reeder and Stefania de Kenessey
It was such a glorious experience to be a part of this and see the impact on the artists as they worked together to create a masterpiece.
As the Artistic Director of the Joffrey Ballet School's Concert Group do you have any aesthetic outlook or particular way of teaching?
My focus as director of concert group is to prepare the students for any professional possibility they will face or seek as a dance artist in their future. It is essential that we educate them on a plethora of dance curriculums, and at the Joffrey Ballet School they are exposed to and take classes in Russian, French and Cecchetti (Italian) ballet styles. They also take classes and are exposed to modern, contemporary and hip-hop. We bring in professionals from various backgrounds to teach master classes so that the dancers can also be exposed to additional dancers and choreographers outside of the school's faculty. They must know everything in this day and age, no one can be compartmentalized, and they must be completely malleable artists.
The students at the school have the opportunity to audition and become part of the Joffrey Ballet School's Concert Group, which prepares them for the world stage. Concert Group dancers danced the lead roles in the school's Nutcracker this past weekend. Last year a selection of the concert group dancers joined me for a performance in Florence, Italy, where I was also presented a choreography award. They learn new works from choreographers that we bring in throughout the year, and they also learn Robert Joffrey and Gerald Arpino ballets, as well as being exposed to different audiences with local performances, and tour opportunities in the U.S and internationally.
After finishing at the Joffrey Ballet School where do students go?
They go to companies all over the world. Recently our graduates have gone to Boston Ballet, Colorado Ballet, Royal New Zealand, Complexions Ballet, Ballet Inc. With their intensive training our students can go anywhere. To me, that's my finest accomplishment.