BalletX – Interview with guest choreographer Jodie Gates

Inna Heasley, publicist for BalletX,  interview of
Jodie Gates for the Dance Journal.

BalletX Summer Series 2009
July 22-29 at The Wilma Theater

Choreographer Jodie Gates, a former principal ballerina with The Pennsylvania Ballet and a founder of CaDance/ Laguna Dance Festival, CA. Ms. Gates will create a World Premiere choreographed to the stunning Bolero, one of the most famous compositions by Maurice Ravel. The company will also present  Scenes View 2 by Jorma Elo (with music score by J.S. Bach) and Broke Apart by Matthew Neenan (with female vocal artists).  BalletX successfully premiered both works at the Philadelphia Live Arts Festival in 2006.


Jodie Gates is well-known to the Delaware Valley audiences: she was a principal ballerina with The Pennsylvania Ballet 1995-2000. During her tenure here, she also choreographed for Shut up and Dance. 14 years prior to that Ms. Gates danced with Joffrey Ballet in New York, and 5 years after that – with Frankfurt Ballet in Germany. Founder of CaDance/ Laguna Dance Festival, CA, Ms. Gates is a Professor of Dance at the University of California, Irvine (UCI). She also enjoys working as a guest choreographer with contemporary ballet companies.

IH: Jodie, welcome back to Philadelphia! We are so thrilled to have this opportunity to bring your work to our audiences.

JG: I love Philadelphia as a place to live, work and create, I enjoy the people and it’s a very artistic community. The city has been experiencing a renaissance, cultivating the arts and an innovative approach in thinking about art and especially dance. I have formed many friendships and professional ties here. I haven’t been in Philly in a couple of years and I am glad that the new creation for BalletX is bringing me back!

IH: What makes BalletX a special company for you to work with?

JG: I have known Matt Neenan and Christine Cox since 1995. I had the wonderful opportunity to choreograph a work for them and Phrenic New Ballet, and had hopes of working together with them in the future. I admire and appreciate Christine and Matt building BalletX and I believe in their vision, dedication and their ability to think outside the box. I am glad to be a part of this gem of a contemporary ballet company.

Right now, with so much uncertainty in the world, especially with the unstable economy, it’s important that the community be creatively collaborative, hopeful and supportive of a variety of arts organizations. I truly believe artistic voices can flourish and be enjoyed, and concert-size companies such as BalletX can provide accessibility and education to the community as well as riveting performances.

BalletX is offering a great standard of contemporary dance, they have spread their wings and are very successful in their work, demonstrating a high artistic standard and integrity for contemporary dance.

As I continue in the dance field, I’ve become aware how important it is to stay connected with our colleagues and continue to work together on creative collaborations. The world of dance is tightly woven together and calling upon each other’s talents is what makes for great art and a great family tree. For me, the extraordinary artists I am getting to work with at BalletX is an absolute joy. And in early October I will have the opportunity to work with them again on another collaboration. BalletX will be one of the featured companies in the Laguna Dance Festival, an annual event that I founded and direct in Southern California.

IH: What drives and inspires you to create new dance work?

JG: It is, first of all, the incredible collaborative experience with the artists. The idea of being inventive inspires me greatly, and discovering new ways to approach movement is a thrill. I am also very fortunate to work with incredible companies and dancers from all over the world.

Music is very important to me, and serves as the catalyst for my ballets. I have learned to be playful with a variety of music and intuitive with my choreographic voice, allowing the process to set the environment. I try to avoid expectation and trust that myself and the dancers will create a palette to color the canvas onto the stage. The work tends to lean towards the use of classical ballet and structured improvisation. As a dancer myself, I recognize that artists need to show that they have an opinion about art. It is very important for me that they articulate it verbally and physically. What’s nice about the collaborative process – there is no sense of fear, but sense of flight and an open mind.

I enjoy the creative process so much, I often feel like a child on Christmas morning: I can’t wait to start working with the dancers like I can’t wait to open the presents. You never know what gift you are going to get until the day is finally here.

IH: So, what made you choose Boléro for the BalletX commission?

JG: I like creating incredibly abstract movement to incredibly stunning music. For the past years, I have been drawn to the great master classical composers. I have been drawn to the music of the romantic era, and now I am moving forward into the more contemporary era. Ravel’s piece is phenomenal: it has broad appeal even to non-classical music fans because everybody can relate to its repetitive sensual pulse.

It automatically gives me a feeling of a driving rhythm, thus inspiring me to create. It is very important that Boléro has a great sense of momentum and physicality. The repetitive nature of the score is obviously challenging for a new choreographic work. You hear the same phrase but will describe it physically differently every time! I think it will be visually stunning.

IH: Could you please give us a short music history review of Ravel’s Boléro?

JG: Ravel himself spoke about Boléro (originally named Fandango) having an ‘insistent quality’ with a single phrase of music that continued to slowly build, he was interested in choreography that could re-invent dance movement within this theme. My idea here is to study this approach and from one single step create a larger phrase which then becomes a series of duets, trios, group work and so on.

Ravel was commissioned to compose Boléro as a musical composition specifically for dance. Though he had created many works for dance productions, he wanted to try something a little different, having a continuous single theme. Boléro was originally choreographed by Bronislava Nijinska and premiered in Paris Opera in 1928. There are many other dance versions existing in the world today. The one I know of the most is the production by Maurice Béjart.

IH: Would you give us a sneak peak about your new ballet?

JG: I will try! It will be an incredibly abstract neo-classical work for three women and five men, a physical piece full of sensuality, driven by the music. The movement with a feel of a relentless driving force and a sense of quiet fierceness.

The new ballet will be 20 minutes long. Another composer whom I work and collaborate with quite a bit, Jack Eddy, composed a separate prelude piece to be heard before the Ravel. Jack is a very talented composer and a terrific collaborator, he is also based in Southern California where I live.

Dancers will be probably wearing not a lot of clothes, the theme color will be red, the color of passion [costume design Martha Chamberlain – ih]. Lighting design will be of great importance to create the architecture of the piece [lighting design by Drew Billiau – ih].

IH: You have started working on some portions of this ballet when four BalletX dancers came to Irvine, California in May. What are your first impressions?

JG: Great companies and dancers have this sense of integrity for the art form. They are open to trying new movement. My job with BalletX was relatively easy because the dancers are incredibly collaborative, exciting artists. They all have a very daring, playful and dedicated nature, willing to try anything. They made the choreographic process just flow, together we had a wonderful time in the dance studio and created some terrific movement. Now, it’s just a matter of me getting to Philly and letting this Boléro take shape and come to life!

The Wilma Theater
July 22-26
To purchase tickets Call (215)546-7824, click here or
visit the Wilma Theater Box Office, 265 S. Broad Street, Philadelphia

Individual tickets: General $30,  Senior $25, Students at $20!