Corella Ballet performs Stanton Welch’s Clear in Barcelona (2009)
Ballet San Jose’s upcoming Program of Premieres, opening this Friday, April 13, features an eclectic mix of classical and contemporary pieces—the most hauntingly memorable of which may be Clear, a 2001 creation by Houston Ballet Artistic Director Stanton Welch. Drawing inspiration from the events of September 11th, Clear is a male showcase in five movements described as an “abstract study of life’s connections.” It is unlike anything we have seen on BSJ’s stage in recent years.
For the last month, BSJ dancers have worked tirelessly to perfect the piece with the help of Dawn Scannell, former Ballet Mistress of Houston Ballet and stager of the piece, as well as BSJ Artistic Consultant Wes Chapman. BSJ corps de ballet dancers Damir Emric and Francisco Preciado and apprentice Josh Seibel appear frequently throughout Clear; Damir and Josh dance the duet in the second movement, and Francisco is one third of the pas de trois in the third. Damir, Francisco and Josh shared some fascinating thoughts about the work when I sat down with them during a rehearsal break last week.
A Houston Ballet alum, Josh has worked with Dawn Scannell in the past. Last week, having rehearsed Clear under Dawn’s direction, he had nothing but good things to say about her precise style and enthusiasm for the material.
“Her style really grew on me,” Francisco said. “I had a hard time adapting at first because she is very to the point and demanding, and I didn’t quite pick up on everything right away. But as the week went on, I realized that she needed to work in that way to get the ballet done.”
Damir added: “I really enjoyed working with her. She is very detailed and pushed us really hard to match every single step to every count of music. And I like that because I think it changed the whole atmosphere in the room! It was hard at first, but I felt that by the last two days she was in studio we had all reached the level she wanted from us.”
“I think she brought the best out of all of us,” Josh said.
If Dawn Scannell has been demanding in her staging of the Clear, it is partly due to her own personal style and partly a function of the exacting and definitive nature of Stanton Welch’s choreography. Damir also emphasized that one of his favorite things about Clear is that Welch’s choreography leaves very little room for the dancer’s interpretation.
“Just from my experience with this piece and working with Dawn,” Damir said, “I’ve learned that for Clear, Stanton Welch had a vision and wanted specific things. Other choreographers may see a movement from a dancer and say, ‘That’s good, let’s use it.’ In this piece, Stanton had visualized exactly what he wanted before he even got to the choreography. It was a clean-cut process.”
In light of our recent blog post about BSJ Principal Maria Jacobs-Yu’s experience working on Splendid Isolation III with choreographer Jessica Lang, Clear seems to offer a very different approach. Maria emphasized that Lang’s style of choreography is very free; any of her pieces can change depending on the dancers themselves.
“That’s a completely opposite experience from what we’ve had with Clear,” Damir said. “Dawn was very particular in the rehearsal process to say that you’ve gotta make it work. This is how Stanton wants it—these counts and these jumps. Every aspect of the choreography has to be exactly the way it’s supposed to be.”
“I think the connection between the title and the masculinity of the piece is cool, too,” Josh commented. “Almost always when you see corps de ballet, the girls are in tutus and you see all of their fine movements. But this piece is all about masculine free movement.”
“It’s a very masculine piece,” Damir added. “It’s all about male form and men’s technique, exhibiting what male dancers can really offer on stage.”
During a conversation with BSJ Marketing Director Lee Kopp, Dawn had mentioned that the end of Clear is the point at which all the “cobwebs have been cleared out. At the end of the piece, it all comes down to the people you love and the people who love you.” Everything else is superfluous.
Damir agreed with that assessment and noted that the idea applies to the physical aspect of the choreography as well.
“Dawn was really adamant that when you come into the room you have to leave everything behind,” Damir said. “Whether you’re having problems with your family or in your personal life, no matter what you’re going through, you have to leave it at the door, come into rehearsal and work. The piece itself takes so much from you. In order to dance it the way it’s supposed to be danced, you have to let it all go.”
The idea of “letting it all go” may seem counter-intuitive, but it seems as if the all-encompassing approach is precisely what Clear is meant to do. Rather than acting “from the inside out,” as Damir described the process of a learning a classical story ballet—finding the emotion within yourself and using it to shape your movements—the dancer learns that Clear is very much a piece that demands acting from the “outside in.” Because the choreography is so exacting and precise, the dancers feel they have no choice but to let the emotions of the piece embody them completely. There are no conscious acting choices; there are only the choices that the choreography and the music demand.
“Clear is about the choreography,” Francisco said. “It’s abstract. Each movement is choreographed in a certain way to show the different parts of the one man.”
“We each have our different sections,” Josh said. “We’re reflections of the first man, but that doesn’t mean we’re all the same. Each person is a reflection of a different side of him, and every section is different.”
Others may have different interpretations of the one man and his many reflections, but it all comes down to one thing in the end: the clarity of love. The piece ends with a pas de deux in the fifth movement between the first man and the woman. Around the couple, the rest of the dancers—the reflections—disintegrate and disappear quietly from the stage, almost as if they were never there.
“We all crumble and walk off the stage as the man and the woman are dancing,” Francisco explained. “Dawn kept telling us that we’re like sculptures collapsing…I don’t know if that part drew any inspiration from the twin towers collapsing, but I kept thinking about it.”
“We’re going through these crumbling movements all around [the first man], but he doesn’t even notice us,” Josh said. “It’s all about the woman in that moment. Based on what Dawn told us, I think of it as this idea that the more you come to terms with love the less you need to carry with you.”
Damir agreed: “The reflections are finally gone and everything is ‘clear.'”
“After the rain,” Francisco added.
Program of Premieres opens this Friday, April 13, and will feature the company premiere of George Balanchine’s Allegro Brillante set to Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s unfinished Piano Concerto No. 3 in E flat, Opus 75…the last piece of music Tchaikovsky ever wrote. Jessica Lang’s Splendid Isolation III is also slated for the program along with Clark Tippet’s Bruch Violin Concerto set to Max Bruch’s Concerto No. 1 in G minor for Violin, Op.26. Rounding out the program is Stanton Welch’s Clear, set to concertos from Johann Sebastian Bach. Buy tickets online at Ballet San Jose’s website, or call the Box Office at (408) 288-2800.