How to Stir the Soul? The Choreographic Talents Behind Midwinter Dreams

The Choreographers of Midwinter Dreams: Ricardo Amarante, Helgi Tomasson, Cathy Marston, Yuri Possokhov

Love Fear Loss by Ricardo Amarante

Ricardo Amarante began training in Brazil, Cuba and England. He credits his choreographic style to his international training. He states, “my international training and career as a dancer brought diversity to my knowledge and language of movement as a classical ballet choreographer.” Despite his travels, Amarante retains a love of and connection to his native country, “music, dance and passion is in my blood… I am Brazilian.” However, it was in Belgium that Amarante fostered his love for choreography.

After years of performing, switching to choreography gave Amarante the ability to collaborate and converse with fellow dancers. “I simply started it because I love the feeling of working with dancers. I have always wanted to be a coach or ballet master.”

Flanders Today stated, “Amarante marvelously succeeds in taking the audience on an emotional rollercoaster.” Amarante has a talent for displaying the deepest of emotions. His talent is put on full display in Love Fear Loss, which will be performed in Midwinter Dreams.

The ballet is inspired by the personal life of French singer Édith Piaf. A live pianist will accompany the dancer on stage, playing four of her most famous songs. Piaf, born in 1915, is famous for her role in World War II, love affairs, and songs such as “La Vie en Rose” and “Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien.” In Love Fear Loss Amarante takes the audience on a tour of the cycles of love, from the high of new love to the tragically inevitable loss of love.

Concerto Grosso by Helgi Tomasson

In traditional classical ballets, the audience’s gaze is primarily drawn to the female ballerina. The male partner stands behind the ballerina yet astonishes the audience when he emerges with larger-than-life jumps and faster-than-light turns. Helgi Tomasson knew this, and that his San Francisco Ballet dancers were capable of much more when he choreographed Concerto Grosso. Tomasson stated that “male dancing can be powerful without being only the jumps and turns. It can be moving slowly, gently, poetically – these elements can be very persuasive. In this piece I wanted to create a feeling of freedom of movement, establish a moment of incredible joy and expose the elation you can achieve as a dancer.”

In Tomasson’s choreographic process, he typically begins with the musical score. He explains, “I need that musical inspiration because I find it tells me what I need to do, what steps I need to create, and what looks skillful with the dancers. I want to make them look good.”

Concerto Grosso was created to highlight and celebrate the accomplishments of the male dancer. Tomasson saw a natural formation of five parts, for five male dancers, in Francesco Geminiani's adaptation of a Corelli theme. The refinement of music into odd numbers was a favorite and familiar practice in Tomasson’s choreographic work. The odd number of five, rather than an even number of four, presented an added challenge that he met head-on.

The piece begins with each dancer in their own position and on their own path. Although the dancers might overlap and end together, each has their own distinctive, individual and breathtaking way of making it to the end.

Snowblind by Cathy Marston

Cathy Marston’s Snowblind follows the narrative of Edith Wharton’s 1911 novella, “Ethan Frome. Ethan, the character after which the novella was named, is trapped in an unhappy marriage when he falls in love with his young housemaid. The trio form a tale of desperation, passion, dependence and love.

This tragic love triangle translates well to ballet for its straightforward structure, abundance of passion, and setting in the frigid New England winter. Snow is the most prominent element in the ballet, which comes alive as the corps de ballet. Marston refers to the snow as a “chorus” and she uses it throughout to amplify the emotions surrounding the tumultuous love triangle.

Marston's parents, both English teachers in Britain, nurtured her love of literature and theatre arts. Her passion for literature is seen in her choreographic adaptations, such as Jane Eyre, Lolita, Hamlet, Orpheus, Wuthering Heights, Lady Chatterley’s Lover, and Of Mice and Men. Unfortunately, she was unable to pursue acting as there were no acting schools nearby. This however guided her to dance, which then led her to jumpstart her career at the Royal Ballet School in London.

Marston did well in classical technique but achieved greatest success in choreography. Her unique, hybrid and brave structure for storytelling has been evident since her school years. Once, a teacher told her parents, “the problem with Cathy is that she thinks for herself.” Her independent thought, however, would be what defined her as a choreographer.

While Artistic Director of the Bern Ballet, Marston discovered the theatrical term Regietheatre. German for “director’s theatre,” Regietheatre allows directors to diverge from the original intentions of the production/literature, permitting the selection and adaptation of what is important to them, such as plot points, chronology and time period. Marston defines it as, “realizing your own interpretation. It made me much braver in my choices and more rigorous about speaking through the language of dance.” In the practice of Regietheatre, Marston named the work Snowblind, instead of Ethan Frome. She did this to make it clear that her work is not an adaptation of the novella but rather, created with inspiration from the novella.

Language and movement have always influenced Marston’s emotional expression. While choreographing the snow “chorus,” Marston worked collaboratively with the dancers to create a list of words for the movement. She wanted to develop a language framework to enhance the dancer’s thought behind the steps. The vocabulary for the New England snow ranged from the playful, fascinating, beautiful, seductive and light early winter snowfall to the beating, stinging and claustrophobic fall of a frigid midwinter blizzard. In this process, Marston bridged the gap between concrete definitions of language and the ambiguous nature of dance.

Classical Symphony by Yuri Possokhov

Yuri Possokhov received his preliminary training under Peter Pestov at the Choreographic Ballet Academy in Moscow. In the 41 years since his graduation, Possokhov has had an illustrious career, performing and choreographing around the globe.

Throughout Possokhov’s extensive career, he maintained a special connection to his first and most influential teacher, Peter Pestov. “He was one of the best teachers, I think of all our time,” Possokhov explains. “His students dance in theatres all over the world and we are of the same background. We almost bow in front of this guy. He not only raised us as artists, but as the human beings we are now.”

In 2010 Possokhov created Classical Symphony in tribute to Pestov. The music by Sergei Prokofiev was from the first time Pestov and Possokhov worked together, when he was a student at the Choreographic Ballet Academy. Classical Symphony is extremely difficult. Possokhov himself states, “It is hard. It is extremely hard.” This is reflective of what his mentor called “the dark work” of ballet, which is tiresome mentally and physically.

The dancers are, however, accompanied by the Atlanta Ballet Orchestra, which musically inspires and electrifies both the dancers and the audience. Possokhov asserts, "You are lucky because not many companies have the chance to bring on an orchestra. The combination of dance and live music elevates our soul."

Contributed by Margaux Nicolas