- Choreographer: Robert Hill
- Music: Various Composers
- Costumes: Janet Marie Groom
- Lighting: Alexander V. Nichols
- World Premiere: Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre, May 9, 2002
- PBT Performance Date: May 2002
by Carol Meeder, former director of arts education
Choosing a well-balanced performing season means presenting both traditional and contemporary ballets, story ballets and dance-for-its-own-sake. We have to experience both past and present to formulate a clear vision of where we want to go in the future. In this way faithful audiences and new ones will be drawn in to this beautiful art form, securing its existence for posterity. Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre’s premier of Brand New Day pulls its artistry from many corners of the ballet and music worlds to create an exciting, provocative, beautiful, and thought provoking performance that challenges our intellect while soothing the soul. Three new ballets based on music that has been experienced by each one of us on some level at some point in our lives, created by three talented young choreographers at different points in their professional careers, danced by artistic athletes meticulously trained, clothed in costumes that evoke emotional responses from onlookers – this is Brand New Day!
The music drives all three of these ballets; and in a bold and innovative move, the music of Sting was selected for the opening and closing of the production. Sting was chosen because his music is intergenerational. In the USA we became acquainted with this introspective yet rebellious and arrogant musician when he led the British punk rock group The Police in the seventies and eighties. This mega-star rock group did not really fit the same mold as their competition, which probably accounted for their success and eventual legendary status in the world of pop music. They were three young men with strong egos, but they were a few years older than most other rockers, more experienced in performance and life, better educated musically, and also savvy businessmen, which helped them survive some of the pitfalls that happen when stardom hits hard and fast. Sting easily surfaced as the leader through his talent as a songwriter and performer, and his ambitious vision for the future.
His musical influences were diverse and sophisticated, running the gamut from Bach and Mozart to Miles Davis and The Beatles. As a teenager he was immersed in jazz recordings while his peers listened to more commercial pop music. His talent as a guitarist developed performing jazz and big band music, giving him an advantage over other rock musicians. Another quality setting him apart is that his music embraces elements that are musically diverse and multi-cultural. His work over more than 25 years, before, during, and after The Police, incorporates not only rock but reggae, jazz, Celtic, and Middle Eastern music. After breaking with The Police in the mid-eighties, his solo work has become even more varied.
Kevin O’Day and Matjash Mrozewski have embraced this music and created two very different ballets. Both have chosen songs from different times in Sting’s career and each has taken a different approach toward it….
As a complement to the two ballets choreographed to the music of Sting [by O’Day and Mrozewski], PBT has continued its relationship with Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild and its jazz program, MCG Jazz. With a commission to Robert Hill, a choreographer and dancer from American Ballet Theatre, and a commitment from Marty Ashby, Executive Producer for MCG Jazz, to produce the musical score and assemble the musicians, PBT embarked on a ballet premier that would span about five decades of jazz music from the thirties through the seventies. The responsibility of artistically and musically balancing the production of Brand New Day and providing both a transitional flow and diversity of style between the Sting ballets is carried off seamlessly and with more relevance that initially realized. It seems that when Sting reflects about the strongest influences in his musical life and career, many of the performers and styles of music in Robert Hill’s “Corcovado” are included: Mainstream Jazz, Big Band, Latin, Bebop, and others grace the stage during all of Brand New Day whether directly or indirectly.
Marty Ashby provides background for the “Corcovado” score:
The ballet is divided into six segments beginning with a mambo entitled “Coco Seco” which is a transcription from the Xavier Cugat Orchestra repertoire reminiscent of what might have been heard at Latin Dance Parties in the 1930’s. Interestingly, in 1934 The Cugat Orchestra appeared on the NBC “Let’s Dance” radio program along with the Benny Goodman Orchestra who was responsible for making the next classic swing era selection, “Sing, Sing, Sing,” famous.
Moving from the Swing Era into the Bebop era of the 1940’s and 50’s is accomplished by the music of Dizzy Gillespie who is one of the true founders of the Bebop movement and one of the most influential innovators in Jazz Music. The breakneck tempo of Gillespie’s “Salt Peanuts” moves seamlessly into Sonny Stitt’s complicated melody on “The Eternal Triangle”. A seminal work during the Bebop era and subsequently one of the most performed pieces in all of Jazz is Gillespie’s “A Night In Tunisia.” This piece serves as a transition to the pas de deux and brings back the Latin music elements from the opening piece that Dizzy incorporated into his music throughout his career. The piece ends with a series of cadenzas that connects the solo male dancer directly with each solo musician.
Brazilian Antonio Carlos Jobim is one of the greatest and most prolific Jazz composers of all time and his sensual piece from the early 1960’s “Corcovado” provides the perfect pallet for the moving and intimate pas de deux and connects the music with the choreography with a great deal of sensitivity. The rich harmony, Brazilian rhythms and seductive Portuguese lyrics combined with the fragile sound of the classical guitar became the elements associated with the “Bossa Nova” movement that took the country by storm in the early 1960’s.
The next section begins with the Horace Silver classic “Song for My Father” which was written just after Silver’s first trip to Brazil where he was impressed by the authentic Bossa Nova beat. This tune represents the “Cool” side of the “Hard Bop” movement that began in the late 1950’s and is epitomized with the next composition “Ping Pong” by Wayne Shorter. Pittsburgh’s own Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers originally performed this piece in 1963 and its powerful rhythms are complemented by the angular melody line and rich harmony. Closing this segment is John Coltrane’s most well known work “Giant Steps.” The saxophones trade phrases for several choruses giving the ballet the element of true Jazz improvisation.
The closing segment begins with the poignant opening statement from Joaquin Rodrigo’s “Concierto de Aranjuez”. This Latin flavor continues with the athletic performance of Chick Corea’s 1971 composition, “Spain.” This fiery samba challenges both the musicians and dancers with its intensity and complicated rhythms providing a crescendo finish.
This is the first time Robert Hill has choreographed a score like this one. Since it was new to him, his approach was also new. “I have a bronze sculpture of myself that was done by an artist in New York. The artist was looking for a feeling of a spiral and just kept chipping away at an unformed sculpture until she got what she wanted.” That’s how he likes to think of the creative process of this piece, as though he was “chipping away at an unformed sculpture.” He has always wanted to do “Sing Sing Sing” because it is danceable, entertaining and has great audience appeal. In “Corcovado” as a whole, Hill was not looking to create an intellectual interpretation. Here it is physicality and mood all the way, both of which are dictated by the flow of energy in the music.
Working in the studio with the dancers, Hill starts with ideas, but “you never know what will happen until you work with the bodies. You can start out by working toward the initial plan, but evolution of the movement’s natural flow sometimes suggests the direction.” Hill likes to meld with the dancers’ energy, then take the movement one step farther to give it an edge. His choreography draws from the classical vocabulary then fuses it with contemporary forms using a jazz sensibility. There are hints of dance styles of the different periods laced throughout “Corcovado,” but what Hill really strives to do in his work is to “move the classical forward.”
As a whole, Brand New Day has taken PBT’s contemporary ballet programs another step toward the edge, pushing the envelope yet again. Initiating the innovation with Indigo In Motion, performing jazz at its coolest and hottest, the leap to rock seems just the next logical step. Never ceasing to pay homage to past traditions with its impeccable performances of classics such as Giselle, Coppelia, The Sleeping Beauty, and The Nutcracker, PBT also spreads its wings and flies into Unknown Territory creating for itself a Brand New Day.