You’ve heard these Rolling Stones hits a gazillion times but probably never thought of them as the components of a soundtrack for a contemporary dance piece.
Fortunately, acclaimed British choreographer Christopher Bruce thought differently.
Bruce created a stunning piece called Rooster in which ten dancers—five men and five women—evoke some of the spirit of the tumultuous 1960s while acting out a few of its flamboyant and largely male-centered courtship rituals.
Rooster, which premiered in Switzerland in 1991, comes to Birmingham for the first time this weekend, when the Alabama Ballet performs the piece Friday through Sunday at Samford University’s Wright Center.
Also on the program will be a more traditional ballet, George Balanchine’s Serenade, which features music from Tchaikovsky. The combination should provide a stimulating study in contrasts for concertgoers.
Bruce came to Birmingham for two weeks to set up the production of Rooster. His assistant, Hope Muir, has remained in Birmingham to oversee rehearsals.
Rooster has been performed by ballet companies around the world, according to Muir. “It’s a popular piece, because of the music, and it’s a fantastic challenge for companies to do,” she says. “For a dancer, it is very challenging because it goes outside of the classical ballet vocabulary. It pushes the body in directions that are not necessarily what you would expect, and it’s quite idiosyncratic in its little gestural movements.”
Fortunately, according to Muir, the dancers at the Alabama Ballet have adapted beautifully. “They are loving it and working so hard,” she says. “They are amazing, a great group of dancers.”
I missed Bruce when he was in Birmingham but conducted a brief interview with him via email after his return to his home near London.
Birmingham Weekly: Critics have praised your ability to connect with audiences emotionally. Is that something you strive for?
Christopher Bruce: When I make a work I am not particularly thinking of the audience at the time but merely trying to satisfy my own sensibilities. If I can communicate the same feelings to a theatre audience it is, I guess, a mixture of theatre craft and instinct. It is always something of a mystery when the process works but, of course, I don’t always get it right.
You’ve also been praised for your ability to blend classical and contemporary dance. Was that something you purposely set out to do?
I was firstly trained in classical ballet but, in my early 20s, began training in various contemporary dance techniques (mostly Martha Graham technique at first) alongside my ballet classes. All these influences have stayed with me, including the tap dancing I learned when I first began to dance at the age of 11. Every professional experience I have been through goes into my work, including working in theatre and musicals. I just use a language I feel is appropriate to the particular work I am making at the time. However, I feel that contemporary dance is my main starting point and from this base I will develop the vocabulary of the dance, adding other technical influences.
What ideas are you exploring in “Rooster”?
The main inspiration for the ballet was the music and, I guess, the times. I have used elements that are present in the songs, a certain amount of male chauvinism perhaps, which we took for granted at the time. Starting the dance with “Little Red Rooster” set the tone for a battle of the sexes, the males strutting like preening cockerels and the women looking on with some amusement and occasionally exacting revenge for the men’s behavior. For the most part, the work is a light-hearted celebration but, now and then, there are more serious moments, which are there for the audience to catch on to if those moments strike a cord.
What makes “Rooster” work as a piece of choreography?
Basically, making a ballet work is about the choice of music, design and lighting, and then getting the dance right structurally and choreographically. Then it is just up to the dancers to make it live. What one needs is for all the elements to come together in a way that produces something special and unique. I guess the other element one requires is a bit of luck!
What has made “Rooster” popular?
I probably answered this already, but I think what I am almost unconsciously trying to do is engage with my audience, to make them see the world as I do and respond accordingly for the time that the dance lasts.
The Alabama Ballet will perform Bruce’s Rooster and Balanchine’s Serenade at the Wright Center at Samford University on Friday, April 9, at 7:30 p.m.; Saturday, April 10, at 2:30 & 7:30 p.m.; and Sunday, April 11, at 2:30 p.m. Tickets are $20-$55. For information, call (205) 975-2787 or visit www.alabamaballet.org.