Brooklyn Ballet Celebrates 20 Groundbreaking Years with Rejoice! The Village Dances – April 20-23

In celebration of 20 years of interdisciplinary dance that fosters collaboration and inclusion, Brooklyn Ballet presents Rejoice! The Village Dances, an evening that bridges ballet and street dance with past and contemporary works. The performances will take place from April 20th to the 23rd at The Mark O’Donnell Theater in Downtown Brooklyn, with live music. From Scripture, a collaborative world premiere work by Brooklyn Ballet’s founder and artistic director Lynn Parkerson, to the restaging of Antony Tudor’s Fandango (1963) and the company’s 2013 work Spiders, Cooks, and Mood Swings, this anniversary season explores the representation of community in contemporary and classical dance. Lynn Parkerson tells us about the upcoming performances, and more.

Lynn Parkerson

Congratulations on Brooklyn Ballet’s 20th anniversary season! As founder and artistic director what does it mean to you to have reached such a milestone? 

It means a lot; it’s a vision I followed and I’ve been able to keep going. I’ve been able to create work and engage the community, and the company has represented Brooklyn. We were the first in a lot of ways, as ballet really needed to change and involve more people. I’m just thrilled that we had enough engagement from dancers and patrons to become a community fixture in Brooklyn. 

Bobby “Anime” Major, Audrey Borst, Tristan Grannum,  Michael “Big Mike” Fields, Valentina Fory, Lynn Parkerson, Aoi Ohno

Was your initial vision to bring together ballet and street dance or did that evolve in time?

It evolved, but fairly quickly, because the idea was that we would be a ballet company that reflected Brooklyn, so as we started to work in the borough as performing artists and in arts education, we went out to the outer borough to different schools. Just interacting with the community, I found myself really wanting to work with the dancers who were coming out of Brooklyn and styles that were born here from the street dancers. All of those urban forms really fascinated me and I started reaching out to dancers. Then Big Mike started working with us and he brought people in from his crew. That’s really been the longest standing collaboration that we’ve had as far as dancers go. We have ballet dancers come and go, but my core of hip hop dancers has remained central to our creative work.

How do ballet and hip hop dance inform each other? 

First of all, they’re both styles that emerged from a social and party scene. Ballet comes from the French court, from the way people danced with each other and for the king or for the court. That evolved into spectacles and big events. Hip hop dancing is also a social tradition where people were playing music and dancing with each other. Vocabulary started to emerge, and people started having dance battles to push the styles forward. Street dancing tries to attract a public to watch. So, both, I thought, were very presentational forms that came from social dancing traditions. Of course, hip hop is a much newer form. Ballet is over 400 years old whereas hip hop is 50 years old. Ballet is still here, and I think hip hop’s here to stay. It’s been interesting: when my hip hop dancers performed onstage, they were not used to having all that focus on them whereas for ballet dancers who are used to performing onstage it was different to be out on the street with their form. Would people be interested in it? Are passersby going to stop and why would they stop? 

Tristan Grannum, Valentina Fory, Audrey Borst, Aoi Ohno

So, part of the mission has been to take the performing contexts and switch them out. Also, all these performances inform the choreography as well. There are improvisational sections where both styles of dance are together, and there are choreographed sections. We’ve come a long way with Big Mike; it’s been about a 17-year collaboration, so we’ve gone from juxtapositions to layering to work partnering, and there’s still a lot more to be explored when you put the two kinds of dancers in the room and begin to move together. There’s a lot of dialogue that has been discovered and is still to be discovered; it’s kind of a collage process of first bringing the people together and then seeing what can emerge. The hip hop dancers are used to doing a lot of freestyling so that’s really exciting and helpful in the rehearsal process. I couldn’t even tell them exactly what to do. I’ve learned a lot and now I know a lot more about vocabulary, but even so, they constantly surprise me in the rehearsal space. Then I can offer them some sort of spatial awareness and things that ballet training and dance training bring. Even repeating something over and over in choreographing, that’s kind of a discipline that has been useful to the street dancers because they realize: “Oh, if I do this again then I can make it better or I can add something.” It’s an awareness of structure and being able to do something over and over in different contexts.

Audrey Borst

Tell us about your upcoming production; what can audiences expect?

There are three dances on the program. One is a reconstruction from the ballet canon that’s a very traditional dance by a really important choreographer, Antony Tudor. One of the things I like to try to do is to keep the classical canon, the really seminal works that move the needle forward in ballet. I like to bring those pieces to our company and also to our audiences who may not have gotten to Lincoln Center to see them. Tudor’s Fandango takes place in a public square in the South of Spain. It was first done in 1963. 

In another dance, instead of the village square in Spain, it’s more like the Flatbush triangle. This was a piece that Mike and I did 10 years ago, Spiders, Cooks, and Mood Swings, and it involves again the different dancers coming together in a casual kind of town square setting but also maybe a restaurant, maybe a bar, maybe an intimate conversation happens between two… It’s a day in the life, it’s New York moments in a variety of styles from the new classical ballet to open improvisational work to the hip hop styles as all these characters interact with each other. 

Bobby “Anime” Major and Michael “Big Mike” Fields

Then we have a world premiere, my piece called Scripture, and I’m just now really feeling like it’s becoming what it needs to be. It’s really going much deeper into the internal expression of human beings, in this case dancers, and the idea that dance is really the art form closest to the inclusivity of the symbol of Jesus in our society and civilization, the idea of the body being divine. What the body represents is God-like and so the piece has all these dancers in this container, which is the music, Bach’s Jesu meine Freude, a beautiful piece from the 17th century. To have that be supported by the dancers’ movements and the kind of choreographic structure that we’re creating together provides a deep connection to the human body, to dance as an art form, and to being human. I was very nervous about making a dance to this work but I’m happy that I did because I think we’ve found the overall meaning of a work like this. You can call it spiritual or religious, but it’s about human beings, the divinity in the human body and in the way that we move. Dancers are a monastic group, they do the same things every day to train, they’ve been practicing their whole lives and they have something to say just by moving; that’s what I’m trying to reveal in this piece.

What is your vision for Brooklyn Ballet for the next 10 years?

Of course we want to continue to make more work, we want to hire more dancers and pay dancers more, and have a more consistent season. We want to really focus on building the company. The big news is that we’re going to be opening an additional dance center in Flatbush. That’s six to seven years out but we begin now with all of the preparations, fundraising, and PR. We’re building the repertory to have more pieces from the ballet canon, more choreographers from the community and getting our work, which is really honed here in Brooklyn, out into the world. We received some funding to do a dance program in schools. Through our Elevate program, we have residencies anywhere from 6 to 20 weeks and we’re in about 10 schools now. We’re also hoping to expand that and get up to 15 schools next year. 

Aoi Ohno, Valentina Fory, Audrey Borst

We have dancers who went through our program and are now dancing professionally in Houston, Norway, Florida, and other places. We’re offering this program to first to eighth graders. These are kids from neighborhoods like Flatlands and Marine Park that never would have, in their wildest dreams, imagined becoming ballet dancers. We give scholarships so that they can come to our school and continue to study. Second and third graders are at a great age for that, however, sometimes we are in a middle school, and we see a really talented sixth grader whom we then invite to study with us. This year we hired someone full-time to manage the program. During COVID, obviously, you couldn’t go into schools, but we’ve been able to recover all of our previous schools and add a few more this year. 

Any special message for your New York City audiences and potential audiences?

Be surprised! It’s not your grandmother’s ballet company! Yet it’s a serious ballet company with a diversity of styles that only enhance and bring new life to the ballet form. Just come and enjoy the energy of the dancers and the works on the program. They’re all interesting in their own way, so you’re bound to come away with something that you’ve really connected with.

All photos by Steven Vandervelden

Top photo: Aoi Ohno and Bobby “Anime” Major

Tickets to Rejoice! The Village Dances, April 20-23 @ The Mark O’Donnell Theater

Brooklyn Ballet

About Maria-Cristina Necula (183 Articles)
Maria-Cristina Necula’s published work includes the books "The Don Carlos Enigma: Variations of Historical Fictions" and "Life in Opera: Truth, Tempo and Soul," two translations: "Europe à la carte" and Molière’s "The School for Wives," and the collection of poems "Evanescent." Her articles and interviews have been featured in "Classical Singer" Magazine, "Opera America," "Das Opernglas," "Studies in European Cinema," and "Opera News." As a classically trained singer she has performed in the New York City area at Weill Hall at Carnegie Hall, Merkin Hall, Florence Gould Hall, and the Westchester Broadway Theatre, and has presented on opera at The Graduate Center, Baruch, The City College of New York, and UCLA Southland. She speaks six languages, two of which she honed at the Sorbonne University in Paris and the University of Vienna, and she holds a Ph.D. in Comparative Literature from The Graduate Center, CUNY. In 2022, Maria-Cristina was awarded a New York Press Club Award in the Critical Arts Review category for her review of Matthew Aucoin's "Eurydice" at the Metropolitan Opera, published on Woman Around Town. She is a 2022-24 Fellow of The Writers' Institute at The Graduate Center.