Michele Wiles BalletNext performance preview | Arts & Entertainment


Dancer/choreographer Michele Wiles—founder and artistic director of Park City-based BalletNEXT—makes it clear that she’s inspired by music, which isn’t exactly surprising for someone working in the world of dance. But more specifically, in the case of her latest work, she’s inspired by the different ways that music can move people based on the instrument it’s played on.

The title of the program Solo Strings proves to be very descriptive, as each of the three individual works on the bill finds the dancers accompanied by a soloist on a stringed instrument—cello, classical guitar, and harp. Not all of the pieces being played, however, were originally intended for the instrument being used. And that variation provided a different way of approaching the dance’s creation.

That’s the case for the last of the three works, works composed for piano, including Philip Glass’s Metamorphosis Two. According to Wiles, she saw a TED Talk featuring a harpist performing Metamorphosis Two, and the sound sparked her imagination.

“When I hear the harpist play the music, it almost sounds more ethereal, like a music box,” Wiles says. “[Dancers] all take ballet class to piano music. You’re more into the beauty and the flow than the technique aspect. … It’s not like, ‘Ugh piano, that drives me crazy.’ But you move a different way when you hear a different instrument. It takes me to another place.”

Being moved by the specifics of music extends throughout the program, including the opening work “Different Homes” by choreographer Brian Reeder, which was originally performed by BalletNEXT in 2013 when the company was still based in New York. It’s set to cello works by Benjamin Britten, which Wiles describes as “some of the best, I think, music ever composed for a solo cellist.” The dance arose from a challenge Reeder gave to himself: that the dancers should never touch hands.

“It creates a flow,” Wiles says, “but it also creates a little bit of tension, because you never actually connect at the hands. It’s like one of your senses has been taken away. … When you don’t have that connection, you have to kind of twirl around each other and do different things. It creates a different dynamic.

The evening’s middle work, meanwhile, takes its inspiration from Brazilian street music, performed by Utah guitarist Sophie Stanley—and Wiles thinks of its placement between the other two works on the program as way to introduce a lighter component, while applying classical technique to a sound most often associated with tango or salsa. “It’s music I love choreographing to, because it’s so kind of happy and carefree,” she says. “It’s a summer breeze—or kind of a sorbet.”

Juxtapositions are a large part of what Wiles finds creatively interesting. When asked if she prefers to put together programs that feel similar, versus pieces that have contrasting elements, she says, “I like the bouncing off of each other. … [In the final work], three pieces of that are somewhat alike. Then you create a different sound, but of the same genre, and create more intrigue.”

Mixing things up is part of what keeps any artist excited, and BalletNEXT demonstrates that by presenting not just more impressionistic works like the Solo Strings program, but the great narrative pieces of the ballet canon. There are already different creative muscles that need to be stretched when using dance to advance a story, but that challenge becomes greater when—as is the case for the presentation of Don Quixote that BalletNEXT performs on July 19—you try to condense the familiar story into an hour-long version.

“I have to pick out the right things; we can’t narrate word-for-word from the book, but come up with our own narration to carry an audience through,” Wiles says. “Picking the right highlights, that has been the challenge—and an enjoyable challenge. … And then I can go off into my contemporary music, non-narrative land. I think one feeds off the other. The dancers I have really love doing both.”

Solo Strings will be presented to audiences with free tickets on a donation-recommended basis—and that choice is representative of Wiles’ commitment not just to her own multi-faceted creativity, but to making sure dance is vital and supported going forward. “Especially for classical ballets, you’ll go to these major companies, and … by the time you spend tickets for the whole family, you’re talking $1000 or more. I want to bring this accessibility to the kids, because I’m building an audience for ballet in the future.

“[At a performance of The Sleeping Beauty] there was one little boy, he had his play binoculars, falling in love with the Lilac Fairy. If I can spark that love, then this art form will move on.”

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