On Monday, April 21st, The Portland Ballet will premiere “Pause, Play,” a new work by Anne Mueller, at the SOAR collaborative dance concert. A former principal dancer with Oregon Ballet Theatre, Mueller is now the Managing Director at Bag & Baggage Productions. She’s been working intensively with six dancers from The Portland Ballet to develop a new contemporary work. Tickets for SOAR are available via Polaris Dance Theatre.
We sat down with Mueller to talk about the piece, her process, and her hopes for the premiere.
The Portland Ballet: This is your last rehearsal before the performance on Monday. How are you feeling about the process so far?
Anne Mueller: I feel very good about it. I told the dancers that they’re going to warm up here and then do class with Nancy [Davis, Artistic Director of The Portland Ballet]. Then I asked them to do a run of the piece here in the studio where they can concentrate on dancing really hard. That way, when we’re in the theater, they can deal with lights and the black of the house and still be comfortable.
TPB: Can you describe a little about the piece. What was your inspiration and what gave you the ideas?
AM: When we first started the conversation, Nancy had three couples in mind. I thought that sounded like a lovely scenario. From project to project I like to not get too stuck with any configuration of numbers or genders because you can get stuck in a rut. Three couples sounded like lots of different possibilities. We had an idea costume-wise for a sleek Neoclassical look, which told me what world we were going to be living in for the piece.
[An early rehearsal of "Pause, Play" at the TPB studios]
I wanted classically-based music, but not anything that was too traditional or too familiar. I really like the [former] cellist from the Kronos Quartet Joan Jeanrenaud, so I was trying to find people of a similar style, and I found this violinist Cornelius Dufallo. I had to dig around and listen to lots and lots of piece of music so it would work format-wise. Then I found the music I wanted and pieced it together, which told me what the format of the piece was going to be. It’s a dance for three ladies, a dance for three men, and then a dance for three couples.
TPB: You’ve done lots of choreography before – have you worked with pre-professional dancers before? What’s the difference for you between working with professional and pre-professional dancers?
AM: Every group of dancers that you choreograph on is different. It’s not just their level of experience; it’s their style and their training and what choreographers they usually work with and how comfortable are they with contemporary motifs…I try to approach each situation by assessing what the given skillset and stylistic strengths of the dancers or group is. Rather than coming to rehearsal with a lot of really set ideas, I try to sketch it out a little more broadly than that. I use exercises – like we did one that was “rise and fall.” There’s no rocket science there – but it’s a starting point. You give people a set of directions and see how they move, and then you kind of learn about them and create a vocabulary that’s hopefully comfortable.
TPB: You have an accomplished dance career of your own. What’s the difference between choreographing and dancing? Do you feel like there’s a strong connection between the two, or are they pretty separate disciplines?
AM: They are pretty separate. You have to be thinking from a totally different place. Dancing is very personal experience. You’re assessing yourself and your instrument and your interpretation of whatever material all the time, so it’s very introverted in a way…Choreographing needs to be more outside of yourself. What feels good to you, what feels comfortable to you, and what looks good on you is not necessarily going to look good on other people, and if you hold on too tightly to those ideas, you’re going to get very frustrated.
TPB: What are your hopes for the premiere of this piece on Monday? What do you hope the audience takes away?
AM: Well of course I hope the audience enjoys it and has an interesting experience. I’ve really enjoyed working with this group of dancers, and I’m more interested right now in their journey with the piece. I want to see them really attack it and take command. They’re very good, capable dancers, and they’re at a place in their development where they can start to own their dancing a little bit more and infuse themselves and their personalities into it. I want them to have a confident presence and show themselves off — because they’ve done some very good work.
The world premiere of Anne Mueller’s “Pause, Play” is April 21st at 7:30pm at the Newmark Theatre in Portland, Oregon. Tickets for SOAR are available via Polaris Dance Theatre. Buy your tickets now!
For more information about SOAR, please visit soardocumentary.com.