The poster imagines a collision of two worlds: a ballet dancer en pointe in an avant-garde, space-age costume inhabits an eerie canyon landscape. It announces this weekend’s performance by Dallas Neo-Classical Ballet, a collection of pieces inspired by science fiction called Cosmic Fiction.
“I grew up watching The Twilight Zone and sci-fi movies,” says Emilie Skinner, artistic director of Dallas Neo-Classical Ballet. ““I wanted to have a punk-rock ballet company [when I was young.]”
She founded the company of classically trained dancers in 2011 to “have ballerinas do other things” while honoring the art form.
“I like to incorporate a lot of Ballets Russes,” Skinner says, referring to the early 20th-century Paris-based offshoot of the Imperial Russian Ballet that was known for its avant-garde pieces, and collaborations that stirred controversy in its 20-year run. “They were already doing stuff that was really weird,” says Skinner, “shorter ballets that were really impactful because of the times and the politics of that time.”
The center of Cosmic Fiction is a reproduction of Afternoon of a Faun, the dreamy ballet set to a piece by Claude Debussy and first performed in 1912.
“We considered doing Les Biches,” a Ballets Russes piece in which ladies of the court could be reimagined as a futuristic government body of female dancers, says Skinner. “But it wasn’t going to work out with live musicians: there were too many for Moody Performance Hall.” She needed something with a smaller orchestra.
Her mind kept coming back to Afternoon of a Faun. If she expanded the motif to include sci-fi fantasy, the fanciful setting could transfer to another planet and the fawn become an alien of sorts. “Nijinsky had this obsession with bas-relief work from ancient Greece and Egypt, which fits in as well,” says Skinner, “Because there are all these theories about aliens coming to the Egyptians to give them the secrets of pyramids, and all these alien series about that.”
Meanwhile, SYZYGY, a contemporary musical ensemble housed in the Meadows School of the Arts at SMU, will provide accompaniment. Students receive a grade for performing with the dancers.
Guest choreographers Adrian Aguirre and Michael Stone, connected to SMU and Contemporary Ballet Dallas, have set two pieces.
The piece Skinner herself choreographed is based on the mid-century experimental French film La Jetee, which was paired with a screening of the film at Texas Theatre along with a shorter DNCB performance earlier this month.
But that’s part of Skinner’s mission of collaboration. Ultimately, there was room for everyone.
“It started with sci-fi lit and spiraled out from there,” she says.
On March 29 DNCB performs as part of the sold-out Dallas Museum of Art event entitled Dancing with Degas. In May, as part of the SOLUNA festival, they’ll appear with Joseph Banks, a Nigerian-British singer, at The Bomb Factory. Find tickets to performances and more information here.