TSD Q&A: Vampire Ballet, 'Irene'

IreneCardFront4_lo-resIrene” is a world-premiere ballet written by composer Shaun Dougherty and choreographed by First State Ballet Theatre (FSBT) dancer Alex Buckner. The modern dance of the ballet is complemented by modern music for orchestra and live band. The performance tells the story of a young dancer who wins a chance to attend the ballet school of her dreams, only to discover that not everything is as it seems. In fact, her entire school is a clan of vampires. Arts in Media founder and Delaware Arts Info blogger Michelle Kramer-Fitzgerald sits down with Shaun and Alex to talk music, dance and, of course, the un-dead.

Town Square Delaware: How did you develop the idea for a “vampire ballet?”

Shaun Dougherty, Composer: The idea came to me during Hurricane Irene that hit here a few years ago. It was beautiful and terrifying. After it was over, I just started writing, forgetting all the rules I have learned, just being reckless, writing what I wanted to hear. I kept going and had about seven minutes of music in about two hours. The idea of the ballet happened when I realized that, to me, ballet is pure beauty on stage to be enjoyed – it’s that simple. And, I thought my music incorporated into a ballet would be the perfect idea.

TSD: Why vampires for a ballet?

SD: I’d been fascinated with the idea of vampires, long, long before Twilight. I’ve read all of Anne Rice’s books, and she goes into great detail about the clothes, places, buildings – it paints a perfect picture. What she is describing, to me, is all about beauty.  I did consider the popular trend of vampires, too, because ballet (as well as opera and symphony orchestra) as an art form must develop a broader, younger audience. We must expose kids and families to these amazing art forms. I took that goal and a popular theme that also struck a chord with me, tied it all together, and “Irene” was born.

TSD: I suspect the music isn’t your typical ballet score. How did you and Shaun work together to create this piece, and how was the process different from that of your traditional repertoire?

Alex Buckner, Choreographer: The music is definitely not a typical ballet score! Most of it gives off a very eerie feel, with electric guitar (played by composer Shaun Dougherty) will be running through the whole ballet. This entire piece really emanated from Shaun’s mind. He came to me with a full story and some music demos he was developing. It’s not everyday that someone comes up with a score specifically made for a ballet. Being a horror buff myself, I was immediately interested and wanted to provide music and stage effects to make this a reality.

TSD: Shaun, how would you describe the music?

SD: The music is very intense and yet at parts very sweet. I have a huge Waltz section but also very heavy guitar parts. (That’s for me.) I hear the music as a soundtrack for a movie, which in this case is the ballet itself.

TSD: What was the most exciting thing about creating this work? What was the most challenging?

AB: The most exciting thing is getting to work with my peers, creating something that has never been seen before. They’ve all been very supportive – with any kind of crazy idea I’ve thrown out. The most challenging part is trying to make the story “readable” from an audience perspective.

TSD: How would you describe the production to a potential patron?

AB: A vampiric story – it’s about preying on people’s innocence and naïveté.

TSD: Did you cast this production differently than your others? If so, how?

AB: This ballet is cast a little differently. I cast this almost as one would cast actors for a theatrical production – who could best portray the raw emotions of the work to the audience.

TSD: Is this a style of production you’d like to revisit? Will you look to do more modern-themed productions in the future?

AB: I always look forward to creating modern based programs. Exploring different ways to move the body is very special to me. You can’t put a limit on what your mind can come up with! Seeing someone portray the movements in real life is extremely gratifying.

TSD: What in the choreography may differ from traditional ballet?

AB: The thing I would say that will be the most different is the use of the floor itself – the dancers crawl, slide and roll across the floor. There are also some lifts that are not seen in classical ballet. If you come to the performance thinking it will be “classical ballet,” I promise you’ll be in for quite a shock!

TSD: Shaun, how did you find this collaboration different from other opportunities you’ve had?

SD: The collaboration with FSBT has been both simple and great. I pitched the idea to them and they liked it. I wrote the music and story, chatted about it with Alex. He is an amazing talent, and I trust him completely.  I also knew some of the dancers, as we all work/teach at The Grand, and I’ve seen every ballet FSBT has presented for the past three years.

“Irene,” the world premiere vampire ballet, is a one-night-only performance on Friday, February 21st, 7:00pm at The Grand. Tickets are $28-$48 and are available at www.ticketsatthegrand.org

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