BalletX: A New Version of “The Last Glass.”
BalletX co-founder and choreographer Matthew Neenan has revived his 2010 work, “The Last Glass” and is bringing the new version to the Wilma Theater next week as part of the company’s annual Spring Series performances which begin next week.
Although the original piece has toured the country, this is the first time Neenan’s ten dancers have switched roles to bring a new fresh energy to the work. During a recent rehearsal, “The Last Glass” unraveled through mystery, connection and spontaneity in a series of solos and duets that investigated a spectrum of emotions.
Our Meghan McFerran spoke with Neenan and some of the performers about the production.
What influenced you to bring back “The Last Glass?”
Originally, this was not supposed to be on this program. I had been thinking for the past year that a lot of them have been doing the same role for years now. Chloe (Felesina) was doing the last girl who is left. She originated that role, so she had been doing it for seven years. We had always talked about (changing roles) but you need time to do that, and luckily we had the time.
The dancers had been watching it so much that I don’t think it was that hard for them to swap roles. They could help each other. And they’re all so talented, I know they’re not capable of just doing one role. Some of them have done a couple roles already.
I want to keep it fresh and let people discover something else in the piece rather than what they have already been doing all these years.
What new layers/qualities of the work do you hope to bring out the second time around?
Neenan: I had seen the piece done in Boston in the fall and I hadn’t been working on it. It had lost some of it’s spontaneity. It can’t look too choreographed, especially all the duets because it’s all about a conversation with each other.
I have been telling them to just have a conversation and make sure it doesn’t look like you’re just doing what the choreography is. It should be like you just made it up on the spot.
With a lot of my work, it always looks better with that intent. Spontaneity is really important in this piece. In the finale I told them, “If your arms are a little different, it’s okay because it’s more about the exuberance and staying together. But we don’t all have to be the same.”
All of their characters are really individualized and I think the swapping has helped for sure.
What do you value most throughout your creative process?
Neenan: I think having that candid conversation with the dancer is really important. These dancers work with so many choreographers, so I think it’s already instilled in them to be open. It’s about trust. I work with many different companies, but it’s always so great coming back to them because the trust is already there. We can build something that might be a little risky or strange or whatever, but we can always take it a step further because of this trust.
What does “The Last Glass” mean to you? How does it make you feel?
Richard Villaverde, dancer (4.5 years): It’s such a special piece to me because it helped me learn how to portray a character and an emotion.
It helped me figure out how to translate messages of a certain tone in dance. I think that’s hard to relate to someone with not only movement but with your emotion… pouring your real-life emotions into a piece is really hard, finding when I have actually been truly angry and expressing that, or when I have been sad and expressing that.
I think that’s the hardest part with dance. You can kick your leg up and point your foot but what’s the intention behind all of those things? This piece helped me to become a better artist and fine tune all of the little details.
Can you explain Neenan’s creative process, especially resetting the piece as opposed to creating it for the first time?
Villaverde: Working with Matt is always such a pleasure because he knows how to express an emotion through his body and with his face, and he shows you that through his gestures. He is so expressive so it’s really nice to then take on what he just gave you and make it your own because you see it right in front of you.
He also goes with what you’re feeling and he is so easily expressive. He says, “I want more ‘ahhh,’” (opens his arms slowly, like a yawn) and he shows you.
A lot of choreographers tell you to do things but they don’t show you and then its more up to you to figure it out, and then you have self-doubt, so it’s really nice to have someone explain exactly what they want and make it so clear. It’s a pleasure.
What does “The Last Glass” mean to you?
Gary Jeter II, dancer (3 years): “The Last Glass” means something different than it used to because I’m doing a different part. As a new character, I get to play something that I don’t usually get to play, which is yearning for the girl and obsessed with the girl but she does not really want me in the same respect. So, I have to figure out to interact with her when she brushes me off or how I should keep pursing her.
This happy gaze is a good new challenge.
How do you continue to make the movement new and fresh?
Jeter: I think you have to be willing to make a change in terms of trying new things even if it’s not what the choreography is. There’s really only so much you can do until you start to change what the movement was before.
You have to embrace the fact that there’s going to be a good criticism point where we’ll have a coaching session and say, “Well, maybe you can do this here. Maybe we can do that there.”
But the fact that you are thinking about it and not just going on autopilot is a good thing.