‘Bolero’ ballet has modern twist

Carolina Ballet's guest choreographer Lynne Taylor-Corbett created a ballet to Maurice Ravel's well-known orchestral piece, Boléro. Contributed

The Carolina Ballet presents a world premiere of choreographer Lynne Taylor-Corbett’s version of “Bolero” by Maurice Ravel.

When Carolina Ballet’s artistic director Robert Weiss suggested to guest choreographer Lynne Taylor-Corbett she create a ballet to Maurice Ravel’s well-known orchestral piece “Bolero” she balked.

There already are “too many of them,” she thought. The music, Ravel’s most famous (if not always recognized by him), is so familiar, not only has it been used for many ballet versions, but also ice-skating routines, a stage version by the Rockettes and movie scores. It’s understandable as it premiered in 1928.

“I thought, ‘It’s been used in cartoons,'” Taylor-Corbett recalled in a recent telephone interview from New York City. “It’s been used everywhere. He said, ‘Just think about it.'”

So, she considered the possibility.

“And I started to think about it, and I thought it could be modern, but it wasn’t until I found my way into it. Once I did, it was completely different.”

She’ll present her interpretation – a 16-minute world premiere with 14 dancers – for the Carolina Ballet in Raleigh March 8 through 25.

Two other ballets with music by Ravel are on the program: one by co-artistic director Zalman Raffael and another by Robert Weiss.

“It’s a whole Ravel evening,” Taylor-Corbett said. “And the diversity is astounding. There’s not anybody who’s going to be bored.”

Taylor-Corbett has a clear dramatic sense, having worked on Broadway and receiving Tony Award nominations for “Swing!.” She continues working as a theatrical director, currently off-Broadway and in regional theater.

Concerning her approach to her choreography, Taylor-Corbett explains, “This isn’t a comment on the profession. I’m not interested in doing abstract work. I’m interested in storytelling.”

She’s trained as dancer and actor, which influenced her in creating her ballet version of “Bolero.”

“What’s fun is when you approach it as actors, not just as dancers,” she said. “We started it with improvisations. Then we threw the ideas against the music.”

The music, Taylor-Corbett said, just loops and loops, and you feel something impending as the orchestral instruments take on different characters.

Ravel reportedly calling his music a “piece for orchestra without music,” and considered it a limited experiment, one of his least important works. The music does not change in tune, harmony or rhythm, yet builds in tone and volume, a snare drum providing a relentless beat.

Ravel was French born, from Basque country on the French-Spanish border, and originally was commissioned to create his composition for the Russian ballerina/actress Ida Rubinstein as a Spanish-themed ballet. Her troupe performed the piece at the Paris Opera during the music’s premiere in 1928.

“Bolero’s” musical theme is so repetitive Ravel may have been inspired by a visit to a factory with his father, an engineer. It has been suggested that the melody may have Arabic influences and be related to Sufism, dancing that relies on hypnotic, repetitive turning. Others have suggested the music’s repetitiveness can be traced to possible Alzheimer’s at the end of Ravel’s life, given Bolero is among his last compositions.

Taylor-Corbett said she used conductor Leonard Bernstein’s version, a minute shorter than most.

“He just heard the heartbeat faster,” she said. “He set the tempo faster. It’s so wonderful for dance because it moves more organically.”

“Bolero” has been described as a “sustained sexual crescendo,” and Taylor-Corbett noted Ravel may have been responding to the Russian ballerina’s desires. In images of Rubinstein, she said, “She’s always naked or always wearing some tiny cloth.” Talking about Ravel’s music, Taylor-Corbett added, “It’s kind of like a striptease”

Other modern ballet versions have been done with the piece. Yet, Taylor-Corbett took a new approach after listening to Ravel’s music.

“I listened to it and listened to it … and finally, I listened to it and free associated and I thought of Hurricane Sandy.”

She imagined an upscale couple going to the beach as the hurricane looms. Strange things happen.

“The elements just conspire against them to ruin their day,” Taylor-Corbett said. “It’s just a fantasy, a pure unadulterated fantasy.”

Carolina Ballet’s “Bolero”

Where: Fletcher Opera Theater, 2 E. South St., Raleigh
When: March 17-18; and 24-25
Tickets: Start at $32.
Info: 919-719-0900, 800- 982-2787, or carolinaballet.com

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