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A voice of their own

Tulsa Ballet fosters new work and young dancers

Dress rehearsal ahead of Tulsa Ballet II’s Emerging Choreographers Showcase

Despite having just finished a grueling morning company class and rehearsal, and prepped for more rehearsals in the afternoon, Arman Zazyan, Rodrigo Hermesmeyer, and TyLeigh Baughman looked fresh and energized when they met at Tulsa Ballet headquarters to discuss the Tulsa Ballet II’s Emerging Choreographers Showcase, an annual project that cultivates new talent to send out into the world.  

These dancers balance on a thrilling edge between experience and new horizons. Baughman, originally from Sand Springs, is a member of Tulsa Ballet II (TBII), the main troupe’s second company, which prepares young dancers to begin a professional career. Zazyan and Hermesmeyer are senior dancers in Tulsa Ballet, now pushing their creativity into new territory as choreographers. 

“I’ve always wanted to choreograph,” Hermesmeyer said. “But you don’t realize how hard it is until you try. It takes practice.” 

The ballet he made for last year’s showcase was elegiac and mesmerizing. His new work is called “mollitiam,” which means “resilience” in Latin, and is set to music by Ólafur Arnalds. 

“When we choreograph it’s a reflection of our life at that moment,” he said. “This is a poetic piece about a crisis, a boy finding resilience, realizing he always has someone to help guide him through. We find happiness when we put ourselves out there and show that we have the power to be who we are.”

For Zazyan, the chance to create his own work was one he couldn’t pass up—though he said that during his 10 years at Stuttgart Ballet he passed it up again and again. 

“When Alfonso [Martin, TBII’s artistic director] asked me, it was ‘no’ without thinking,” he admitted, laughing. “But it’s better if I try.” 

Zazyan’s piece for the showcase, “Scandal,” set to music by Philip Glass, is about love and betrayal—the anxiety that cheating creates for everyone involved—with choreography that prioritizes emotion and individuality. 

“Everybody has to look like what they are inside,” Zazyan said.

For Baughman, working with developing dance-makers brings challenges that make her a better artist. 

“As dancers we’re often made to be something that we’re not, a fairy or a princess or an animal,” she said. “But in Arman’s piece I find we’re very human. That’s almost harder to show to the audience than portraying a character. You really have to go inside yourself and whoever you’re dancing with to show that.”

Baughman performed an excerpt from “mollitiam” at last summer’s Exchange Choreography Festival, where she had a chance to dig into its meaning as the piece was in process. 

“I’ve been really trying to work on what Rodrigo wants to see,” she said. “You go in with a certain mindset with each choreographer, because they all want different things. That’s important for us to practice as dancers still in training. They can do whatever they like and we will try to make it happen. It makes it exciting for us.” 

The showcase will also include “OMENS” by Jennifer Archibald, whose most recent work for TBII wowed the at-capacity audience at Guthrie Green last fall. An Alvin Ailey School graduate and an actor currently on the faculty at the Yale School of Drama, Archibald is a rising star who, in 2017, is creating sizzling ballet and hip-hop choreography for companies from Cincinnati to Stockholm, Sweden.

“I describe my process as painting,” Archibald said. “I walk into the studio and paint the movement on the dancers without having movement preset. You have to have a level of trust and belief in their ability.”

According to TB Artistic Director Marcello Angelini, this risky business of fostering new dance (rather than just showing tried-and-true classics by established names) is essential to the health of the company and the art form as a whole. 

“Basically the two forces [new work and young dancers] feed each other. Knowing the kind of choreographers that are growing in-house, and the ones that we are inviting from the outside, we are compelled to look all over the world to find excellent young dancers for the ensemble. By virtue of dancing challenging works, these excellent dancers grow fast in skills and artistry.” 

“By virtue of working with talented, well-trained, and driven dancers, the choreographers are inspired throughout the process and make better ballets.” 

Angelini added that next season about a third of the main company will be made up of dancers from TBII—including Baughman. 

“I think we are in the process of creating a self-fueling artistic machine.” 

TBII: Emerging Choreographers Showcase
Fri., April 21, 7:00 p.m.
Tulsa Ballet’s Studio K, 1212 E. 45th St.

Sat., April 22, 7:00 p.m.
Zarrow Performance Studio
1901 W. New Orleans St., Broken Arrow 

Sun., April 23, 3:00 p.m. 
Tulsa Ballet’s Studio K 
Tickets are $25–$30
More information at tulsaballet.org

For more from Alicia, read her article on the Oklahoma Dance Film Festival.

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