The American Contemporary Ballet Premieres Schubert’s “Death and the Maiden”

By Allyson Nobles
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Photo by Will Davidson

The American Contemporary Ballet opens this evening with Death and the Maiden, the world premiere of an ambitious interpretation of Schubert’s composition String Quartet No. 14. Though it is not the first venture into dance for the quartet, it has been nearly eighty years since Schubert’s score was first adapted for ballet.

ACB director Lincoln Jones heads the production from start to finish in art direction and choreography, emphasizing the ephemeral spirit of the work’s through the motif and concept of a skeleton accosting a young woman. Written as Schubert discovered he was terminally ill, the quartet is one of his final compositions just before his untimely death in his early 30s. It serves as a memento mori, remembering “that you’re alive, that you’re mortal. Even the young and the beautiful can be taken at any time. Don’t forget death also comes for you.”

Much of the inspiration in selecting this work comes through discovering the new for Jones. Though Schubert has written for dance, this particular work has not been approached for a new artistic medium before. “In terms of what inspired me, it was the music. I’ve never choreographed to Schubert before, and he was an incredibly melodic and lyrical writer.” Working together with music director Alin Melik-Adamyan, they arranged a production in the essence of Schubert’s final years, including the songs “Du bist die Ruh” (“You are the rest/peace”) and “Gretchen am Spinnrade” – both of which are commentaries on impermanence and finding peace in it.

Photo by Anastasia Petukhova

Fine art and fashion photographer Victor Demarchelier captured the compelling image for Death and the Maiden, which presents a hooded falcon perched atop the bare back of dancer Brittany Yevoli. The high-contrast shot, featuring her swathed in unruly curls, evokes the relationship between the composition’s two title subjects and the acceptance of its theme.

Starting as only a summer program in 2011, ACB has come a long way, just wrapping up their second year-round season with an unconventional and intriguing program organization. Jones seeks a structure that is consistent when plotting his schedule, taking independent periods of time to explore avant-garde works in October, love themes in February, as well as with explorations of living composers, interpretations of traditional works, and premiering wholly new ballets such as Death and the Maiden throughout the rest of the season.

Jones came from New York to Los Angeles to start ACB for the culmination of art forms that he sought to create intersections within. “One of the reasons I wanted to start a ballet company in Los Angeles is because of the preponderance of great musicians here.” He further indulges, “I was really excited by the idea of coming to LA, because I don’t want to do something that people respect or deplore or think is good. I want it to do something that really compels them. The fact that the economic sector behind [Los Angeles] is the film industry. For me, I really think yes you can have art. But with something like ballet. I like the idea of something being acceptable and then also having depth.”

Photo by Pierre Michel-Estival

Dancer Cara Hansvick additionally commented on the newness of what ACB executes in their productions, saying, “As a dancer, this is the way I’d like to see dance.” She is one of the dancers portraying the Maiden, or Woman in White, for Death and the Maiden.

Now in her third season with ACB, Hansvick has gotten to see the success of the transition from summer to year-round programming and the many never-before-done endeavors. In the approach for Schubert’s quartet, the ambitious 24-year-old notes her intrigue in the choreography she’s learning, “You can feel the passion behind the composition of it.”

Each evening of the production, Jones presents an opportunity post-show for everyone to further explore their individual experiences. With a reception featuring live jazz and wine, the whole audience and dancers from Death and the Maiden will get to intermingle. “You get to talk to the artists, you get to talk to each other, share your opinions and thoughts. For me it always feels a bit cauterizing to go to something and then you just leave with the person you came with and it’s over. You want to think about it and talk about it.”

Photo by Pierre Michel-Estival

It is the absolute culmination of ACB’s mission as a dance company, and Jones seeks to continue this vision for interplay, blurring the lines of traditional ballet as well as performance art in general.

“This is most exciting thing for me. I love ballet; I love these things that we’re doing. I don’t want to just have the show and that be it. I want to build a community around art in general – and this art – and be able to share that with people.”

Death and the Maiden opens on tonight, August 1st at The Fashion Theater in Downtown Los Angeles and runs through August 11th.

Photo by Anastasia Petukhova
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