Daniel Roberge wants to give equal time to male and female ballet dancers
American audiences tend to think of ballet as a light pink world of tutus, ribbons and toe shoes. But classical ballet was originally the domain of men. When the king Louis XIV reigned over France, men were often the stars of the court dances that formed the basis of the classical positions still taught today.
It was not until the 19th century that ballet refocused on women, with the rise of pointe shoes and superstar ballerinas. Choreographer George Balanchine intensified this focus in the mid-20th century, devoting his life to exalting female dancers (he said, “Ballet is a woman”). In this world, men existed to support the ballerina, helping her to perform higher jumps and longer stretches.
Today, more and more choreographers merge these two movements, putting men and women on an equal footing. Dancer and choreographer Daniel Roberge offers us a sample of such balance in The rest is just noise. city paper asked Roberge to discuss her new job for the Washington Ballet.
The company will perform The rest is just noise at CityCenterDC nightly June 2-4 as part of the company’s Dance For All events. This interview is the second of three questions and answers with local dancers before the free performances. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Washington City Journal: How long have you been dancing ballet and how did you come to Washington Ballet?
Daniel Roberge: My training is deeply rooted in dance and the performing arts. From the age of 5, I worked on set for television commercials, short films, musicals, and small and large productions. At the age of 16, I fell in love with classical ballet after taking my first class and started moving towards a career as a professional ballet dancer. When I was 18, I was selected to be a finalist for the Youth America Grand Prix in New York and then was offered a scholarship to come to the Washington Ballet. It has been 12 rewarding years.
PCM: Some choreographers start from music, some start from a creative concept, others start from an old story or a feeling. Can you explain how you started creating The rest is just noise?
DR: My process always starts with the music. The music then inspires either a concept or a narrative. The rest is just noise was no exception; I fell in love with music years ago, but was able to develop a concept once I started working with my dancers: a performance of powerful women and powerful men as equals. The music of Jaime XX lasts just over 5 minutes but it’s like listening to a musical journey with lots of textures and layers. It was a joy to choreograph inside and outside the box – in terms of what would generally be considered musical accompaniment for ballet or neo-classical ballet.
PCM: What was it like stepping into the role of choreographer and working with other members of the company in that capacity?
DR: I choreographed [dances with] several members of the company and studio society in the past, so this time around it was just pure fun and joy.
PCM: Can you describe a particular moment in the design process when things fell into place? Or a moment you are particularly proud of?
DR: I really like the rhythm section of the men in my track. Listening to this particular section of the music, I envisioned a reimagined dance with tap dancing and soft shoes with mixed ballet. I also added percussion and everything seemed to work even better than I expected. It was the first section I choreographed.
PCM: How did you choose the music for this piece?
DR: I have always loved Jamie XX as an artist. “The Rest is Noise” has been one of his favorite tracks for quite some time. I always knew I wanted to do choreography and now felt like the right time.
PCM: Tell us about the costumes. Did you participate in their design?
DR: I generally like simple and elegant costumes. Black leotard with stand-up collar and flesh-colored tips for women. Comfortable black pants and tank tops for men. Simple, chic and not overdone.
PCM: What do you hope viewers will take away from seeing your work?
DR: This classical ballet or this neo-classical ballet does not always need to fit into a box. It doesn’t always have to be one-sided. Men can dance with men; and women with women. Each dancer can be as powerful and as beautiful as the other.
Dance performances for all at CityCenterDC begin at 6 p.m. on June 2, 3, and 4 at CityCenterDC. washingtonballet.org. Free.