Thought you might enjoy this article from Victor Lucas at the publication, Cool Cleveland about my up coming new ballet “Janis and Joe Suite”. Enjoy below.
My Best- The Traveling Ballet Master
Jump into the ’60s with the Janis and Joe Suite
Count on Verb Ballets to keep coming up with something new. ThisFri 7/22 Verb brings three dances to Cain Park, all of them company or world premieres.
Local dance audiences know the choreography of Christopher Fleming through Ohio Ballet’s performances of his Play Ball! and Edge of Assurances, both last seen here a decade ago. Last October Verb performed Fleming’s Myth and Madness of Edgar Allan Poe at Breen Center.
This summer Fleming has been setting his Janis Joplin / Joe Cocker ballet on Verb, so we arranged a phone interview.
CoolCleveland: What’s Janis and Joe Suite about?
Christopher Fleming: Originally Janis and Joe was a longer ballet. The idea was the transition from the ’50s to the ’60s. I was a kid in New York in the ’60s and I remember when I was 6 years old, hanging out in Central Park with my babysitter with her boyfriends burning their draft cards. I was too young to be involved in a lot of it, but I was certainly aware, and in some ways as a kid you’re more aware of the fun part of it — everybody was freewheeling and Central Park was one big happening — so I have very pleasant memories. But if I had been 10 years older I might have had a drug overdose and not think of it as a very fun time.
That was the original Janis and Joe. Then in my conversations with Margaret (Carlson, Director of Verb Ballets) I said, “Instead of dealing with the historical vibe, why don’t we just enjoy the music and do it as a suite?”
Why did you choose these two artists? Why Janis Joplin and Joe Cocker?
Both Janis and Joe emerged in the late ’60s and early ’70s when there was so much going on. And both did so many unusual, amazing arrangements and interpretations of their own and other people’s music.
I dabbled with other possibilities, other bands and other singers, but I just think they complement each other, kind of like Ella Fitzgerald and Nat King Cole or Frank Sinatra and Rosemary Clooney. If you follow a musical progression, Janis and Joe were kind of the next step after big band singers.
I have a friend, an African-American; back in the ’60s he had to find a picture of Janis Joplin and show it to his mother to convince her that Janice was white. His mother said, “No white girl can sing like that.”
Both Janis and Joe were amazing blues stylists.
They both crossed over so many boundaries. Me and Bobby McGee is a country western tune — the content of the lyrics is not country western but the song styling is. Mercedes Benz is a rap song. Of course, in performance Cocker looked like he was having an epileptic fit and Joplin looked like she might teeter off the stage at any moment.
Any special difficulties or opportunities in choreographing a ballet to their music?
Why can’t there be rock ballets? This dance is on pointe but it’s a contemporary ballet. It has ballet steps but you’ll also find steps that aren’t in ballet.
This music has been around for a while. The Rolling Stones are grandparents. Elton John is a Knight. Paul McCartney is Sir Paul. Symphony orchestras play the Beatles as regular pop stuff. Metallica has a symphonic score. Classic rock crossing over into other art forms should be entirely possible.
Remember, I grew up on the Joffrey Ballet when I was a kid in New York and they were doing rock ballets — Deuce Coup to the Beach Boys and Astarte, which was brilliant. Dermot Burke, who recreated the role in Astarte for Joffrey later passed the love of that particular genre on to me.
How did you become a choreographer?
I used to say, “I like to make things, and if I was on a desert island I’d be rearranging the sea shells,” but after a while that started to sound like bullshit. I mean, my whole family’s in this business. My mother founded a ballet company (Orlando Ballet, originally Southern Ballet Theater), my father was a film director, my stepfather is an opera singer, my brother’s a principal dancer with Hamburg Ballet, my sister was in the cast of 42nd Street, my other sister’s a hairdresser for films. This is what we do. When we have dinner conversation, it’s pretty much shop talk.
Also on the program, the world premiere of Continuum by Cleveland School of the Arts graduate Antonio Brown. Local audiences may remember Brown’s performance with Bill T. Jones / Arnie Zane Dance Company in January of 2010. Read our interview with Brown, a preview of that show, here, and see Brown on video regarding Continuumhere.
Friday’s performance at Cain Park also includes a company premiere from the oeuvres of the late Heinz Poll, co-founder, choreographer, and long-time Artistic Director of Ohio Ballet. The dance, Songs Without Words, is set to the music of Felix Mendelssohn and depicts life in Nazi Germany, a subject Poll knew firsthand. David Fischer, former Music Director of Ohio Ballet, will play the Mendelssohn live. Jane Startzman, who set Songs Without Words on Verb, describes the piece on http://YouTube.com.
One performance only at Cain Park’s Evans Amphitheater @ 8pm Fri 7/22/11. $20/18 advance, $23/21 day of show. Tickets are on sale at Cain Park http://CainPark.com (216-371-3000 and in person at the Main Ticket Office) and Ticketmaster (outlets, onlinehttp://www.Ticketmaster.com, charge-by-phone 800-745-3000). [Photos by Brian Mengini.]