Ballet Austin’s ‘Mozart Project’ adds twist to traditional ballets with three-score work

Elizabeth Hinojos

Taking classical elements to contemporary heights, Ballet Austin’s “The Mozart Project” will engage audiences in a genre-fused performance of music and dance.

The ballet consists of three 20-minute scores and does not follow a particular story. This starkly contrasts traditional ballet productions, which usually follow vignettes while showcasing conventional ballet phrases.

“I was not making an attempt to do an evening-length narrative ballet,” said Stephen Mills, artistic director of the Ballet Austin company and visionary behind “The Mozart Project.” The only connection between the three works is Mozart as an impetus to develop the original work, Mills said.

The first score, titled “Wolftanzt,” displays the most classical form of music and dance, showcasing traditional ballet movement on pointe. Michelle Schumann, artistic director of the Austin Chamber Music Center, will play Mozart’s “Piano Concerto No. 12” during this first score.

As for the dancers, the cast has been rehearsing since last month. Mills’ choreography consists of completely new movements that force dancers to create new shapes with their bodies. The cast had to give in to a looser type of movement for “The Mozart Project.”

“‘Wolftanzt’ has been a big stamina challenge for me,” said Anne Marie Melendez, a Ballet Austin company dancer. Melendez said she is onstage for the better part of the opening movement without the assistance of a partner. “It’s different not having that person to interact with directly,” she said.

For the second score, titled “Though the Earth Gives Way,” local composer Graham Reynolds recreated several Mozart pieces in an original composition. Graham has composed scores for Ballet Austin productions such as “The Bach Project” in 2010 and “Cult of Color” in 2008.

Reynolds adds a twist to Mozart with electrified strings creating a unique and intriguing sound, said Aara Krumpe, a Ballet Austin company dancer.

“The last composer, DJ Spooky, puts a completely different spin on Mozart that I have never heard before,” Krumpe said.

DJ Spooky (aka Paul D. Miller), will bring a different sound to the stage for “Echo Boom,” the final composition of the production.

Fascinated with the way remix culture can build bridges with other musical genres, Miller said the idea of his score is to update Mozart to the 21st century context. Mozart understood the riff well, which is why his music was so accessible to the public, he said.

DJ Spooky will contribute to the contemporary feel of the production by using his iPad to perform the final score, using apps to sample Mozart’s “Eine Klein Nachtmusik.”

“It’s about looking at sampling throughout history,” Miller said. “Mozart, Bartok and Beethoven were borrowing riffs and motifs from other musical mediums and that’s a cool way to think of early forms of sampling.” 

Published on September 30, 2011 as: 'Mozart Project' offers refreshing change from traditional ballet with new sounds