After two years of postponed, online and scaled-down events, there is no more appropriate performance title this spring than Fast Forward. Canceled in 2020 and then forced online in 2021, the yearly showcase from San Jose’s New Ballet finally returns to in-person performance this weekend.
On Saturday, the contemporary dance company brings its fifth installment of the returned Fast Forward series to Hammer Theatre. The performance—which is the series’ first at the Hammer—features a full company of talented dancers, both new and returning, as well as a wide variety of newer experimental work from award-winning and cutting-edge choreographers across the country.
Dalia Rawson, New Ballet’s artistic and executive director, says the Fast Forward program is a chance to give her 14 dancers the opportunity to experiment with new work.
“We want the work to be created on them—work that pushes the boundaries of their technique and artistry, and allows them to experiment,” she says. “This is a time to take risks, this is a time to potentially fail. We have to give those opportunities to artists, or the art form will stagnate.”
Rawson began planning for the program last September, reaching out to nationally and internationally recognized choreographers to solicit contributions. Ultimately, four experts—Smuin Ballet choreographer Amy Seiwert, former Dance Theatre of Harlem principal dancer Duncan Cooper, contemporary choreographer Marika Brussel and eMotion Dance director Mariana Sobral—came into the fold to work with Rawson and the company, eliciting new and innovative movements based off their variety of perspectives and abilities.
Rawson says these collaborations helped create work that is raw, exciting and not for the faint-of-heart.
“If we had to appeal to a mass audience, nothing interesting would ever happen,” she says, joking that, “you’re not going to see the next Swan Lake.”
Fast Forward includes local artists for the show’s live music as well, including San Jose-based composer Peter Colclasure, singer-songwriter Zoe Campbell and recording artist Cliff Rawson (Director Rawson’s brother).
Rebecca Nugent, now in her third year with the company, shared her gratitude for this year’s program, saying the work “means a lot” as a dancer, especially following the many stops-and-starts of the last two years due to the pandemic.
“All the work we did behind closed doors—in our backyards, in our kitchens, in our living rooms—this is what we’ve been working toward,” she says.
Nugent recalls the word “hope” motivating the company as they began preparation for the performance last fall, aiming to bring hope to the audience and community members through the new material. After working with all of the choreographers leading up to Saturday’s performance, Nugent believes hope will shine through, showing attendees that there is “a light at the end of the tunnel.”
“I hope that they can see the hard work, dedication and commitment we have not just for the art form but for our community, and all that we’ve been through over the last two years,” she says.
Company dancer Jake Howard will be on stage for only his second time on Saturday, having joined New Ballet last September. With a break from his previous company over the course of the pandemic, Howard shared how excited he was to get in the studio to create new movements with the choreographers.
“It’s really artistically fulfilling to work so hard on something and share it with an audience,” he says. “It’s more experimental than something like The Nutcracker. It’s exciting, and a great group of people. I love working with these dancers.”
As the company prepares for Saturday’s performance, Howard says the group is in the final “cleaning stages.”
“This has been a workout for the body and the mind, which is something great to bring into this performance and future ones,” he says.
After performing last year’s program virtually, Rawson looks forward to showing off all that the small-but-mighty company has pushed so hard for over the last few months—up close and personal.
“I really wanted to do something that would be fun. I wanted to visit [my high school years] again, which was in my heart when I made this ballet,” she says. “It’s really been a lovely process.”
Sat, 7:30pm, $10+
Hammer Theatre, San Jose