Soundtracking this year’s Fast Forward showcase of contemporary ballet is a diverse range of music, from an early 20th-century piece by American composer Amy Beach, to a song by DC post-hardcore band Fugazi.
Fast Forward returns to the Hammer Theatre this Saturday with an electrifying set of contemporary, experimental ballets. The showcase is San Jose dance company New Ballet’s opportunity for emerging choreographers and dancers to push the boundaries of contemporary ballet. Composed of six short ballets and two acts, the evening will also feature choreographers taking the stage to speak about their process and provide some context to their work.
Since its inception, Fast Forward has aimed to “develop the artistry of dancers and choreographers,” says Dalia Rawson, New Ballet’s founder and director.
It’s not easy to make a production like this without specific funding, she explains, but it’s worth it to give dancers the opportunity to grow in a way that classical works do not.
“Doing new work, and doing work that has been created on you, is really important to continuing to develop as an artist,” she says. Choreographers in Fast Forward are given “zero parameters” for the performances.
Last year was the production’s first at Hammer. Its first three years were performed in a smaller venue. It was canceled in 2020 and live streamed in 2021. The production hit the Hammer Theatre last year, selling twice as many tickets as in previous years and receiving a lot of positive feedback from audience members.
“People were really delighted by the creativity,” Rawson says.
The production also catches the attention of the broader Bay Area dance community.
“We have leaders from the dance community that always come and talk about how much they love that program,” Rawson says, mentioning directors from nearby dance companies like sjDANCEco, Los Gatos Ballet and Peninsula Ballet. “It is really wonderful to have that support from the arts community.”
Still, it’s not easy to make a production like this financially sustainable. Well-known story ballets such as the Nutcracker will usually sell out quickly, but, Rawson says, “an evening of brand-new contemporary ballet choreography that nobody’s ever seen before—it’s a totally different ballgame.”
However, the pandemic has completely transformed the market, changing how tickets sell and creating an unreliable situation. Last year’s Fast Forward outperformed expectations for ticket sales, but other shows didn’t always fare nearly as well as expected.
“Everything I’ve learned over 20 plus years of observing ticket patterns in San Jose has been completely blown out of the water.”
Normally, a production that is geared toward kids and their families would sell out immediately, but in 2021 these types of shows sold few tickets compared to pre-pandemic rates (sales last year were variable). Rawson suspects this has a lot to do with the lack of available vaccines for children, as well as older showgoers electing to stay home—a crowd which normally would be taking their grandchildren to see a story ballet. Another pandemic-driven change she’s observed: people are waiting until the last moment to buy tickets, and aren’t usually buying season passes.
Rawson herself says it’s taken some time to get back into the swing of going to see live performances, but it’s worth making the trip.
“There’s just nothing like it. Live streams don’t do it, it’s not the same as sharing energy with people who are there witnessing, where everything can go absolutely right—or not—in that moment. That’s what makes it electrifying.”
For those who still think ballet is some stuffy affair, New Ballet maintains that it is for everyone. Rawson says there’s no wrong way to experience the art.
“It will move you because you’re watching another human strive for a superhuman level of physical and artistic achievement. You don’t need to have ever seen a ballet before to understand what it’s about, it’s right there.”
As with every production, this year’s is sure to see a range of delightful and unexpected moments on stage.
“The choreographers bring out facets of all of these different dancers, things that I might have missed,” Rawson says. “They always surprise me.”
Sat, 7:30pm, $10
Hammer Theatre, San Jose