New Ballet's 'Fast Forward'

written by Bill Kopp

Photo by Tony Abello

a lightining in a bottle moment

Seeking to push the boundaries of modern dance while thrilling audiences, the 7th annual Fast Forward presents an evening of world premieres in contemporary ballet. New Ballet's Fast Forward takes place February 7 at the Hammer Theatre Center.

The resident ballet company of San Jose's Hammer Theater, New Ballet is a nonprofit founded in 2016 by choreographer and educator Dalia Rawson. Its educational unit, the New Ballet School is the only American Ballet Theatre-certified school on the west coast.

The Fast Forward performances -- seven premieres in all, by six choreographers -- will feature a balanced cast of students and professional dancers. Rawson says that the quality that unites them all is that they're "hungry, eager and enthusiastic." New Ballet prides itself on educating its dancers through productions of both classical ballets and modern productions. "As an artist, I think it's really important to have an opportunity to work with a lot of choreographers," Rawson says.

With Fast Forward, dancers are part of the creative process. And Rawson emphasizes that taking part in new works can be a key compoent of a dancer's professional development. "It really widens your experience as a dancer," she says, "as opposed to just recreating steps that were created for another dancer hundreds of years ago."

Rawson says that she launched the Fast Forward series to allow dancers to "do new work, to experiment with more contemporary styles." Conceding that modern ballet isn't quite as mainstream as a production of The Nutcracker or Sleeping Beauty, she emphasizes that "for people who are interested in ballet that pushes boundaries," Fast Forward is an enthusiastically anticipated annual event.

Part and parcel of Fast Forward's aesthetic is the understanding that traditional limits need not be applied. "try to not give the choreographers any strict parameters about what the piece can be," Rawson says. The result is a program that showcases edgy, ambitious staging and choreography.

A Los Gatos native who graduated summa cum laude from Alonzo King Lines Ballet in San Francisco, "Neon" Keon Saghari choreographed a work at one of the earliest Fast Forwards in 2018, and her professional relationship with Rawson extends back even farther. Though she's currently L.A.-based, Saghari studied at the institution before it was called the New Ballet School. Returning now as a choreographer, classically-trained Saghari says, "I feel very connected to the school; I've been on the same journey that these students are now on." She explains that in her role as choreographer, she is excited for the opportunity to challenge the students.

In approaching the premiere of her work as part of the 2024 Fast Forward performance, Saghari says that she asks herself, "What can I leave with these pre-professionals? What can I do that will help anchor them as they continue through their professional journey?" She says that part of the answer is to expose them to something different. "I like to bring in the challenge of different forms of movement, but applying that to ballet," she says, "so that these dancers have an opportunity to push outside of the ballet mold."

Saghari has certainly done that in her own career. While she was born and raised in the United States, she says that her choreography is heavily inspired by her Iranian heritage, its culture and its music. And she brings a contemporary perspective to her work as well, integrating the influence of roller skating, and endeavor in which she has been deeply immersed. Much of Saghari's recent work "has been on skates rather than on point or on bare feet," she says, referring to her work in commercials and advertising. "This piece," she explains, "is going to be on point, but it's going to be very contemporary point."

Saghari worked exclusively in the ballet and concert world for more than a decade before moving into skating; her major role in Fast Forward is something of a homecoming. Saghari notes that with this project, she has "more time and space" than what's afforded by some of her other recent work. "Commercial work is very fast-paced," she explains. "You learn something in a day, you film it, and then it's done; you move on. So you don't have a lot of [opportunities] to get very deep into movement or concepts." Fast Forward, she says, allows that creative latitude as well as the opportunity to share it with the dancers.

Other choreographers mounting world premieres as part of this year's Fast Forward include Erik Wagner (San Francisco Ballet, Bejart Ballet Lausanne); Jing Zhang (former soloist of Ballet San Jose); Mariana Sobral (director of eMotion Arts Dance Company); and Linh Mai Le (director of New Ballet School, Youth America Grand Prix Outstanding Choreographer 2021).

Fast Forward will also present a work choreographed by New Ballet's Rawson. Drawing upon music first used in the soundtrack for video game Cuphead, Rawson's work has a sassy, bright and uptempo character infused with strong elements of early 20th century jazz. Rawson characterizes it as "big band ballet." Because in many cases no musical notation existed for the music, the members of South Bay-based Top Shelf Big Band had the opportunity to arrange some of it themselves. Rawson says that the resulting musical selections provide "a variety of tones and moods -- all very high-energy -- that work very well for dancing."

The Fast Forward program will include seven major pieces, every one a premiere performance. "We might add a couple of solos, too," says Rawson. While she's more than open to mounting future performances of these works, doing so is not part of the current plan. "The model we're working with is: we do this show." she says. "If there's an opportunity to do it again, we would absolutely take it." Brimming with enthusiasm, all her focus is on the upcoming show, a performance Rawson promises will be "a lightning-in-a-bottle moment."

Back to Performing/Creative Arts Main Menu