Ballet Nebraska’s Chloe Watson takes new work ‘Ophelia’ on tour

OMAHA — January 16, 2017 — Ballet Nebraska ensemble artist, Chloe Watson, takes her original work, Ophelia, on tour in Composers and Choreographers presented by Ballet Vero Beach in Florida on Jan. 20 and 21.

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Chloe Watson at work in the studio.

Ophelia is the latest in a series of collaborations with composer, Sean McVerry, who also created the music for Watson’s previous works, Temporary Dwelling and What Does It All Mean.

“I am thrilled that I can bring Chloe Watson and Sean McVerry’s incredible partnership to a wider audience,” says Adam Schnell, artistic director of Ballet Vero Beach. “My greatest joy is commissioning artists I think have something different to say than I do. I love what Chloe does, and to have Sean coming to Vero Beach to perform the new score live — well, who could ask for anything else?”

We spoke with Watson recently about her new work, her creative partnership and process, and her ambitions.

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Photo: Jim Williams

The first impression of Ophelia is Shakespearean. Whom does the title refer to? Is it the character from Hamlet, or someone else?
The title does refer to the character from Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Ophelia is the daughter of Polonius, the sister of Laertes, and the sometimes friend, sometimes romantic interest of Hamlet. She’s often overlooked, but she’s a fully-fleshed character — someone who is vulnerable, and in love, and confused. She’s plagued by that “female madness” we know so well in the ballet world, just like Giselle and so many others. This ballet loosely seeks to bring Ophelia to the foreground and to explore her enigmatic relationship with Hamlet. My work tends to be on the more abstract end of the spectrum, but I was interested in bringing in a more narrative element for this ballet.

Tell us about your history with the composer.
Sean McVerry and I met in our freshman year at SUNY Purchase. I was in the Conservatory of Dance, and Sean was a Studio Composition major in the Conservatory of Music. We became friends pretty early on. We shared common interests in art and music, and began collaborating by our junior year. Sean also composed the music for Temporary Dwelling, a solo I made on Bridget Carpenter for Ballet Nebraska a couple seasons ago, and for What Does It All Mean, a duet for a collaborative event with Ballet Vero Beach and the Vero Beach Museum of Art last spring.

When did you first become interested in choreography?
I took a lot of composition classes while studying at Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts, and at SUNY Purchase. My teachers were great enablers of the craft and distilled a love of composition in me, even when I thought it was not something I would ever pursue. My focus was on performance, but I found myself making more and more of my own work. It took time for me to understand that producing work can happen while simultaneously focusing on performance. Composition and performance can live harmoniously.

For some choreographers, the process begins long before setting foot in the studio with the dancers. How is the process for you?
This process began earlier than my usual way of working. It started with a discussion with Sean. I knew that I wanted to bring in a literary and narrative element, so we settled on using one of Shakespeare’s plays as a jumping off point and then bounced around a few other ideas before deciding on Hamlet. I re-read the play and did a lot of research to inform the work before finally heading into the studio with Sean to improvise and really just play with movement and music in the space. The next step was bringing in the dancers to translate what had already been created.

Which came first: the music or the dance?
I think it started with some movement first, but the music followed pretty quickly. It has been a super collaborative process. I tailor the dance to the music, and Sean does the same for the music to the dance.

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Dancers Katherine Eppink and Sasha York rehearse Chloe Watson’s ‘Ophelia.’ Photo: Erin Alarcon

How did you choose the dancers for your piece?
When I first started visualizing the piece, Katherine and Sasha immediately came to mind. Sasha seems to always be improvising in a corner somewhere; he can really take a phrase of movement and make it his own. Katherine is a fierce mover with the ability to command a stage. Ophelia herself may not always have that command, but to be able to show that vulnerability on stage requires a dancer with a certain control.

What was the biggest joy and challenge in creating Ophelia?
My biggest joy has definitely been working with Katherine, Sasha, and Sean. Each time I’ve had an idea I wanted to work out, the results far exceeded my expectations. The dancers have been willing to try everything I’ve thrown at them and have truly given value to each step or idea, no matter how ridiculous or impossible it may have sounded when describing it. Sean has been the same way; we really came at this piece together, which was so pleasant. We’ve had this months-long dialogue that has turned into a piece we’re very proud of and excited to perform and see performed.  My biggest challenge was probably working within the time allotted for the piece. I always want more time in the studio!

What do you hope the audience takes away from this piece?
I am hesitant to answer this question, because my work is always open to interpretation. I’d prefer to not dictate my intentions to the audience, but rather allow the audience to find a message that resonates with them. If they walk away without feeling or thinking anything about it, that’s alright, too.

What do you still aspire to achieve in dance?
So much! I’m just getting started. I want to dance until my bones disintegrate. What the future holds, I don’t know, but I’m ready for anything. I’m looking forward to tackling more challenging roles, dancing for different choreographers, and continuing to create new work.