Last Friday, we got a press email tipping us off to the fact that Nick Jaina—one of our favorite local songwriters—is set to debut a ballet, titled Satellites Become Us, with members of the New York City ballet
on August 11. Um, hello! I was obviously excited but skeptical about the details—did he choreograph the dancers and write the music? Would there be vocals? Why is it taking place at Dogwood Performing Arts in Center Fremont, Michigan? I sent a few questions to Jaina to get some concrete details, and he was nice enough to quickly email me back. So here's the deal: Satellites Become Us
isn't entirely Jaina's idea. The ballet is based on an "epic poem" written by Kevin Draper, which was then converted into prose by Jaina's friend and former bandmate Nathan Langston
(you might know him from the Maybe Happening). Jaina then sat down at a piano and composed the score, and six members of the NYC ballet will dance along while he's joined by Langston on violin and Amanda Lawrence on viola. Here's the email, because Nick has a way of saying things that just can't be paraphrased:
Well, the press release is probably vague because it's hard to talk specifics about it at this point. I can tell you about my role in it and what we hope will happen with the piece, but the whole project didn't start with me.
A man named Kevin Draper wrote an epic poem about a tragic figure whose emotional states mirror the excess and potential downfall of empires. That poem was converted by my friend Nathan Langston into seven movements of prose detailing moods and arcs from which to inspire the music. With these in front of me I sat at the piano and composed pieces that fit in with these somewhat general concepts, such as "A bomb about to go off" or "The sound of empires being built." The style of the music is certainly more like classical music than the normal songs I make. And I'm not writing any words. All the poems and prose will serve as a "silent libretto" which forms the structure of the piece but is never heard by the audience. I've been studying piano with several teachers and trying to improve my musicianship because these pieces are going to be danced by six members of the New York City Ballet.
We are all flying out to Michigan in August to rehearse the ballet and workshop it in front of a select audience. I'm careful to say that we're not "debuting" it because the hope is that the New York City Ballet will pick it up as a new work and perform it at the Lincoln Center, and for that to happen we have to not officially perform it yet.
Part of the reason we are flying to Michigan is because the Gerber family, maker of fine baby foods, is located there and they might potentially offer us some financial suport for more performances and to eventually turn this ballet into a trilogy. Like Lord of the Rings, but without all the screeching.
Nathan Langston will be playing violin and Amanda Lawrence will be playing viola and I'll be on piano for this first workshop performance. At this point it's unclear how and when I could perform the music in Portland and whether I could have those dancers, or other dancers, perform with me. I'll probably be able to release an EP of the music this fall. I think.
It's kind of a strange story, now that I put it all together.
Odd, I know, but kinda cool. With Laura Gibson and Weinland playing with the Oregon Ballet Theatre later this week (following an OBT performance last fall with Horse Feathers) it's only a matter of time before The New York Times
writes a trend piece on indie folk/ballet collaborations.