[2014 Fall A&E Guide]

The Weekly Interview: NBT’s James Canfield

NBT Director James Canfield
Photo: Steve Marcus

Nevada Ballet Theatre launches its 2014-2015 season with Shakespeare’s comedic (and magical) romp in the forest via George Balanchine’s famed A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Act 1) paired with Paul Vasterling’s Seasons (September 20-21). Following that are NBT’s annual A Choreographers’ Showcase (October 26 and November 2), The Nutcracker (December 13-21) and a special gala performance of various works in February. Capping it off in May is the return of Giselle, the very ballet that gave Las Vegas audiences their first glimpse of artistic director James Canfield and his mad skills. We talked with Canfield about story ballets and the evolution of classical dance.

Is there an audience preference for story ballets? We’re testing the waters in everything. The Choreographers’ Showcase has a definite appeal. Story ballets that have more recognition are getting the response better than something like Coppélia, which we did well with, but it’s not widely known like Giselle, Sleeping Beauty or Cinderella.

Why is it that familiar and more accessible works are so popular? You don’t want to pay money to go be challenged and feel like you didn’t get it. A lot of times in the arts we have to be, whether we believe it or not, entertaining. If there’s something that’s so cerebral and heady and people don’t get it, they’re insulted and they don’t want to come back. I think they need to be pushed, but they don’t need to be challenged.

Nevada Ballet presents Balanchine's "A Midsummer Night's Dream" (Act 1) Sept 20-21.

Nevada Ballet presents Balanchine's "A Midsummer Night's Dream" (Act 1) Sept 20-21.

And traditional ballet is updated over the years? It has to be. If we tried to do it the way Carlotta Grisi did it in those lithographs, no one would come back, because it would look like we’re the Trockaderos, like we’re trying to make fun of something. It has to be brought up to today’s standards, because the pointe shoe is different, women can balance longer. Ballet, even though we hang onto the traditional works, has evolved. Legs are higher, feet are more arched and partnering is stronger.

Why only do Act 1 of Balanchine's Midsummer? Balanchine told Shakespeare’s entire story in one act. If you see Act 2, it’s beautiful, but it has nothing to do with Act 1. It’s lovely to watch, but the story is told in Act 1. So it’s the whole story. It’s not the whole ballet.

Last time Giselle was on a smaller stage at UNLV. How will it be different at the Smith Center? For story ballets, you want to see them on a big stage. It’s the way to go. You can really see the set realized. Most sets are built for opera-sized stages, so when you get into a smaller stage you have to scale it back. At the Smith Center, you get the perspective that you’re looking into a storybook.

Why do audiences love Giselle so much? It’s a love story, and there’s something about Giselle and the character development and the deception and the tragedy and the forgiveness. The Shakespearian themes we all love, the mad scene. It’s a tour de force performance.

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Kristen Peterson

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