Raiford Rogers Modern Ballet’s last local concert was two years ago, when the company presented the debut of “Still Life,” a stirring, three-movement work Rogers choreographed to an orchestral score by Zbynek Mateju. The Czech composer had proposed a collaboration with Rogers via email, and the two worked for more than a year without having a verbal conversation. Mateju sent Rogers excerpts and piano reductions of his symphony as he composed it, and Rogers began conceiving his choreographic ideas based on the music, sketching them out on paper, as he always does. The two finally met when Mateju came to California for the premiere at the Luckman Theater at Cal State LA, and in the fall of 2015, the ballet, which features a backdrop of Ed Evans’ photographs, was performed again in Czechoslovakia. (Here is the Los Angeles Times story I wrote about their collaboration.)
Now the two have made a second piece, “Joshua Tree,” which will have its world premiere on Aug. 12 at the Luckman. The Jacaranda Chamber Orchestra will accompany the dancers for “Joshua Tree” and a reprisal of “Still Life,” and the musicians, on their own, will perform Stravinsky’s Concerto in D.
Keeping with the theme of conversing via email, I sent Rogers some questions to bring us up to date since the company’s last show in July 2015. Here are his replies.
Laura: So after the “Still Life” premiere, the ballet was performed in Europe. Can you tell me a little about that and any subsequent performances.
Raiford: In September 2015 “Still Life” opened the Golden Prague Festival at the National Theatre. The Gala concert marked the 70th Anniversary of the Prague Dance Conservatory. The ballet was performed by the Bohemia Ballet, which is a company consisting mostly of graduates of the conservatory. I was asked to set “Still Life” by director Jaroslav Slavicky. He was familiar with the music of Zbynek Mateju and was intrigued by our collaboration. After watching a video of the L.A. performance, he invited me to Prague.
Laura: How did the collaboration for “Joshua Tree” come about, and what was your working method this time?
Raiford: Zbynek and I have stayed in contact ever since “Still Life.” I am inspired, and challenged, by his music. We both share similar ideas in our approach to collaborative pieces. Last year, Zbynek proposed another, longer, collaborative piece. After visiting Joshua Tree in his first visit to California, he suggested Joshua Tree Symphony. Last year Zbynek first started sending me small piano drafts of the piece. He finally sent the finished recording of the symphony around three months ago.
Laura: Tell me a little about the new ballet. What’s the scenic design for this piece?
Raiford: Mateju’s new symphony (33 minutes) is complex and abstract. My goal as a choreographer in “Joshua Tree” is to uncover the inner narrative of the piece.
The dynamics, tempo, and mood of the music constantly shift. We are using 12 dancers. The set design is a projection of paintings by artist Michael Nava. (We’re using) a projected animation consisting of over 20 different consecutive stages of a painting created by Michael. The artwork slowly evolves over the course of the symphony. The costumes are simple blood red leotards by Yumiko.
There is no story or theme. The mood is reflective and mysterious. The purpose of the ballet is to explore the idea that dance itself can embody sound without the dogma of subjective interpretation. The intent of Joshua Tree is to visualize the imaginative idea of the score without superimposing an artificial narrative.
Click here for more information about the concert and to purchase tickets.