Ballet's Next Generation of Dancemaker Choreographer Daniel Pelzig Brings Strong Musicality and Trust of Dancers' Abilities to His Work

Article excerpt

He may have a degree in cellular biology, but these days, choreographer Daniel Pelzig is more interested in life forms of a dancerly nature.

The resident choreographer of Boston Ballet is one of the most active and versatile working today. He is also one of the most talented, with a host of impressive accomplishments to his credit, not the least of which is a choreographic repertory of great artistic depth and integrity.

His primary role is with Boston Ballet, where he spends 30 weeks out of the year, sharing an apartment near the studios with his dog Bette and tailoring first-rate choreography for the 45-member company. His latest opus, "Nine Lives: Songs of Lyle Lovett" premiered as part of Boston Ballet's most recent program of contemporary dance pairing three choreographers - Pelzig, Lila York, and Danny Buraczeski - with local fashion designers (Nong Tumsutipong, Tunji Dada, and Pam Graham, respectively). The program, which opened March 21 and runs through April 7, also uses popular music in an attempt to reach a wider audience and is entitled "Hot & Cool." Pelzig's "Nine Lives" definitely falls on the "hot" side. "Nine Lives" is ballet with a shimmy, a shrug, and a swagger, from the down-home country line dance to the sensual, lyric duets that play off Lovett's soulful blues. The work's imaginative and dynamic marriage of ballet and jazz vocabularies is immediately appealing and accessible, yet there are no cheap tricks, no slick MTV moves. Balletic pyrotechnics sidle naturally yet provocatively next to colorful, sophisticated jazz moves. It's solidly structured as well as emotionally compelling. It's also a superb vehicle for showcasing Boston Ballet's myriad personalities and stylistic range. Pelzig clearly created the work for these particular dancers, both playing to their strengths and stretching their capabilities. Pelzig has made works for a number of other dance companies as well, including Joffrey II and the Juilliard Dance Ensemble, and is much in demand as a choreographer for theater and opera. He currently is the resident choreographer for the Santa Fe Opera and has ties to a number of theater companies, including Boston's Huntington Theatre, where he choreographed the premiere production of Maxine Hong Kingston's "The Woman Warrior" as well as this season's "Iolanthe." He also choreographed the 50th anniversary tour of "Oklahoma." Pelzig describes the three choreographic worlds he inhabits - ballet, theater, and opera - as being extremely different from one another. "Nobody seeing a musical I choreographed would think to ask me to do a ballet," he says. Yet there is a cross-fertilization between the three styles that Pelzig considers very important. "When I first started choreographing, I worked very hard at keeping all three careers growing in parallel. I enjoyed them all and each fit different parts of me. But now they really feed each other quite confidently." His first piece for Boston Ballet, last fall's charming hit "The Princess and the Pea," exhibited a deft command of a variety of dance and theatrical styles, all put to the service of the familiar story without sacrificing balletic flair. In rehearsal, Pelzig's choreographic priorities are clear. "OK, now, tell the story - play the scene. 'The play's the thing,' " he quips. Affable yet intense, he cajoles and urges, laughingly taunting ballerina Polyanna Ribeiro to put more pizazz in her long, slinky walk across stage. As with all Pelzig's works, there is an underlying narrative thread that reveals an innate storyteller, a need for context and meaning. "Even in abstract ballets, that's where my interest lies," Pelzig says. "I want to know who these people are and why they are dancing. …