Or rather, it will be in the Virginia Samford Theatre in Caldwell Park, but members of audience will feel -- hopefully -- that they have been transported to Paris, and not just any Paris, but Paris of the Bohemian era. That’s what company founder and artistic director Alison Page is going for in the show titled “La Vie Boheme.”?
“The theme of the show came from looking at what was going on in New York off-Broadway after the recession hit,” Page says. “There was a lot of burlesque, a lot of cabaret. After talking to some of my colleagues there, I wanted to tap into that and do something similar — something sophisticated, romantic and of the moment.”
I ask Page what it is about these styles and formats that she thinks audiences find so engaging right now.
“In the 1920s and ‘30s, in the Great Depression era, these styles were also extremely popular then,” she says. “If you look back to something like the Ziegfield Follies, for instance, the power was in that it was so romantic. I think the power in this show, in our show, is that it’s a return to something that transports you from your ordinary day. It’s not necessarily high concept or high art, but it’s powerful and accessible.”
The 90-minute program, which runs March 5-7 at the Virginia Samford Theatre, includes six short contemporary ballet works by five local and international choreographers. “La Vie Boheme” also draws considerable inspiration from Baz Luhrmann’s 2001 film Moulin Rouge. Like the Academy Award-winning movie, the dance performance explores epic romance against the backdrop of Paris. The concept came first, and Page then approached the diverse group of choreographers with whom she wanted to work.?
Several notable dance professionals are participating in the production, including Jorden Morris of the Royal Winnipeg Ballet in Canada and Alabama School of Fine Arts (ASFA) dance department chair David Keener. AROVA is the first professional company with whom David Keener has collaborated during his three-year tenure at ASFA. Choreographer Jennifer Medina is part of the program following her win in AROVA’s 2009 choreography competition, in which dance-creators from all over the United States submitted videos of contemporary ballet arrangements in order to win cash prizes and the opportunity for AROVA to commission a new work for the company’s spring performance.?
Rounding out the slate of choreographers are Lynn Bowman, who is based in Tuscaloosa and frequently works with Sanspointe Modern Dance Company, and Page herself, who created a dance number in addition to shaping the entire show.
“We approached Jorden because he does romantic really well,” Page says. “He choreographs couples really well. And Lynn has a big opening number with a large group of dancers. She does large groups really well, so I knew that a presentation like that would complement the other works.”
Page challenged the participating choreographers to explore Bohemian-era Paris. Beyond that, she imposed no strict guidelines, preferring to see what emerged when each choreographer followed his or her own creative impulses.
“Some went with history, some went with the film Moulin Rouge, some went with the Red Light District,” Page says. “There’s a mix of music from Brahms to Nina Simone. There’s a definite mix of contemporary and classical, but there’s a strong thematic connection, a real flow.”
Page explains that the show has six different stories, all of which explore love, truth, beauty and freedom, with romance as a through-line.
“I think they mesh well together,” she says. “They keep you engaged because each is so different.”
Like previous AROVA performances, “La Vie Boheme” has a take-home-part-of-the-performance element as the result of the company’s collaboration with a visual artist. As part of a personal, ongoing, multimedia exploration of creativity, Page enlisted painter Thomas Andrew to attend several company rehearsals photograph the dancers are, then to create paintings based on those photographs. Andrew’s paintings will be on display (and available for purchase) in the lobby of the Virginia Samford Theatre during the weekend run of “La Vie Boheme.” One goal of the exhibit is to draw audience members into the world of dance performance as soon as they walk through the doors.
“We’re making these characters very powerful from the beginning,” Page says.
Some of the paintings have a voyeuristic theme that is almost immediately staged in real life by the dancers, even before the performance begins. The canvases show women peeking out from behind curtains and around corners. Moments later, as the audience members take their seats, the dancers will be doing just that, making it seem as though the performers have stepped out of the paintings — or as though the audience has stepped into them.
The signature image of the show — the photograph that has appeared on all the “La Vie Boheme” posters and fliers, as well as on the cover of this paper — is the result of yet another collaboration between choreographer and visual artist. One morning last fall, Page was watching Daytime Alabama on NBC-13 and saw local photographer Angela Karen on the program talking about “A Picture of Health,” the calendar Karen produced that featured photographs of 12 Birmingham women in pin-up girl poses. Karen had already had several years of success taking photographs in this style as part of her “Birmingham Bombshells” business before creating the calendar, which was a fundraiser for the Norma Livingston Ovarian Cancer Foundation. Page had never met Karen when she saw the Daytime Alabama? segment, but she immediately felt that the photographer would be a strong collaborator.?
“There’s something about Angela — she has this innate ability to draw out the sensuality of women,” Page says. “I just knew that she could help realize the vision I had.
“You know, it’s difficult to call up someone you don’t know and ask them to collaborate with you. But she was very gracious and it was immediately a good fit: She loves all things Paris, she loves the film Moulin Rouge. We actually did the shoot in her house. The sign is hers; the drapes and chandelier beads are hers; so much of what you see there is hers. We were completely rearranging her furniture, but she was fully engaged. I’ve never worked with a photographer who was just as determined to get the perfect picture as I was.
“As we were shooting, I’m cueing the dancer and Angela was actually having to dance a little bit herself to get the picture,” Page says. “The whole process had its own choreography.”
Karen’s photography will be on display in the lobby alongside Thomas’ paintings throughout the performance weekend.
Admittedly, the combination of dance performance and art exhibition seems a little fraught — as if the joining would inevitably make the discrete beauties a gimmicky whole. Instead there’s a depth, a surprising synthesis. The dance alone would be compelling, but the addition of the visual art bolsters what the company does on stage. Concluding its third full season with “La Vie Boheme,” AROVA is, in a word, moving.
AROVA Contemporary Ballet presents “La Vie Boheme” Friday-Sunday, March 5-7, at the Virginia Samford Theatre. Show times are Fri-Sat 7:30 p.m. and Sun 2:30 p.m. The opening night audience will enjoy?“An Evening in Paris” pre-show party from 6:30pm – 7:30 p.m. featuring complimentary wine, an art installation and a trunk show display featuring fashions from French designers. A post-show discussion will occur after the Sunday matinee. Tickets cost $25 for adults and $15 for students. Call (205) 251-1206 or visit www.arova.org.