The term 'contemporary ballet' can appear a bit contradictory, but the fluidity of this phrase is needed when describing ballets created in the 21st century. Twenty-six-year- old choreographer and former Houston Ballet company member Garrett Smith whole-heartedly accepts these contemporary differences.
Adding to his personal collection of ingenious work, Reveal is Smith's third new work for Houston Ballet, and it's bursting with the similar contemporary spark found in the two iconic works that share the 2015 Fall Mixed-Rep Bill, Christopher Bruce's Ghost Dances and Stanton Welch's Tapestry. The limits of classical ballet's form and structure are intensely manipulated in Reveal. This is the contemporary attitude that Smith's naturally in touch with as a developing choreographer.
Smith's daring trajectory towards choreographic excellence has always been supported by Houston Ballet. And with this creative freedom, he's quickly been able to create impressive contemporary works for ballet companies near and far. He's simultaneously a sensational dancer and an audacious choreographer, constantly exploring these creative dualities of his own life.
Born in Riverton, Utah, Garrett Smith first entered the dance world when he was nine and soon joined the competition scene as a teenager. In 2001, at the New York City Dance Alliance, Smith won the National Junior Outstanding Dancer award with a solo he created for himself. This early brush with creating movement helped stimulate his dancing aspirations too; he leaped towards special performance opportunities such as dancing in the 2002 Summer Olympics opening ceremony and later at the Kennedy Center with his own choreography.
After his initial years of dance competitions, Garrett Smith entered Houston Ballet's Ben Stevenson Academy in 2006 with a youthful eagerness to learn, participate, and create. In the span of a few intense years Smith was accepted into the pre-professional company, Houston Ballet II (HBII), and later joined Houston Ballet's main company by 2009. For three years
Smith danced in the corps de ballet, quickly learning Houston Ballet's growing classical and contemporary repertoire. Smith left Houston Ballet in 2012 and now finds himself living in two countries as he splits his time between freelance teaching and choreographing in the U.S. and dancing in Norway as a company member with The Norwegian National Ballet. With his detailed background Smith's credited as a multi-tasking talent worldwide.
Smith's time with Houston Ballet also helped stimulate the choreographic intensity and passion he brushed upon as a teenage dancer in competitions. Found Alone was the first work Smith choreographed at Houston Ballet for the Academy's Summer Intensive Program in 2007 with his partnered composer, Derek Zhao.
Four additional works of Smith's are also a part of Houston Ballet II's repertoire: Subtle Release (2007), Den III (2008), Of Opposing Nature (2009), and Radiance (2013). During summer 2015 he'll be setting Mortal Form (2015) for HBII as well, which won Milwaukee Ballet's "Genesis: International Choreographic Competition."
Smith's choreographic experiences progressed exponentially while he was with Houston Ballet. After receiving the Fellowship Initiative Grant from New York City Ballet's New York Choreographic Institute in 2009, Smith created his first piece for Houston Ballet's main company in 2010, Vivacious Dispositions. A personal commission from Artistic Director Stanton Welch quickly followed in 2012 to which he created his second piece for Houston Ballet, Return.
Fluid sensibility and collaboratively ability are only a few proven qualities that Garrett Smith holds as a choreographer, as his work continues to express the attitude of this generation: dance is limitless. In the midst of contemporary leaders of dance, such as Jiř‹ Kylišn, Paul Lightfoot, Crystal Pite, Smith finds the duality of choreography exciting: "Sometimes I want to choreograph something edgy and in socks. Sometimes I want something technically classical, with traditional pointe work," he explains.
From adventurous moments of suspended dancers in Return (2013) for Houston Ballet to the witty flirtation with Vivaldi's composition in Facades (2015) for Ballet West, Smith is continuously learning to listen to his daring intuition and exploring the unexpected qualities of contemporary ballet while staying true to his creative personality.
Reveal is Garrett Smith's visceral love-letter to the dualities of life via contemporary ballet. With this piece Smith wanted to release limitations and uncover personal acceptance through dance, "As dancers, you're always constantly training and trying and sculpting your body, constantly looking in that mirror all day to the point of obsessing with this love-hate relationship of ballet. In Reveal I wanted to try to let go of that and just embrace and accept what you have been given in life and please yourself to make yourself happy."
With a basic sectional blueprint within the score in mind, Smith decided to do things a bit differently this time as he collaborates in the moment with the dancers and a new artistic team. He worked closely with each dancer of his cast for nearly seven weeks to originate movements based on their bodies and personalities. "Each movement," Smith said, "is tailor made for each dancer, as a way to accept all of their unique qualities."
Reveal's cast of eight males and four females from the main company must also navigate across an emotional landscape set to the score of the legendary master of contemporary music, Phillip Glass. Smith selected Double Concerto for Violin, Cello, and Orchestra because of its equal dynamics of fast and slow, loud and soft, which provide a deep and vulnerable atmosphere for the dancers.
In addition to the score, the chic and elegant costuming by Monica Guerra helped thrust the dancers into the world of androgynous alliterations. The couture-inspired costuming constantly rotates between the cast, revealing more than the obvious gender opposition. Smith mentions, "I wanted the costuming of Reveal to have the basic dichotomy of classical and contemporary, yin and yang, white and black, feminine and masculine, ugly and beautiful, as well as the shades in between."
Exposing the unity and division of classical and contemporary movement is one of the major themes in Reveal, and it's represented in every aspect of this eloquent piece.
Jessica Maria MacFarlane Freelance dance writer at A+C, dance photographer, and English writing tutor