Interview: Orlando Ballet Director Robert Hill’s quest to keep the passion going in Carmina Burana

This past week, we were given a second opportunity to interview Orlando Ballet director Robert Hill during a rehearsal for Dies, nox et omnia (Day, night, and everything), one of his dances for the upcoming Carmina Burana.

We sat in the relocated rehearsal space of Orlando Ballet (more about this exciting news below) and looked on as prima ballerina Kate-Lynn Robichaux learned her dance by 21st century means: watching her 2013-era self perform it on a video monitor. “I’m much more chill about this dance today than I was back then,” Robichaux said. “It’s probably because you just got married,” Mr. Hill responded, and Robichaux grinned as she raised her left hand to show off her ring.

Mr. Hill bounced between chatting with us and leaping up to help form the dance in front of us, explaining to the dancers that the theme of this piece was the male dancer’s exploration of his passion — his reaching within to find emotion, reaching back out to share it with the world. Robichaux performs the embodiment of his dream, allowing her body to be contorted and moved and carried in a complex series of lifts as she lives out the melancholy of male dancer’s imagination.

We pulled up the lyrics to this one while we watched, and Mr. Hill chuckled, explaining that some of the lyrics were impossible to interpret literally. But in this one, the male soloist sings themes that are timeless enough to still be top-40 fodder, and the dance seems to interpret the lyrics well: “Your fair face makes me weep a thousand times, but your heart is ice; to restore me, immediately would I return to life with one kiss.”

How to explain this ballet? Mr. Hill debuted it with Orlando Ballet in 2013, in collaboration with Bach Festival Choir and Orchestra conductor John Sinclair. They were looking for an interesting piece that could combine choral, orchestral, and dance elements to make a dynamic impact on audiences, and struck gold when they decided on Carmina Burana. The music, composed by Carl Orff in 1936, has a lot in common sound-wise with Igor Stravinsky, and is based on medieval yet surprisingly relevant poetry.

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The Best of Both Worlds – Ballet and Black History Month

Today, Achariya and I are going to see Romeo and Juliet performed by the Orlando Ballet. We interviewed Artistic Director Robert Hill and principle dancer Chiaki Yasukawa a few weeks ago and you can read the whole interview here. 

It goes without saying we are BEYOND excited!

To honor both the ballet and Black History month, please check out this trailer for Misty Copeland’s documentary, A Ballerina’s Tale, available on Netflix.

And if you’re already familiar with Misty, here is a video showcasing some more up and coming ballerinas of color.

A Visit With the Orlando Ballet

Last Friday, Jen and Achariya visited the Orlando Ballet’s rehearsal space to observe the company practicing for their upcoming performance of Romeo and Juliet. We were fortunate enough to have the opportunity to speak with Artistic Director Robert Hill and principal dancer Chiaki Yasukawa.  Achariya has a background in ballet, having danced ballet and modern. For her, it felt like a homecoming. For Jen, it was exploring an entirely new country. (Neither Jen nor Achariya received compensation for this blog post, but we are grateful to Orlando Ballet for giving two curious writers their time.)

Romeo and Juliet is playing at Dr. Phillips to live music from the Orlando Philharmonic Orchestra on February 9 (8 PM), 10 (8 PM), and 11 (2 PM).

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Orlando Ballet production of Romeo and Juliet (2014) – Photo by Michael Cairns

When we sat down with Chiaki Yasukawa, 17-year veteran of the Orlando Ballet, and Artistic Director Robert Hill, we weren’t quite sure how the conversation would go. Would we stick to ballet, or even this specific ballet? Would we go deep into Ms. Yasukawa’s history, or Mr. Hill’s previous experience? The answer was — yes. Our chat was wide-reaching, spanning this production of Romeo and Juliet, Orlando culture, ballets that Mr. Hill and Ms. Yasukawa have done, ballets that they wanted to do, and how dance can help us process this moment in US history.

The rehearsal that we were there to observe was Romeo and Juliet, Robert Hill’s original choreography to Prokofiev’s music, first performed by the Orlando Ballet four years ago. It is also, we learned, one of Yasukawa’s favorite roles — and the one that she is pleased will be her last as a principal dancer with the company. She loves the role because of the texture it gives her as a dancer — emotions vary between joy and grief, and in one notable pas de deux, Yasukawa has to master a range of emotions as she dances out ambivalence.

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