In Focus

British choreographer to premiere untitled ballet

This is British choreographer Jonathan Watkins' first time in Fort Worth.
This is British choreographer Jonathan Watkins' first time in Fort Worth.

With its 2014-15 season finale, the Texas Ballet Theater makes big promises about its future, namely that it listened to a 2014 commissioned study that suggests the company would benefit from newer and edgier work by contemporary choreographers of international acclaim.

“Artistic Director’s Choice,” May 29-31 at Fort Worth’s Bass Hall, not only features the company’s first venture with famed Czech choreographer Jiří Kylián, via his masterpiece Petite Mort (also just seen in the April Dallas mixed-repertory program), but there’s a commissioned world premiere of a rising British star, Jonathan Watkins.

The piece is so new, in fact, that as of press time, a title had not been bestowed on it. Watkins arrived in Fort Worth on April 27 to begin work with the company.

“It’s quite difficult, really, because I’m not in the process yet,” Watkins said in a mid-April phone interview from London. “I have a concept for the piece and I’ve been working with music and costumes. I’ve had a psychological idea of it for a while, though.

“The metaphysical idea is a crash, but of an idea or situation. It could reflect in technology or finance. It’s a physical representation of a situation where it has to break at some point, when that crash point comes...what we layer on top and then everything crashes into pieces.”

Although Watkins has only been to Texas once, when he was dancing on a tour that stopped in San Antonio, his new work for Texas Ballet Theater will have some Texas talent involved, beyond the dancers.

He is working with Dallas-based composer Ryan Cockerham for an original score, which Watkins calls “melodic contemporary” with piano and strings. The costumes are by Austin-based Kari Perkins, who designed costumes for Texan Richard Linklater’s Oscar-nominated film Boyhood.

Both Cockerham and Perkins have composed/designed for dance before; and Cockerham studied at London’s Royal College of Music, which is where Watkins found him.

Born in Barnsley, a town in South Yorkshire, England, Watkins trained in tennis and gymnastics as a boy, and was referred to a movement class, which led to dance. At age 12, he entered the Royal Ballet School and became a company dancer at age 19. Now 30, he left the company as a dancer two years ago.

He began choreographing for an annual contest and won the Kenneth MacMillan Award at age 16. About five years ago, Texas Ballet Theater artistic director Ben Stevenson saw one of Watkins’ ballets on video, and called him and began a conversation, which led to this commission. Stevenson also trained at and danced for the Royal Ballet.

In addition to choreographing for Russia’s Ekaterinburg Ballet Theatre and Ballet Manila in the Philippines, Watkins has created dance pieces — contemporary work grounded in classical technique — for other projects, including a dance on film series. Google his name and Sofa, and you’ll see a wonderful short film featuring a man who does not have a typical dancer body type getting up from his sofa and dancing.

“I love the natural response to dance, the everyday, an extension of emotion,” Watkins says. “If someone won a lot of money or the lottery, you would probably express it in a little dance. I want to comment on a situation of an everyday person.”

But ballet patrons can expect something more rooted in neoclassical ballet structure when Watkins’ latest work premieres in Fort Worth — no matter what he decides to title it.

Artistic Director’s Choice

May 29-31

Bass Hall

Fort Worth


877-828-9200; www.texasballet

The concert also features Jiří Kylián’s Petite Mort and George Balanchine’s Rubies.