Dancers as Choreographers for BB@home

 Boston Ballet rehearsing Paulo Arrais' Castle; photo by Lauren Pajer, courtesy Boston Ballet

Boston Ballet rehearsing Paulo Arrais' Castle; photo by Lauren Pajer, courtesy Boston Ballet


“I’m looking for honesty in this moment,” says Paulo Arrais, a Boston Ballet principal dancer who’s choreographing a ballet for this weekend’s BB@home, Dancer/Dance-Makers. On his knee, Mr. Arrais looks to the ground as if it’s a mirror, one hand delicately on his face. “Use your life experiences to make something special,” he tells his four dancers, who are now on their knees emulating their director.

Mr. Arrais’ Castle is one of six ballets choreographed by Boston Ballet dancers to be featured in an intimate black box BB@home showcase, October 5 and 6. The performances will also include works by Soloists Isaac Akiba, Roddy Doble and Florimond Lorieux, and Artists of the Company Reina Sawai and Matthew Slattery.

“I am thrilled we are able to nurture our dancers’ choreographic talents by presenting their work at BB@home this season,” Artistic Director Mikko Nissinen said in a press release. “Choreographing puts the dancer in the driver’s seat. They get to make all the decisions—from music to staging, timing, and lighting. It can be daunting the first time, but also incredibly empowering.”

For Mr. Arrais, Castle is his fifth time in the driver’s seat. “What really drew me to choreographing was the coaching part of it,” he told The Boston Dance Journal, “helping find a safe space for the dancers for their movements, their form of expressing themselves.”

Rehearsals for this new ballet ring true to the choreographer’s words. Based on the transformative experience of building a strong yet sensitive bond with a group of heterosexual men at their apartment that they called “The Castle,” Mr. Arrais’ ballet explores the range of dynamics contained within these friendships. He cast a diverse set of dancers—Principals Paul Craig and Junxiong Zhao and Artists of the Company Matthew Slattery and Desean Taber—to visually represent the harmony that can be found while maintaining individuality. Mr. Arrais says he hopes audiences will “feel something” and find meaning in the emotions presented.

A rehearsal with dancer and choreographer Matthew Slattery looks much different. “This is the polar opposite of classical…” he says of Hoist. “It’s more like a bit of fun than anything else.”

His three dancers, Soloist Ji Young Chae and Second Soloists Hannah Bettes and Lawrence Rines, are presenting what Slattery describes as “a two-minute experience that may or may not have happened in an elevator.” It’s as though Ms. Bettes and Ms. Chae are the antithesis of elevator etiquette; confined to a few square feet and echoed by Mr. Rhines (making his way to the “elevator”), their movements are bold, abstract, spontaneous and obscure.

“I really like the idea of something happening that you’re not in control of,” Mr. Slattery told the Journal. “The way that the movements are initiated are a little different because, instead of driving it as a dancer, it’s interesting to try and take it from a place where it’s happening to you.”

 Hannah Bettes and Ji Young Chae in Matthew Slattery's  Hoist ; photo by Matthew Slattery, courtesy Boston Ballet

Hannah Bettes and Ji Young Chae in Matthew Slattery's Hoist; photo by Matthew Slattery, courtesy Boston Ballet

His score aligns with the spontaneity of his choreography— “Kitchen” by the band Six Drummers is the result of percussionists making music in each room of an apartment, using household items as instruments. The music, like the ballet is “a moment that’s happening and you just happened to experience it as opposed to sitting down to see something that’s being performed to you,” Mr. Slattery says.

As for directing, Mr. Slattery says “it’s terrifying.” Only having choreographed for showcases as a student at the Joffrey Ballet School in New York, BB@home is a shift of mindset for the dancer. In a rehearsal, it begins and ends with him. “I was so surprised at how much of a shift it is being in front of the room and being the person who’s in charge of fixing things and stimulating things and keeping the momentum going.”

But will he choreograph again in the future, despite the pressure? “Yeah,” he says. “Definitely.”

Mr. Slattery, Mr. Arrais and other Boston Ballet dancers present Dancers/Dance-Makers at 7:30 p.m. in Boston Ballet’s South End headquarters, October 5 and 6. For tickets, visit the Boston Ballet webpage.