WBUR: Choreographer Helen Pickett Explores Femininity With Boston Ballet
10 March 2020
Choreographer Helen Pickett approaches her art in an intellectual way. She refers to music, literature, painting, design, philosophy and history. Her latest big project is “The Crucible,” an award-winning full-length work for the Scottish Ballet, on the weighty subject of the Salem witch trials. And yet, there’s something of the flower child in Helen Pickett. Not the flakey kind, but rather a force-of-nature type.
“I always thought I could have been a florist,” Pickett said of her ballet “Petal,” which has been evolving since 2007, and is part of Boston Ballet’s upcoming “Carmen” program. “My brain’s really oriented toward smell and the color, it’s always ignited my sensory system,” she continued. “Nature doesn’t try. It ‘is’ in its vigor and its beauty. It just ‘is.’ And it’s that ‘is’ of nature that inspired ‘Petal.’ The whole exercise of ‘Petal’ is to take the artifice of performing away and give the dancer onstage their individuality, their nature.”
“Petal” is one of two Pickett works included in the “Carmen” program, whose title is also the name of the program’s Bizet-opera-inspired piece by Jorma Elo. Also included is the 1935 classic “Serenade,” the first work George Balanchine choreographed in America.
The company’s stated goal of the “Carmen” program is to explore and celebrate many facets of femininity. How do these four short ballets — two by men and two by a woman — address the subject of being female? How are they all about women?
“Basically, George Balanchine’s ‘Serenade’ is about femininity, it’s about regular women turning into dancers. Epic, classic, the ultimate feminine brilliant ballet,” said Mikko Nissinen, Boston Ballet’s artistic director. “And Helen Pickett is the creative female force, and we see ‘Tsukiyo’ and ‘Petal’ from her. And then there’s another really strong woman, ‘Carmen,’ in the Jorma Elo choreography.”
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