Emily Stein Merges Styles in Secret Experiments in Ballet #4: Phantom Dance


Ballet and experimental dance collide this weekend with Emily Stein Dance’s Secret Experiments in Ballet #4: Phantom Dance at Dovetail Studios.

While not normally two dance forms that go hand-in-hand, Stein is uniquely positioned to provide this intriguing dance experience.

Stein was classically trained in ballet before being drawn to more experimental forms of dance. While Stein moved away from ballet professionally, spending 18 years dancing with Chicago’s Zephyr Dance, she maintained the dance style as an important part of her practice and has taught ballet for more than 25 years.

“It’s like my first language,” Stein said of ballet. “Along with the ballet world comes a lot of baggage, but my particular point of view of that is when you’ve been trained that way, it lives in your body…I’m really interested in how it lives in the bodies of contemporary dancers.”

For Secret Experiments in Ballet #4: Phantom Dance, Stein juxtaposes the classical imagery and vocabulary associated with ballet—ephemeral, ethereal, romanticized beings—with elements of experimental and improvisational dance.

The ballet centers around the image of Wilis—otherworldly young women who died before their weddings–most recognizable from the ballet Giselle. While the classic motifs remain, Stein moved away from purely balletic structure by giving dancers movements and ideas to play with, repeat, and improvise on.

The choreography gives identity to the Wilis, bringing character and depth to the movement and highlighting the relationship between the Wilis and the human dancers.

The piece is set in part to a direct recording from the Giselle score, but the rest of the music will be performed live by composer Scott Williams.

The dancers rehearsed to recorded music, and Stein described Williams’ entrance into the process as creating “an interesting moment of freefall.” With the onset of live music, the movement evolved.

“There are pieces where he’s taking cues off the dancers, and there are other places where the dancers are taking cues from him,” Stein said. “It’s kind of this lovely back and forth.”

As the number in the show’s name denotes, this is the fourth work Stein has created merging ballet and experimental dance. She said part of her interest in this intersection stems from her own time stepping away from ballet, deliberately trying to excise the classical ballet vocabulary from a new form of improvisational movement.

“There have been times when I was working with other choreographers [who would say] well, that looks like ballet movement, take it out,” Stein said. “That’s an intersection of tension, and that was interesting to me.”

The show takes place at Dovetail Studios, creating a more intimate setting.

“One of the things I love about the world of experimental dance is generally you’re really close to dancers…What I want to do is bring audience members into this world,“ Stein said. “That change of energy that is performance-that is the best part.”

Secret Experiments in Ballet #4 runs Friday, April 22 at 8:30 p.m., Saturday, April 23 at 8:30 p.m., and Sunday, April 24 at 3 p.m. Tickets are $15 for adults and $10 for students and seniors. Tickets can be purchased at www.emilysteindance.com.

Miriam Finder Annenberg
Miriam Finder Annenberg