Phoenix Rising Comes to Life
September 17th, 2013
Rehearsals for Philip Neal’s new ballet, Phoenix Rising, are well underway. Set to the emotional and challenging music of Samuel Barber, and colored with bright costumes designed by Holly Hynes, Phoenix Rising is a deeply personal ballet for Neal, exploring the theme of self-rediscovery. “It doesn’t look like anything else I’ve ever done,” says Neal, “but I am trying my best to just let it evolve.” Neal adds that working with Richmond Ballet dancers has truly been a collaborative experience – and visits to his daily rehearsals in the Gibson studio no doubt show that conversation with the dancers is an important part of the choreographic process for Neal. Especially important for Neal is a dialogue with Fernando Sabino, who is learning to dance the ballet’s lead role. “Fernando has just been wonderful,” says Neal. Indeed, Sabino has been working hard to play the part Neal based loosely on his own recent experiences, absorbing the demanding choreography that traces the path of a phoenix as it struggles, only to be reborn anew.
It is particularly interesting to see how Neal’s 20+ years of experience dancing with New York City Ballet add a special character to his rehearsal time. Neal’s rehearsals are filled with stories of the great Balanchine ballets and ballerinas, many who Neal partnered. “Peter Martins taught me this great partnering trick,” Neal explained on Monday, as his talked to dancer Marty Davis. “If you try to lift [your partner] when she is already in plié, then you are working with her when she is already at her lowest point,” Neal said as he demonstrated with dancer Cody Beaton. Easily able to explain the mechanics of lifts, and to make small adjustments to great effect, Neal’s suggestions quickly eased the difficulty of his dynamic partnering. Dancer Phillip Skaggs adds that he appreciates Neal’s perspective as both a partner and a dancer, noting that Neal knows how to manage energy levels well in rehearsal.
Even with its premiere on October 1st fast approaching, Neal reports that everything is on schedule, and that he has been pleased with the progress thus far. “Right now, I am just allowing it to happen!”