Choreography in Focus: Imperial by George Birkadze
With Imperial, George Birkadze wanted to create something that represents true classicism. In photo, the choreographer tries out a step with principal dancer Joan Emery Sia as soloist Jasmine Pia Dames looks on. Photo by Jimmy Villanueva
For George Birkadze, it all starts with the sound. When he encounters music that he likes – bold, striking, full of character – he just has to stop, listen and immerse himself in it.
That’s the kind of effect Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov's Procession of the Nobles had on him.
“I was impressed when listening to this piece and the range of moods that I felt. It truly embodies its name, Procession of the Nobles, in how the piece develops and builds, leading to an incredibly powerful ending, emphasizing greatness,” George explains.
The regal quality of the music was something he wanted to capture in dance. The chance to do this came when Ballet Manila which commissioned two works from him. Aside from creating the tango-inspired Bru (for company artists Nicole Barroso and Joshua Enciso specifically made for the USA International Ballet Competition), the guest choreographer thought of putting together a piece using a special arrangement of Rimsky-Korsakov’s work.
He would call the new work Imperial which is similar in nature to the works of a choreographer George admires. “I've always been inspired by Balanchine's grand ‘tutu ballets’, such as Theme and Variations and Symphony in C. I wanted to create something, even if it was on a smaller scale, that represented true classicism.”
Using five dancers, the choreography runs for six minutes and involves lots of strong jumps, difficult partnering, and fast movement. George definitely likes challenging his dancers. “The musicality is tricky at times, but when executed well, it adds such a dynamic quality.”
To continue with the majestic tones, George opted for a complementing look for the costumes. In the tradition of the old-style imperial look, he went with classical tutus.
As he was in Manila for only a limited time, he wanted the creative process with the dancers to proceed as smoothly as possible – which is exactly what happened. Rehearsing with two sets of dancers, George says things ran quite smoothly even if he had never worked with them before.
“They are talented and were engaged throughout the process. When a dancer can offer these two qualities, it makes for a rewarding experience for the choreographer and everyone involved.”
George describes the Imperial dancers as being “extremely professional and inspiring.”
He points out: “The level of attention to detail, in general, was very impressive with these dancers making the process quite quick. Dancers from each cast gave a unique execution to the same movement, so in the end it’s almost like watching two separate ballets. It’s not to say that they do whatever they want. They are all doing the same choreography, but because everyone is different, they end up bringing different colors to the stage.”
Imperial will have its world premiere in Ballet Manila’s American Stars Gala on July 7.