TM: It certainly can be for sure. I tend to focus on pop music
because it's pretty much always a very simple kind of arrangement. So
it requires, for me at least, a very detailed construct. I think what
was maybe interesting about this classical piece was there's just
sooo many layers to it. In some ways it's the opposite—how do I
filter all these layers into two people on stage? How do two people
express the gravity of certain moments of what's happening? That was
part of the challenge with this piece.
MP: The Big Hunger has how many dancers?
TM: Fourteen. Eight men and three duets. Three pas de deux.
MP: Prokofiev's Concerto No. 2 is pretty wild.
TM: It's so soothing to watch Yekwon perform. He's so confident in
front of the piano and adept.
MP: How did you connect with Yekwon Sunwoo?
TM: Through Martin West, the Music Director here (San Francisco
Ballet). He's conducted Yekwon before. If I'm not mistaken, it was
Prokofiev's 3rd Piano Concerto.
MP: The San Francisco Ballet web site describes Prokofiev's 2nd
Concerto as "fiendishly difficult." It has rapid, complex
passages. The pianist has to have rapid dexterity. It's frenetic and
serious at the same time.
TM: You'd think it would be a showy thing, but there's such
complexity to it you never feel that it's complex for the sake of
MP: How challenging is that for the dancers?
TM: I thought it would be more challenging. For making
choreography, not at all. I did work differently in terms of phrasing
because I knew that there are long solo passages where the pianist is
at liberty in terms of phrasing. Knowing that going in, I also left a
lot of room for the dancers in their own phrasing because I knew it
would be different from show to show. And so deciding what the right
thing was was different, in a way, from what I normally do. So I
thought there would be a lot of adapting that would need to happen
once Yekwon got here, but almost nothing. It was so easy. I mean I
had some nerves about it, for sure. He asked me for notes, but I
really didn't have anything. He plays with such clarity and
consistency that it's been great. And the dancers are quite inspired
by it. He's such a thoughtful and emotional performer.
MP: Did you give the dancers a lot of latitude and freedom of
TM: Yeah. I'm quite specific in the creation of movement until I
feel the dancers understand the big picture and the why of the
movement. As long as they have that in mind, they can make any choice
they want along the way to get there. I'm not collaborative in terms
of creating movement so much. I don't prepare any movement coming
into the studio. I do it all myself in the moment. But I will react
to what a dancer may do when I give choreography. When I'm watching
what they're doing, somehow that tells me what happens next. It's not
giving them exercises so they will give me choreography. It's "oh,
it's interesting the way they did that." And we'll see where we can
take that further. Collaborating in that way. In personalities it's
collaborative. For example, I cast Dores André
and Ben Freemantle in
the first pas de deux, which is, I think, the most sustained and
complex musically. And they're both so like pedal to the floor every
day in rehearsal. They are meant to exhaust themselves in the pas de
deux. They really stayed with me, continuing to push themselves every
day in rehearsal. They were kind of joking, because we made it in
October, and they put it away all these months. Ben told me they were
laughing when they went back into the studio. They said they couldn't
believe they let this get so hard. But they can do it.
MP: How many sections?
TM: There are four sections in the piece, but three duets. It's
kind of structured: a duet, then a second section with all the corps
men, then a duet and a duet. The corps men kind of weave their way in
MP: Somewhere you said that, "in choreography the technique and
theory behind the artistry of dance is about making sense of the
human body." How does your choreography in The Big Hunger do that?
TM: I think it's about what ballet technique is. As much as I want
to push myself as an artist, I keep returning to the language of
ballet because I think it's the system that does it the best so far.
In this piece I would relate it to what I was saying about the first
pas de deux. They need to push themselves to exhaustion in order to
do it well. It's an interesting puzzle, right? As a dancer all their
work is about being pristine and not showing that they're working. So,
how to push themselves to that kind of wildness, but still convey the
thing that they want to convey and how to be kind to their bodies in
the process. I think there's a real discovery from that. It's always
important to me that the dancers are having a real experience on
stage and not acting. So anything I can do to help them have that
real experience is great. If it's a moment of love on stage, to find
the love for their partner and not portray that. I think in
particular that the body must convey going beyond what's comfortable.
I think there's something wonderful that comes out of them when they