Kristen Demaree’s new piece, Spider Dance, hacks ballet tradition, modern gesture, folk music, and ballerina-power to give audiences a fresh taste of ballet. As both choreographer and composer, Demaree makes Spider Dance a modern take on the Tarantella, one of the world’s oldest and best-known folk dances.
The ritual of the Tarantella starts with a poisonous bite, convention dictating increasing speed and virtuosity to force out the poison. In Demaree’s version, the choreography and creative process have been infused with antidotes to poisons she sees: the dehumanizing treatment of ballerinas who are cast aside as too old, ballet gestures no longer connected to today’s expression, and the devaluing of women’s roles in art-making.
Kristen grew up in a ballet family, daughter of Boulder’s teacher and director Barbara Demaree. In fact, she is taking her mother’s gift of choreographing to each person’s strengths and applying it to her choice to use experienced, 30-something ballerinas who have unique movement qualities and dance with joy. She wants to know what is “still in these women to be danced, what’s remaining and how it is meaningful for them and an audience.”
Unique to ballet choreographers, Kristen is an accomplished musician, so with Presenting Denver’s invitation, she took the opportunity to compose the music and choreograph the dance together, a “cool, creative process” she’s enjoying immensely. Developing more than one creative element at a time is what she might refer to as part of the feminine arts.
In her musical antidote, she’s composed a poignant, updated Tarantella melody that starts slowly and builds, becoming faster and more joyful as the dance progresses. Along with fellow Scandinavian fiddle player Elin Palmer, mandolin/percussionist Seth Premo, and sound engineer Todd Ayers, she has created a recording that intrigues and delights.
Demaree considers her work Neo-Romantic because of her interest in the period after the 1830’s French Revolution when women had a brief but powerful role leading movements and writing, which led to the birth of the ballerina. At the same time, folk dances like the Tarantella were brought to the stage to reflect a shift away from aristocracy to “the people.”
These root elements and shifts within ballet, which she researches through the Royal Danish Ballet’s historical documentation, provide structure and rules but also encourage her to pull in some of the oldest steps and most society-driven aspects of ballet into the 21st century.
For example, she challenges her dancers with spider-like, complicated steps from the 19th century like the gargouillade, a complicated mix of the sideways pas de chat jumps at the same time as blurs of ronds de jambe (super-quick twirls of the legs in the air), but she also creates gestures familiar to contemporary audiences, investigates transitions within ballet movements, and calls on her experienced dancers to improvise. In Demaree’s modern version of the dance, nine dancers can be one giant spider representing the feminine arts or individual spiders in the web. In effect, she has merged personal and ballet histories together with current cultural shifts and she’s using the Tarantella to say it.
“Presenting Denver’s invitation lifted me and my ideas up. The Presenting Denver Dance Festival brings a fresh, positive vibe to a larger creative company of choreographers and audiences,” she says. She’s looking forward to introducing Spider Dance and the huge talent, craft and beauty of her dancers to the larger Colorado community in a joyous celebration of the feminine arts.
Kristen Demaree has created a web of ballet and original folk music that joins a ballerina revolution, “…and it’s fun,” she says, “creatively so!”
Rebekah West spent 35 years immersed in dance; currently, she is an interdisciplinary artist-in-residence in France. Liz Lerman’s upcoming book on creative critique includes one of Rebekah’s essays and she’s in post production on a tango film she shot in her village. Her dance photography and short films have been selected for exhibition and screening worldwide. As a story finder for the Hallmark Channel’s New Morning Show, she featured Colorado artists and dancers. She is known for passionate, rhythmic, soulful choreography and integrating movement with media, theatre, and text. West created the Youth Arts Institute for the Colorado Dance Festival, taught for the National Dance Institute New Mexico, brought dance to dozens of schools, and taught flamenco. She co-founded the Kenney-West Fund for Promising Young Dancers. As artistic producer, Rebekah served Space for Dance/Boulder Dance Alliance and the Center for Arts, Media & Performance at the University of Colorado-Boulder’s ATLAS Institute for a combined twelve years where she developed spaces, artists, and public interaction. West holds an MA in Interdisciplinary Studies: Writing & Poetics and Visual Art from Naropa University and two BAs: Dance Therapy and Dance Movement Studies.