NCP rehearsing Potential Energies – Photo by Mickey Hoelscher

Potential Energies: 5 questions to Sugar Vendil & Trevor Gureckis

On Thursday, May 29, 2014 (8pm), the Nouveau Classical Project is presenting the world premiere of Potential Energies, a ballet conceived and directed by NCP Artistic Director Sugar Vendil with choreographer Barbie Diewald and composer Trevor Gureckis. We asked 5 questions to Vendil and Gureckis about this new production.

NCP has been often hailed for leading the way in the fashion/classical music crossover. What inspired you to start working on a ballet now?

Sugar: I was actually inspired two years ago and it took that long to get it off the ground! Fashion is just one element of our concerts; it really just adds to the overall experience.

When I was brainstorming ideas for a new project two years ago, I wanted to do something that involved a true overlap of arts, not just two components existing in the same space. Music and dance came to me immediately. Musicians tend to move while they perform, and regardless of whether those movements are minimal, they are still there. So, musicians move, dancers move. I thought: how can this overlap and how can this have meaning?

Fashion was my starting point, but what I’m really obsessed with is creating experiences. Potential Energies is a culmination what we’ve built with NCP thus far. We have had a multidisciplinary bend since our inception, and now we’re pushing it further with a work that involves deep collaboration with dancers.

NCP rehearsing Potential Energies - Photo by Mickey Hoelscher

NCP rehearsing Potential Energies – Photo by Mickey Hoelscher

How does the creative triangle Vendil-Gureckis-Diewald work on this project?

Sugar: It works beautifully! Ha. Somehow it just works. We have great chemistry and enormous respect for one another. For the most part I came up with the themes of each movement, in order to guide Barbie and Trevor’s processes, and then the three of us would discuss them together. Luckily, we were all in agreement about the overall arc of the piece.

Barbie and Trevor are exceptional at their craft. I’m the big picture person. I let people do what they’re good at, but I definitely weigh in…a lot! I take a look and suggest tweaks and adjustments. What’s amazing about our trio is the complete lack of egoism. We all just care so much about the work. It’s so important to put the work first, because having three cooks in the kitchen can be tricky. But we trust each other and we’re always willing to listen to one another.

We’ve supported each other artistically and emotionally. We have creative meetings every Sunday, and talking through ideas has helped us during times when any of us has felt creatively stuck.

Trevor: I think we came to the understanding that above all is the execution and artistic success of Potential Energies. I’m always open to constructive criticism and debate. There were two cases where Sugar asked me to reconsider what I wrote and I threw it out and started again. In both cases, it was for the better. Throughout this long process all three of us have gone back and revised or discarded work (and the many hours it took to get there) in order to better capture the ethos of the story we’re telling.

That’s been a major part of our success as collaborators.

Can you tell me more about the themes behind Potential Energies?

Trevor: Potential Energies is a non-narrative exploration of the challenges that young artists, in this case Millennials, face after leaving university and stepping into the real world. It’s tough here in NYC with the incredible amount of talent and competition to succeed.

You develop your passion, whether it’s music, dance, or writing etc. You try with all the energy you have to succeed. You then face the results of that work and you have to make a decision. For some, you continue on and for others it can become the end of the road. Sometimes it’s not really up to you. The pressure can be so overwhelming (economically and artistically) that you have to release that original passion and find something else that you can focus on. We want to tell that story and every experience in between. Every artist involved in Potential Energies is living some part of this story now.

Sugar: The exploration of these ideas gave us tangible experiences to draw upon, but on a more universal scale, this piece really confronts the various stages that we enter when we realize we’re in the process of potentially losing something after longing, hoping, and working for it. The piece asks: what’s the potential of all the energy you spent, emotionally, physically?

Trevor, do you approach writing for ballet differently? If so how?

Trevor: The musicians move so much that we knew most of it had to be memorized. There’s already a limit to what you can expect to have in your fingers in an ensemble situation but add movement and you have doubled the amount of memory required. The musicians have to play but also remember when they’re supposed to get to the middle of the stage and interact with the dancers in a finely executed choreographic manner. I can’t imagine having to do that myself.

I kept that in mind in terms of the complexity of the piece. However, I didn’t see this as limiting but rather a challenge and I had to constantly keep myself in check.

Beyond that puzzle, I do in general approach music for dance more as a canvas for which the choreography lives. The music in Potential Energies is economical with its ideas – fleshing out only 2 or 3 main subjects and letting those breathe throughout the scene.

It’s still story telling and dynamic (like most music), but it is focused on a singular point, which is actually the structure of many scenes in the ballet. Almost set pieces that convey a certain state of mind.

The premiere will take place next week at the relatively new Bam Fisher. Have you scoped out the space yet? Are you taking advantage of its flexibility for Potential Energies?

Sugar: We’ve seen the space mostly through pictures and we’re actually walking through tomorrow! When we walked through last Fall there was another rehearsal in the space so we couldn’t actually go in; we had to view it from the entrance and then the tech booth.

We’re doing a straight on format because that’s how the piece has been designed to be viewed. Who knows, it could change for the tenth iteration! (Please let there be a tenth iteration!)

Thursday, May 29, 2014 at 8pm: Potential Energies
Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) Fishman Space
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