CSO and Cooper prepare smorgasbord of styles


Grant Cooper

Lauren Hutchison | Staff Writer

Ballet returns to the Amphitheater at 8:15 p.m. tonight with the music of the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra and guest conductor Grant Cooper.

Cooper likened the process of building music for the ballet to the skills a surgical team uses.

“If an emergency happens in an operation, the fact that it would be no problem if I had three hours to take care of this doesn’t change the fact that the patient will die in three minutes,” he said.

To make musical adjustments to fit the dancers’ needs takes trust, collaboration and the ability to work quickly and efficiently, Cooper said.

“That’s the secret of the CSO — it’s an orchestra that is extremely skilled individually, and they bring these skills together as a collective unit in a very special way, like a surgical team does,” he said.

Cooper has been working with the North Carolina Dance Theatre, Chautauqua’s resident ballet company, since 1997. At Chautauqua, he gets a lot of creative energy by witnessing how the dancers learn the ballet from the first steps. It’s a whole new way of looking at how music informs the other arts, he said.

To create tonight’s program, music was selected not just to fit the needs of the dancers but also to satisfy the audience. Like much of the programming at Chautauqua, the music is deliberately programmed to be a smorgasbord of styles, Cooper said.

The evening opens with a pas de deux from Ferdinand Hérold’s La Fille mal gardée.

The piece had an interesting journey to the Amp, Cooper said. The idea for the music came from a recording that choreographer Mark Diamond, associate artistic director of Chautauqua Dance, heard, which is titled La Fille mal gardée. Unfortunately, the documentation for this recording was not complete, and there are several pieces called La Fille mal gardée. After an extensive musical search, no one could track down the music from Diamond’s preferred recording.

Instead, the team decided to use Ferdinand Hérold’s La Fille mal gardée, a piece that has a certain cachet in the ballet world, Cooper said. He said the piece is pretty, graceful and grateful, and is music that does not get in the way of the dance.

Cooper complimented Diamond for adapting to the Hérold piece.

“It’s like the surgical team now, suddenly, has a different nurse on it,” he said. “You make it work, because this is what it is.”

Following the piece by Hérold is a second pas de deux, from John Philip Sousa’s “The Stars and Stripes Forever,” as arranged by Hershy Kay.

Cooper stressed the ballet does not contain the “Stars and Stripes Forever” march that audiences know as a patriotic tune. In addition to being a composer of famous band music, Sousa was a trained violinist and had a successful career writing operettas, he said.

“We’re hearing materials from Sousa, but it’s really filtered through Kay’s imagination and then put on a template for the ballet,” he said.

Kay’s arrangement of “The Stars and Stripes Forever” still sounds like it has Sousa’s DNA all over it, Cooper said.

“They’re not twins; they’re not identical … but it’s unmistakably Sousa because it has that optimistic, upbeat feel to it,” he said.

Following the pas de deux is Maurice Ravel’s “Boléro.” Famous for its recurrent motifs and steady build of dynamics, Cooper said the piece is far from repetitive.

“When you really look at it, Ravel is constantly making alterations and changes in the most subtle way,” he said.

Music lovers may have seen Boléro in the concert hall, but few have seen it in its intended format — as a ballet.

“When you add the balletic dimension to it, you get a whole new appreciation for the possibility that exists in the music,” Cooper said. “To me, that is the secret of any piece of music. We want to sense that the music has new things to tell us every time that we experience it.”

Cooper and Jean-Pierre Bonnefoux, artistic director of Chautauqua Dance, collaborated to create the program’s next piece, an arrangement of waltzes and marches by Johann Strauss Jr.

Cooper called the arranging process very Chautauquan because of the collaboration involved. Bonnefoux gave Cooper a list of Strauss recordings he liked, and from this, Cooper created a 21-minute ballet with seven works represented in six movements.

Strauss marches and waltzes are still catchy to audiences more than 100 years after their creation because of the illusion of a simplistic construction. In reality, the “road map” of how repeated phrases fit together is rather complicated, Cooper said. To make the roadmap easier to read, Cooper photocopied, cut and taped together phrases to give musicians a more linear, 30-page score.

Cooper said the ballet is one of the more challenging assignments for a conductor.

“There are certain musical elements that may be your choice to bring to the fore in a purely symphonic performance, but which cannot be at the fore in a balletic performance,” he said. “The priority is to give them the right tempo but then still create an expressive performance.”

The North Carolina Dance Theatre in residence, the CSO and Cooper will perform dance in the Amp again on Aug. 13. Cooper and the CSO will return on Aug. 20 for an evening of symphonic works.