After seeing a Degas Show of all the dance paintings together in one place at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the idea for this ballet came to me. It was an overwhelming experience, and I couldn’t stop thinking about it long after I returned to Raleigh. The images are so strong and the impressions I have been left with so very haunting they led me to thinking of making a ballet based on Degas’ paintings – an impression of an impression.
Then when I listened to the Ravel String Quartet, it seemed the perfect score for the ballet. It is very impressionistic music, written at the same period as Degas’ paintings. The ballet took on a life of its own; it became no longer just about Degas but about the choreographer, Jules Perriot, the artistic director of the Paris Opera, as seen in Degas’ paintings, teaching and coaching the dancers. It became a ballet about creating a ballet.
The first movement has the choreographer on stage alone listening to music while images of a ballet flood in on him. The ballet takes shape, first with one dancer and then more and more dancers until the choreographer imagines himself in the ballet. The second movement becomes a little section of the piece he has been working on and he wants to see how it looks.
Finally the third movement is a stylized version of the choreographer making a pas de deux on two dancers and the last movement has everyone together in a stylized version of the completed dance.
I have wanted to dramatize the making of a ballet for a long time. It is hard to explain what the process is – part dreaming, part craft, part inspiration. To my knowledge this has never been done before. —Robert Weiss