Whenever I go to a museum, one of the genres of painting that particularly interests me is the still life. The juxtaposition of shapes, the arrangement of objects on a plane, and especially the angle of the light adds the drama - how the whole combination of forms fascinates the viewer. To me it is like a frozen moment of choreography.
It had been in the back of my mind for some time to do a ballet in an intimate space, moving dancers on a plane in various configurations; juxtaposing the various shapes they make - and the shapes of their bodies - in the same manner a painter sets up a still life. The perfect occasion to try this out came when the North Carolina Museum of Art commissioned me to create a ballet for the unveiling of its new building in 2010.
The Gymnopedies and Gnossiennes of Erik Satie seemed the perfect aural texture for this concept. The word “gymnopedies” refers to dances performed for several days without interruption by naked youths in ancient Sparta. “Gnossiennes,” according to some scholars, evokes half remembered long vanished antiquity. One can imagine figures endlessly circling on a Grecian urn.
The original version of the ballet used Gnossienne I to open and Gnossienne III in the middle – both played on the piano as originally composed by Satie – and the ballet closed with Gymnopedie I as orchestrated by Debussy from the piano miniature. This time around, I have added an additional Gymnopedie III to open the ballet and an additional Grossienne IV to close, as well as several miniatures that Satie wrote in a later, more modern vein. Having completed the work, I then added his famous waltz, “Je Te Veux” (I want you) as a coda. —Robert Weiss