Ten years is a huge milestone for an arts organization, and Avant Chamber Ballet is celebrating accordingly. A full year of performances includes four world premieres and two full-length ballets, in addition to a one-night-only, gala-style performance on October 15 at Moody Performance Hall.
At the season-opening 10th Anniversary Celebration, audiences can expect a champagne toast to begin the evening before a program of four dances: George Balanchine’s Concerto Barocco, the pas de deux from Christopher Wheeldon’s The American, the premiere of Puder’s Rhapsody in Blue, and a new work by legendary dancer, teacher, and choreographer Jock Soto in collaboration with world-renowned musician and composer Laura Ortman, who will perform live at the show. A seated dinner and after party will follow the performances.
“Last time Jock was here, we talked about him doing a new work with the company dancers,” says Puder. “It worked out perfectly to commission this with him. The gorgeous Wheeldon pas de deux is the first one of his we ever added, and we have revisited it a couple of times now. A big part of our legacy and style is Balanchine, and this is one of his true masterpieces—it’s why you see so many big companies perform it.”
“As a dancer, sometimes The Nutcracker is not your favorite because there are so many shows and you’ve been dancing it since you were six, but this version has lovely choreography so it’s a true joy to dance,” says Puder. “Often it’s the children’s first time onstage professionally, surrounded by lush costumes and elaborate sets, and it’s magical to see them fall in love with it.”
2023 starts with one of ACB’s most popular productions: Alice in Wonderland. Originally created in 2013 with commissioned music by Mikayla Dobson and costumes by Ann Boyce, the show is a family-friendly retelling of Lewis Carroll’s famous story; this time, it runs Feb. 17-18 at Moody Performance Hall. Alice was actually the first full production ACB presented, and the company has restaged and expanded it several times, though always with Brad Cawyer as the conductor. Puder calls it “an innocent view” of the tale, as opposed to some much darker modern ballets that tend to weave in Carroll’s complicated personal life.
“The Women’s Choreography Project was one of my main passions for starting ACB,” Puder says. “As a female choreographer who wasn’t a principal dancer at a major company, it’s really hard to break that first glass ceiling. The lack of female choreographers is popular for companies to talk about and commission one here or there, but statistics show that we’re still really lacking, that the percentage still leans heavily toward male voices, especially in classical ballet.”
“You always have to tailor your work to the students’ skill level, but this doesn’t have those boundaries,” Puder explains.
“I never worked with a female choreographer my entire dancing career, even though so many of my teachers were female,” she continues. “There may be 20 women to five men in any pro company, but still it’s a male-led art form. It is changing as the current generation of artistic directors are retiring and boards focus more on hiring women, but there’s still work to be done.”