About Thatcher’s COLORFORMS
Kinetic Movement in Dance, Visual Art, and Film
Myles Thatcher’s COLORFORMS is part of SF Ballet’s 2023 Repertory Season. It will be performed in Program 5, from Mar 14–Mar 19, 2023.
SF Ballet Soloist and choreographer Myles Thatcher started planning a new work for SF Ballet’s 2021 Season in the spring of 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic was accelerating. “Originally, my starting point was Alexander Calder’s mid-century mobile, which speaks so kinetically—movement in visual art. That work got me thinking about where we are today, and how everything we do affects everyone else. I loved the sense of asymmetry, with pieces connected by an unseen force. If you move one, it affects them all. To me, that was poignant right now.”
When COVID-19 restrictions turned what was planned as a stage work into a dance film, Thatcher decided to reach out to San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (which currently has a Calder exhibition) about a potential collaboration. The similarities in the multifaceted challenges facing both SF Ballet and SFMOMA intrigued him. “It’s a very specific time for both art forms and institutions, which have been struggling to reach outside themselves,” he says. “Now that we don’t have physical spaces to invite people into, it’s even tougher to connect with people. But it has also fast-forwarded what we already had on our radar—how to not only bring people in, but step outside of ourselves and approach the community in a different way.”
Thatcher decided to infuse his work with joy—and a bit of irreverence—as all-too-necessary escapism and as a way to cast both ballet and modern art as less austere. In the film, Principal Dancer Frances Chung stares at an abstract painting in the beautiful gallery at SFMOMA with a heavy book explaining its meaning, both curious and a bit skeptical. When she loudly drops the book, the dance begins. Soloist Cavan Conley and Principal Dancer Esteban Hernandez later run by, throwing paper planes. “They’re there to have fun, play tag, and make a ruckus,” says Thatcher. “I wanted to give permission for them to be more human, and less afraid of doing something wrong [in these spaces].”
Particularly after being offstage for months, Thatcher also wanted to celebrate the brilliance of the ballet technique for which SF Ballet dancers are known. The inherent challenge? The extreme physicality of ballet, especially in pointe shoes, demands a specific type of flooring rarely found outside of a dance studio or theater. So the work was filmed with dancers in sneakers at three San Francisco locations—SFMOMA, Yerba Buena Gardens, and Golden Gate Park—and in ballet shoes for the pure dance scenes onstage at the War Memorial Opera House. “The film has these parallels of dancers being in more realistic pedestrian places,” he says. “Then they’re swept into this hyper-distorted reality that feels more liberated and artistic, and less bound by day-to-day life, which is what I go to the theater for anyway. I’m excited to incorporate both of these elements.”
Creating a ballet for film also required of Thatcher a different type of specificity than a work for theater. “In the theater, you cannot demand people focus on something,” he says. “You can encourage them that way, but they’ll be looking where they want to look, which is for me something really magical about the theater. But you gain something in film; you can reach different people and tell a story in a different way. It’s a different way to use your imagination, and I’m happy to be getting that experience.”
He set his new work to Steve Reich’s Variations for Vibes, Pianos, and Strings, with the subtly changing textures of Reich’s music reflected in Thatcher’s layered, flowing choreography. Dancers seamlessly come together and break apart, swooping, turning, jumping, forming different pairings and moving in canon. Clever details draw the work together, from a sketch of a tree that becomes a paper airplane and then an inspiration, to the large white frame that offers continuous structure, to the tiny echoes of elements of the artwork that pop up unexpectedly.
“One thing I love about this company is we’re always looking forward, and the dancers and the whole team love what they do,” says Thatcher. “I wanted to represent that in this piece. When Helgi [Tomasson] told me that this would need to be a dance film, he said, ‘dream big.’ And that’s what I tried to do. That’s something that really is part of the identity of this company.”
by Caitlin Sims
Header Image: Frances Chung in Thatcher’s COLORFORMS // © San Francisco Ballet