What happens when a ballerina choreographs for a music festival

It’s been a few hectic months for Sage Humphries, to say the least. Last November, the member of the Boston Ballet company made her (very well received) choreographic debut with a piece called YOU, as part of the company’s BB @ home: ChoreograpHER program. A week later, Humphries suffered an injury that kept her from playing for a few months. But she didn’t have much free time: Artistic director Mikko Nissinen quickly asked Humphries to do a piece for the Boston Ballet’s very first appearance at the Boston Calling Music Festival. Now that Humphries is back in the studio, Dance spirit met her to talk about creating ballet rock, working with her songwriter brother, and what it’s like to see her name next to William Forsythe’s.


Dance spirit: How did this piece come together?

Sage Humphries: Mikko, my boss, approached me in January while I was still injured. He asked me if I would be interested in choreographing something for May. We ended up having a reunion when I got back from my injury, and I want to say the rehearsal process started in early April. The piece is 8 minutes and 40 seconds long, and I’m about to finish it. Of course there are a few changes and tweaks I want to make. It was a bit difficult because I didn’t have a lot of rehearsal time, so a lot of the choreography was done by myself in the studio.

DS: Your brother, Michael Humphries, composed the music, right?

SH: Working with my brother for the second time has been super cool. (He also composed the music for the piece I choreographed in November.) Michael composes and produces music under the name FutureSelf. Mikko approached me by insisting that Michael compose, because our artistic visions really correspond. Just when we knew this project was going on, Michael and I started brainstorming ideas. He’ll send me sections of the music, then I’ll choreograph them. We have a very, very good working relationship.

Sage and Michael Humphries bowing after last fall’s BB @ home program: ChoreograpHER (Brooke Trisolini, courtesy Boston Ballet)

DS: Who are your dancers?

SH: I have four dancers in the room. They are incredible solos (Kathleen Breen Combes and John Lam) and soloists (Maria Baranova and Roddy Doble). I was amazed to be able to work with such experienced dancers. It was so easy for me to take the most dramatic version of my vision and apply it to them, because I know they are able to execute it. The room is called White, which suggests a blank slate. It is to be interpreted. It is based on the history of classic rock. Each dancer represents an extraordinary and inspiring rock artist. Imagine a 16 year old boy, much like my brother when he was younger, listening to his favorite record, and suddenly it comes to life in front of him. It’s both nostalgic and modern.

Rehearsal of “YOU” (Brooke Trisolini, courtesy Boston Ballet)

DS: How much did you think about the fact that this would be performed in a festival, as opposed to a more traditional ballet?

SH: I definitely did the piece specifically for this audience. I really love going to music festivals myself and I’m always amazed at how music brings all of these types of people together. It’s such a horny audience, you’ve got to do something that’s going to click and stick with them. This piece bridges the gap between the music they already know and love and modern music that is more at the forefront of the industry. Women wear pointe shoes, but I wanted the choreography to be more human and more accessible than a super classic piece.

DS: What makes this room different from YOU?

SH: It was my very first piece, and I had had a lot of time to reflect, design and meditate on how I wanted it to present itself. I was so in my head about every little detail. Since we didn’t have much time with White, I had to do a lot of preparation work beforehand, and prepare for rehearsals to teach. The cool thing is, because they are such experienced dancers, they already know how to customize the style and add their own style. I collaborate with the dancers and let them explore a lot more than I did the first time.

Rehearsal of “YOU” (Brooke Trisolini, courtesy Boston Ballet)

DS: Did your injury affect the choreographic process?

SH: I had a stress reaction in my L2 in November, the week after the premiere of ChoreograpHER. I was out for everything Nutcracker. When I was approached about this piece, it was pretty clear that I wouldn’t have to be in rehearsals until March at the earliest, so my injury didn’t play a huge role in allowing me to demonstrate in rehearsal. . However, it allowed me to take the time, at home in California, to think about what I wanted. I spent a lot of time with my brother, and we talked about this room all the time.

DS: What does this opportunity mean to you?

SH: It’s exciting to be a choreographer among legends. My play comes after a pas de deux from former BB principal Yury Yanowsky, and before William Forsythe’s play on Khalid’s “Location”. It was intimidating for me at first because I was like, “One of these things is not like the other…” But it also caught my attention. Mikko believes in me, so I have to believe in myself. My brother believes in me, I believe in him, I believe in my dancers. I love music festivals and can’t really explain how excited I am! My whole family comes to see him. Bringing together the music industry and the ballet industry like this has been a long-standing dream for me.

Sage Humphries’ White can be seen on Saturday May 25 and Sunday May 26 as part of the Boston Ballet’s performances at the Boston Calling Music Festival.


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Gerald R. Schneider

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