Going contemporary

The Sacramento Ballet showcases works by the country’s hottest choreographers

Perhaps the E:motion Dance Ensemble will succeed in making ballet our new national pastime.

Perhaps the E:motion Dance Ensemble will succeed in making ballet our new national pastime.

Over the next two weekends, the Sacramento Ballet will mount two programs of ambitious new works in the Sacramento Theatre Company’s 275-seat Mainstage Theatre. First up is Modern Masters, a program designed to give the Sacramento Ballet’s dancers an opportunity to work with hot, current choreographers (rather than classical material).

This year, the annual showcase includes Helen Pickett’s “Amaranthine.” “[Pickett] danced for 11 years with William Forsythe’s Ballet Frankfurt, in Germany,” said Ron Cunningham, co-artistic director of Sacramento Ballet. “A lot of major companies do her work; she just finished a major commission for the Boston Ballet. And she’s very daring, right at the edge … like ‘How much can you stretch the body?’”

Also on the bill is “On the Care and Feeding of Ecstasy,” created by Sacramento Ballet alumna Amy Seiwert. “She’s dancing for the Smuin Ballet in San Francisco, and she was just listed as one of Dance Magazine’s Top 25 to Watch,” Cunningham said. Seiwert just received a $50,000 commission from Robert Moses’ Kin, another San Francisco dance company.

John Selya’s “Unlikely Saint” is a hip-hop influenced piece set to music recorded by Aesop Rock. Cunningham said of Selya, “He was a dancer with American Ballet Theatre for years, then worked extensively with Twyla Tharp.” Selya danced the lead in Tharp’s Broadway show Movin’ Out and picked up a Tony nomination as an actor (in a non-speaking, non-singing role) for his work.

Nolan T’Sani brings his “Concerto for Ten & Two.” T’Sani was a soloist with New York City Ballet and performs regularly with the Sacramento Ballet as a character artist in roles like Bottom in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. “This one’s a pure classical dance piece,” Cunningham explained, “one of Nolan’s best, using music from Prokofiev’s third piano concerto.”

Rounding out the evening is Peter Quanz’ “Duet.” “He’s Canadian and danced with Ballet Stuttgart (in Germany),” Cunningham said. “'Duet’ is a pas de deux set to Rachmaninoff’s ‘Vocalise.’”

The Sacramento Ballet’s other special offering is a one-night-only performance of works by choreographer Sunny Staton and her new E:motion Dance Ensemble, featuring dancers from the Sacramento Ballet. Staton has performed with Music Circus and was also a dancer with the Sacramento Ballet for a decade. Her choreography draws on Broadway, classical ballet and modern dance. “We’re doing ‘Life’s a Ballgame: A Ballet in 9 Innings,’” Staton said. The piece incorporates music by John Kander and Fred Ebb, John Fogerty and others, as well as baseball gear.

“We’re also doing ‘The Cabaret Project.’ We did part of it in last year’s Beer & Ballet program,” Staton said. Yes, it’s based on the famous musical of the same name. “My idea is to tell the story of Sally Bowles through dance. I have many of the cabaret scenes, but I don’t have anybody singing!”