Take a moment to think about last words, the ones uttered before leaving the world.
They could sum up your life or how you see the world. They would say something about you, as well as the people around you.
But death doesn’t always give people a chance to say what needs to be said. So, Mina Estrada asked her dancers to think about it now.
“I asked them to think about it, then try to find a core idea in the phrase, maybe a word that expressed it,” she said. “Then we went through an improvisation process where I asked them to create a movement using this idea.”
Then Estrada put those ideas together to create the dance, “...and i have chosen this,” which will make its debut at the Baton Rouge Ballet Theatre’s spring concert on Thursday, March 14.
The program opens at 7:30 p.m. in the Baton Rouge River Center Theatre for the Performing Arts and will feature Act III of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s The Sleeping Beauty.
But that will come later in the program, after eight of the ballet theater’s company members perform Estrada’s dance, a dance those same company members will perform at Regional Dance America’s Southwest Festival April 6-8 in Fort Smith, Ark.
Which isn’t bad for two weeks of work.
That’s the timeline Estrada was given to create this dance. She flew into Baton Rouge last summer from her home in Philadelphia, where she’s an adjunct assistant professor in Drexel University’s Westphal College of Media Arts & Design.
Estrada’s husband lives and works in Baton Rouge, so she visits regularly. She’d conducted a workshop at the theater earlier in the summer. The ballet theater’s co-directors Molly Buchmann and Sharon Mathews asked her to choreograph a dance for the company.
“At the time I started the project, I had been reading a lot about angels and life and what happens after life and last words,” Estrada said. “So I took this concept and asked the dancers about last words. What would you say to people in life? This would be the grand gesture toward the world you live in.”
Estrada’s goal was to make the creative process a low pressure situation. Sure, she had only two weeks to create the dance, and the dancers had that amount of time to learn it.
“I decided to approach it this way,” Estrada said. “It was the idea of ‘where do we go as a group?’”
So, dancers began thinking about their lives, their last words, then expressed their thoughts through movements. Each movement became a solo, and Estrada created the dance around them.
The dance will be performed to three musical numbers, “That Home,” by The Cinematic Orchestra, “Memories (Someone We’ll Never Know),” by Clint Mansell; and “Leegte,” by Dakota Suite and Emanuele Errante.
Again, the concert will mark the premiere of “... and i have chosen this,” as company dancers travel to Arkansas in April to showcase it at the Regional Dance America’s Southwest Festival.
Regional Dance America Adjudicator Lyn Wiltshire selected the piece for festival performance during her tour of the southwest region, where she evaluated works from more than 20 dance companies in Arkansas, Louisiana, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas.
“There are eight dancers in the piece,” Estrada said. “It was a collaborative work. With such a short time period, I wanted them to have an investment in it. I often do this; it depends on who I’m working with. I like to take a group of dancers who have an understanding of each other’s artistic selves and use this formula.”
The formula maps out an even playing field. Dancers may feel vulnerable at first, but they realize they’re all in the same situation.
“They were open to it, but they were a little nervous at first,” Estrada said.
She paused for a moment, looking back on the experience.
“They were so open to this,” she said.
Joining Estrada’s piece on the concert bill will be contemporary works “Decisions,” choreographed by Edgar Anido, and Julia Boudreaux Mayo’s “through the reeds.”
Finally, guest artists Jun Tanabe and Kaori Fukui will take the stage in Act III of The Sleeping Beauty, which takes place at main character Aurora’s wedding and features such storybook characters as Little Red Riding Hood, the Big Bad Wolf and Puss in Boots.
Tanabe and Fukui, meantime, are appearing courtesy of the Arts Ballet Theatre of Florida. They not only perform the pas de deaux — a duet — in Sleeping Beauty but also the grand pas de deux from the classical ballet, Flames of Paris.
Tanabe began his dance training in Japan and continued at The Rock School of Pennsylvania Ballet. He has received numerous awards, including first prize in the 20th All-Japan Ballet Competition and second and third prizes in the Youth America Grand Prix New York Final in 2006 and 2007.
Fukui also began her training in Japan where she won first prize in the Kobe Dance Competition and third prize in the 20th All-Japan Ballet Competition.
She recently won the silver medal at the Korean International Ballet Competition.
Also, Baton Rouge Ballet Theatre alumna and Texas Ballet Theater company apprentice Meredith Broussard will dance the role of Princess Florine, performing the bluebird variation in The Sleeping Beauty, directed by Buchmann and Mathews.
And in the midst of it all will be eight dancers whose movements come together as a look back at life.
Estrada’s dance may be performed by other companies in the future, but not like this, not by the dancers who helped her create it.
The concert is a chance to see “... and i have chosen this” performed by the dancers from whom the movements originated. These are their ideas, emotions from within.
Estrada has linked them together.
And now it comes to life on a Baton Rouge stage.