Complete with a sweeping silver staircase that dancers fall, dance and jump from, the work has been described as entertaining, dramatic and passionate.
Choreographer Javier de Frutos explains that, “I was reading a few books about Cole Porter (a major songwriter for the Broadway musical stage in the 1930s,) for no other reason than curiosity and perhaps, in retrospect, pure serendipity. And a passage caught my imagination and became the spine of the work.”
“Elsa” is in reference to Elsa Maxwell, gossip columnist, songwriter and socialite of the 1920’s. “Canasta” is a complicated card game that became a social craze around the 1940-50’s, often played by those in high society.
Described by Javier as “one of the most exciting singers of his generation,” Levi Kreis will sing live on stage right next to the dancers. Javier sees Levi’s character as one which will anchor and guide the work. Levi has six albums to date and has featured songs for popular television shows including The Vampire Diaries, Sons of Anarchy, So You Think You Can Dance and several films. His role in Broadway’s Tony nominated musical Million Dollar Quartet won him the 2010 Tony Award for Best Featured Actor in a Musical.
Its said that when Sergei Diaghilev and his company would travel to perform, he would like to stay in very nice places. But, he always told his dancers to stay on the ground floor so they could jump out the windows without paying if the bill was too high. After one performance in Venice, Italy, they got caught. Cole Porter, who had a house in Venice, like many of the era’s socialites, offered to pay the bill as long as the dancers would perform for a cocktail party at his house. Of course, Diaghilev had no choice…
…Cole Porter thought asking Diaghilev’s company to perform for him would be his way in to develop his first ballet score. But Diaghilev didn’t like it, and the score was never used. Javier made it his quest to discover this score and found that it had only been used three or four times and never performed again. With this tale and missing score, Javier was inspired to create Elsa Canasta.
When Javier found the lost music, Ben Pope helped him rearranged the missing score. Joined by the Jazz Arts Initiative, Ben will conduct his own score for the first time at Fall Works. Ben is a highly experienced conductor for ballet, having worked with The Royal Ballet, New York City Ballet and Dutch National Ballet and being a long-time collaborator with Matthew Bourne.
Javier’s interest in memory – having it, not loosing it – can be found in this work. The singer comes to revisit the house in the opening male duet. He may be one of the dancers looking back on this memory, or he may romanticize what is being shown. With music being a guiding inspiration in the work, it is no coincidence that music can trigger strong memories to resurface. A poetic narrative is created as the singer constantly sings Cole Porter love songs, causing the audience to see the dancer’s movement as a form of love from his remembering and nostalgia.
Javier shares that he’s obsessed with Balanchine’s Stars and Stripes and how a quintessential American ballet was created by a Russian. Now he is setting work at the home of one of Balanchine’s protégés, Charlotte Ballet’s Patricia McBride. With the two ballets both being shown at Fall Works, you can see influences of Balanchine’s Apollo in Elsa Canasta with his own version of the 3 muses. “I will never compete with my influences, but I definitely will tell you who they are. I think they deserve to be named.” says Javier.
Javier does not describe it as a franchise ballet or a new version of something he’s done before, but he thinks it’s important Charlotte Ballet dancers make the work their own. Elsa Canasta has been passed from generation to generation with Hope Muir as the common thread. She has been a featured dancer in the work, has helped stage the piece and now is the Artistic Director of the company performing the work. “Hope has her own journey with Elsa Canasta,” says Javier. “I would like the ballet to live here for a while.”