Ballet 5:8's Julianna Slager on Why New Works Are the Life Force of Dance

Stor(ies) of You and Me
Stor(ies) of You and Me Lana Kozol

Chicago's Ballet 5:8 performed in Denver last season for the first time, and will enchant audiences here again this month with The Stor(ies) of You and Me.

Showcasing five pieces choreographed by Ballet 5:8 Artistic Director Julianna Slager and former Houston Ballet dancer Caleb Mitchell, the performance will explore various perspectives on love. Of the twelve dancers in the company, two hail from Colorado and will perform in the piece on Saturday, March 25, at Cleo Parker Robinson Theatre.

 recently caught up with Slager to talk about her work and creative process.

Westword: Tell me about your choreographic process. What specific experiences informed your work for The Stor(ies) of You and Me?

Julianna Slager: Four very different works with four very different processes. At a certain point in the process, I came around to the idea of sharing stories from my life and from literature. Each piece is a glimpse into the private, unseen worlds that make us who we are. Each story shapes who we are and who we become. In a sense, we are all built and molded by our stories. "Before the Vows" is a story about falling in love. It's simple, pure, sweet and wholesome, and based on my relationship with my husband.

"Ripple Effect" centers on negative words, everything from careless chatter to verbal abuse, and the powerful ripple effect they have on our psyche. "Meditations" is based on C.S. Lewis's story about perspective, and how a different perspective can lead two similar people to opposite conclusions, much like viewing a scene in the light and in the dark. Lewis centers on the mystery of faith, and how difficult it is to explain Christianity to someone who has not experienced it firsthand. "Surprised by Joy" is based on a poem by William Wordsworth, and is the story of a man who loses has wife, and yet finds joy through his deep pain. The story is filled with hope, and is from my own experience grieving for loved ones I have lost. I love finding stories that will inspire, encourage and motivate the audience, and this program is built around that concept.

click to enlarge Stor(ies) of You and Me - LANA KOZOL
Stor(ies) of You and Me
Lana Kozol

Now that you're only creating new works, is there anything in the classical repertoire that you miss dancing?

I love the classics and miss dancing in general now that I am retired. Honestly, though, creating new work is such an incredible experience, and I have no regrets. To be fully immersed in the creative process six months out of the year, to create tomorrow's classics, that is such a privilege. As a dancer, I was always a "choreographer's creature" and loved new work. I do my best to inspire that attitude in my company. New work is the life force of dance. Without the innovative choreographers willing to take risks, the art form would become stagnant.

The performance is billed as "telling stories of joy, sorrow, love, triumph and tragedy that everyone can relate to in some way." How is this different from any other ballet and in what way? You could argue that storybook ballets also hold this quality, even if they are performing something Disney-ish like Little Mermaid [which the Colorado Ballet is performing this spring].

The five works in the Stor(ies) program draw from real lives, including my own, and true to life experiences, which give them a certain appeal you don't find in fairytales. The works capture both grit and grace, ups and downs, the messy chaos that makes life beautiful. Ballet often uses very exaggerated characters and fantasy world storylines that are entertaining, but not necessarily relatable to the audience. This program is philosophical, almost poetic in its ability to show the inward significance of real-world situations. The dancing itself is as athletic as it is ethereal, portraying a series of stories that resonate with the audience on a personal level. I hope that the dance community in Denver will enjoy coming to something new, honest and inspiring when they come to see the Stor(ies) of you and Me.

The performance will take place at 7 p.m. Saturday, March 25, at the Cleo Parker Robinson Theatre, 119 Park Avenue West. Tickets cost $25 for adults, $22 for students and seniors and $12 for children twelve and under. Tickets are available at and by calling 312-725-4752.

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