When trying to launch a new business, the team behind it must take on various roles in order to make it successful. This also applies to the world of dance, or, at least, to the Pittsburgh-based Confluence Ballet Company.
Of all the dancers at Confluence, most also hold administrative positions. This includes Claire Peoples, who is responsible for the company’s marketing and social media in addition to performing as a dance trainee.
“We wear many hats,” laughs Peoples in a phone interview with Pittsburgh City Paper.
The peoples will be among those who will dance Emergence, the company’s first theatrical production. Debuting Saturday, March 5 at the Kelly Strayhorn Theatre, the performance is described as showcasing “a range of styles from romantic ballet The Sylphidsas well as neoclassical and contemporary works.
With this introduction, Confluence will add yet another voice to the city’s dance scene, and that of an all-female company. For now, Peoples says their only male dancer is Ken Shiozawa, a guest artist with Minnesota Ballet.
“We’ve been dancing together since this summer and we’ve done different outreaches all over Pittsburgh,” Peoples says. But this will be the first [performance] in a real theater setting.
She says the company wanted to show its “versatility” for this gig. The show features four pieces totaling 90 minutes in length, including “Mirror Where She Lies,” a new contemporary work by Pittsburgh-based choreographer Hannah Knorr. From there they will perform “Spirited Syncopations” by Durante Verzola, a Filipino American freelance choreographer who has worked with dance companies across the country and has been featured in the New York Timesamong other publications.
“It’s very playful and there are some comedy moments,” says Peoples, who also calls the piece, which is set to music by Leroy Anderson, “jazzy.”
The show will conclude with the work “Resilience” by artistic director Lea Havas.
“What we wanted to do was kind of show off what we’re capable of and just celebrate the talent of our dancers and how they can do anything,” Peoples explains.
KST’s performance continues a journey begun in 2021, when the non-profit organization was established as a “safe, equitable, and inclusive space for all students and artists to create, learn, and express their individuality. The company strives not only to produce works of the “highest caliber in classical, neoclassical and contemporary genres”, but to do so in a “positive environment in which artists can grow, collaborate and thrive”.
“We just want to treat our dancers like they’re people first, not like they’re dancers first, which I think is a lot of where ballet is today,” says Peoples. “You’re just kind of treated like a body and not like an actual human being who lives and experiences everything.”
She attributes this to the way Confluence is set up, which she says results in a comparatively fairer and more equal balance of power.
“So we have a board of directors and artistic directors, which is the typical setup of a business,” says Peoples. “But in terms of making financial decisions, decisions about the kinds of things we want to do on the shows, we have company-wide meetings, where we’re kind of like a little democracy, and we let’s all hear our opinions, which is very different from your typical ballet company, where you’re just there to dance and be quiet and do nothing.
peoples says Emergence will not only be their first production as a company, but it will be the first time many dancers have performed in a theater since before the COVID-19 pandemic, in 2019 or 2020.
“Even people who were dancing during COVID, you dance at little outdoor shows, that sort of thing,” Peoples says. “So it seems surreal.”
While the show will take place indoors, Peoples emphasizes that COVID-19 safety protocols will be in place. For Emergence, all spectators aged 12 or over will need to be fully vaccinated with an authorized vaccine and will be required to present both proof of vaccination and current photo ID with their ticket. Masks must be worn by anyone over the age of 2 for the duration of the show and inside the hall.
The people say that Emergence is just the first event the company has planned for the coming year. She teases “some exciting things to come combining fashion,” as well as another theatrical performance in June. She says they would also like to stand out by performing in less orthodox places.
“We want to take ballet to places where big companies couldn’t go, like art galleries, museums,” she says. “We did private conferences. In a way, bring it to an audience that really wouldn’t consider seeing dance and show that everyone can find something to relate to.