ACB's Summer Premieres features two new ballets by artistic director Lincoln Jones. Photo by Anastasia Petukhova, Courtesy ACB.

Lincoln Jones on the Remarkable Research Process Behind His Newest Work for American Contemporary Ballet

Creating new work is a staple for American Contemporary Ballet founder and artistic director Lincoln Jones. For the Los Angeles-based company's Summer Premieres program, August 2-12, Jones created two pieces "in absolute contrast to each other." The longer of the two, titled Transfigured Night, is set to Austrian-American composer Arnold Shoenberg's 1899 masterpiece Verklärte Nacht. We caught up with Jones to hear about the very personal research that went into his new ballet.

What's on deck for this summer's annual premieres program?

I'm making two ballets, one quite long and one very short. The program will open with Candide Overture, which is the overture to Leonard Bernstein's Candide. The second piece will be Transfigured Night. I started with the Shoenberg, which is this 30-minute, very beautiful piece about the inward lives of two lovers. I thought that the Bernstein would be interesting in absolute contrast to that. It's super extroverted and has all of these ebullient rhythms. I wanted to do something for the Bernstein centennial.


What drew you to the Schoenberg score?

It's really a remarkable piece. Shoenberg is mostly known for his 12-note system, and some people say he's the man who destroyed music. He created music that was quintessentially modern and hard for a lot of people to listen to. At the premiere of Verklärte Nacht in 1899 there were fist fights in the audience because of how far he was stretching harmony at the time, but to our ears today it brings the dancers to tears just listening to it, because it's so beautiful.

You ended up connecting with Shoenberg's sons. How did that come to be?

When I first got to to L.A. I choreographed to a Shoenberg piece and put the video online because I was submitting it for something. Later on I was looking for some different Shoenberg pieces and was referred from Vienna to his publisher, who I found out actually lives here in L.A., in the Palisades. I went to the publisher's website, and realized that my video was already up there. They must have found it online. Years later, my friend Hilary Hahn, the violinist, was in touch with the publisher, and that's how I found out that Shoenberg had lived in L.A. But at the time I didn't realize that his home still existed or that one of his sons still lives there. For this project I reached out and said that I was using the Verklärte Nacht score. His sons ended up giving me a tour of the home, and we ended up sitting and talking for three hours.

How did that conversation influence your ballet?

I don't know if it consciously impacted the work, but I can say this; the Verklärte Nacht music is a piece of such deep feeling, and I knew that Shoenberg was this massive personage of modern music. But it really humanized him to hear stories about his youth in Vienna, and to hear the kinds of allegorical bedtime stories that he told his children in their own voices.

The Richard Dehmel poem of the same name that Shoenberg used as his basis for the piece had a big impact on what I did structurally and tonally. I think that dance obviously speaks in a very different way than poetry does; it's not an attempt to literally tell a story, but it certainly influenced me.

Can you describe what the work will look like?

Transfigured Night has ten corps dancers and one lead couple. In the Dehmel poem, nature is used to reflect both the inner states of the protagonists and their external environments, and the harmony between the two. Shoenberg's music is divided right down the middle. In the poem, the first part is concerned with the woman's inner anguish, and then the second part the man expresses his love for her and calms her fears. I ended up with a ballet that was also divided down the middle: The first part of the piece is an extended solo for the lead female in which the corps dancers function as both external environment and also as a Greek chorus for her inner state. The second half is an extended pas de deux, with the corps sometimes onstage. The man is onstage for the first half, but he doesn't move except for his entrance.

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A Letter from the Editor in Chief

Hi Everyone,

These are challenging times. The social distancing measures brought about by COVID-19 has likely meant that your regular ballet training has been interrupted, while your performances, competitions—even auditions—have been cancelled. You may be feeling anxious about what the future holds, not only for you but for the dance industry. And that's perfectly understandable.

As you adjust to taking virtual ballet class from your living rooms, we here at Pointe are adjusting to working remotely from our living rooms. We've had to get a little creative, especially as we put our Summer Issue together, but like you we're taking full advantage of modern technology. Sure, it's a little inconvenient sometimes, but we're finding our groove.

And we know that you will, too. We've been utterly inspired by how the dance community has rallied together, from ballet stars giving online classes to companies streaming their performances to the flood of artist resources popping up. We've loved watching you dance from your kitchens. And we want to help keep this spirit alive. That's why Pointe and all of our Dance Media sister publications are working nonstop to produce and cross-post stories to help you navigate this crisis. We're all in this together.

We also want to hear from you! Send us a message on social media, or email me directly at abrandt@dancemedia.com. Tell us how you're doing, send us your ideas and show us your dance moves. Let the collective love we share for our beloved art form spark the light at the end of the tunnel—we will come out the other side soon enough.

Best wishes,

Amy

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