Few would call Arnold Schoenberg’s music “danceable.” His esoteric scores are often atonal, with knotty, impenetrable rhythms.
But choreographer Renato Zanella sees musical challenges as choreographic assets. “Sometimes ballet needs a complicated musical structure to develop fully,” he says. So it’s fitting that Zanella has chosen to set Underskin, his new work for San Francisco Ballet that premieres in April, to Schoenberg’sVerklärte Nacht. “The complex passion of this score is the motor of my ballet,” Zanella says. “I’m making a dramatic work, and the music supports the drama.”
SFB principal Katita Waldo, one of the ballet’s leads, was impressed by Zanella’s understanding of the score. “I was nervous when I heard the ballet would be to Schoenberg,” she remembers. “But when we started rehearsal, Renato had already figured everything out: how the steps would fit with the music, how to count it. He was so clear and specific that things just fell into place.”
The resulting piece for 15 dancers is “an emotional voyage, a story of a woman, or maybe many women,” Zanella says. Waldo adds that Zanella left the plot intentionally vague during rehearsals. “He kept emphasizing that he wants it to be open to interpretation,” she says. “But my take on my own character is that she is in transition: pushing to go somewhere new, but stuck, somehow, between two worlds.”