Pensacola, Florida
Tuesday September 2nd 2014

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Welcome to The Matrix


By Jennie McKeon

If you’ve been giving double takes to flyers advertising Ballet Pensacola’s “The Matrix,” don’t be fooled, they in fact are talking about that Matrix.

Closing out the season, the local ballet company is bringing you an original, contemporary performance inspired by the futuristic action movie.

“I was inspired by the story,” said the company’s Artistic Director, Richard Steinert. “The idea of the uncontrollable growth of computers is fascinating and timely. It is so close to the Allegory of the Cave, and I have spent time developing the storyboard to incorporate the historical philosophies that were clearly built into the movie.”

Steinert has used movies and stage productions as inspiration before. Two seasons ago, he created a performance based on Tennessee Williams’ “Summer and Smoke.” “The Matrix,” however, is different from everything Steinert has done before, he said.

“Matrix is a departure for me as it is the first time I have taken an action film to turn into a ballet,” Steinert said. “I try to challenge myself and the artistic staff on many levels so that we never get stale and the audience has consistently new material and experiences from Ballet Pensacola.”

Finding the right dancers to execute his contemporary choreography was key. Casting required finding dancers that were classically trained, but had the guts and self-confidence to push the limits Steinert said.

“I am not drawn to dancers that have beautiful technique but nothing to say,” he said. “Great dance bodies are a dime a dozen. I look for dancers that can use technique to achieve the goal at hand, and that goal is always more than just movement. I like hip-hop movers and use that genre often, as we did in the steam punk version of ‘Dracula’ last season. I love a dancer who can be ethereal one moment and down and dirty the next.”

Ballet Pensacola is comprised of dancers all over the world as well as Pensacola natives. The eclectic group has helped the company continue to push the envelope and impress audiences over and over again.

“The home grown talents know my style and expectations, and the dancers from China, Iceland, Canada, wherever, bring their unique experiences here as well,” Steinert said. “Bringing them together, training them into a team to create a full time company makes us what we are. Pensacola has made a home for dance and a home for hip, forward thinkers in this art, I am so grateful to be part of it.”

In February, audiences were treated to several ballets based on contemporary art performed inside Pensacola Museum of Art. For the company’s closing show, the ballet is headed back to familiar territory at the Pensacola Cultural Center with an event certain to draw a broad range of fans.

“I try to make certain that the balletomanes have as many kinds of dance experiences each season as possible,” Steinert said. “I want someone in a tux to be as comfortable at the ballet as someone in jeans—heck maybe even a bathrobe. I’m cool with that, if it’s your scene.”

Don’t worry if your brain is still in knots from watching “The Matrix” in theaters 14 years ago. The ballet version is far less confusing, or at least Steinert hopes so he said.

“I have chosen to highlight parts of the movie without attempting to simply recreate it,” Steinert said.

Instead Steinert took the story and gave it the edge that is prevalent in all Ballet Pensacola productions.

“We have taken the story and aesthetic and are making it our own,” he explained. “I’m not interested in rehashing something that has already been done. I take joy—and believe the audiences do too—in giving things a fresh spin, with the unique and provocative style that makes Ballet Pensacola what it is.”

Still, it may be hard to think of the worlds of blockbuster popcorn flicks and fine performing art to collide. Mixing two seemingly distinct entities excites Steinert.

“I love the collaboration of commercial and fine art, because I truly believe they have so much to give to one another,” he said. “The challenge here is to emulate the movie’s production values and story, while creating an atmosphere and suggest thoughts for the audience that are uniquely that of this company.”

Through his years in the arts, Steinert said he noticed the lines blurring between commercial and fine art.

“There used to be a distinct line between what people saw as commercial and ‘fine’ in the arts, and thankfully that line is blurring,” he explained. “I am not a fan of elitist art nor artists. I have little interest in appealing to a single demographic and honestly, if I can only create new ballets that appeal to one portion of the community, then I have failed as an artist.”

“The Matrix” will end the season on a high note, Steinert said. He is proud of the work the ballet produced this past season.

“The season opened with the acclaimed ‘Thunderstruck’ performances, at audience request, and we have presented the classics, through the neo-classics, contemporary and now an ‘action’ ballet,” he said. “What better combination of creative thought and voice for this community than that of its enduring art.”

THE MATRIX
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. March 15 & 16, 22 & 23
WHERE: Pensacola Cultural Center, 400 S. Jefferson St.
COST: $18-$30
DETAILS: balletpensacola.com or 432-2042