SF Ballet Principal Character Dancer and Choreographer Val Caniparoli, has created works for over thirty-five companies including San Francisco Ballet. We talked with him about his long history with the Company as well as his work as an in-demand choreographer.
BACKSTAGE: So Val, you've had a long and illustrious history with San Francisco Ballet in a number of different capacities, as a dancer, choreographer, choreographer in residence, principal character dancer. Can you tell us a little bit about how you first started working with the Company?
VC: Oh wow, (laughs), basically I had very little training so I came here to audition for the School. And actually no training (laughs), so I walked in and auditioned, and Harold Christensen thought I had talent and he gave me a Ford Foundation Scholarship-I hope they don't make me give it back! (laughs) but, was in the School for a year and then eventually, Lew Christensen and Michael Smuin hired me for the Company and so the rest is history. I've been-gosh-here almost 35 years which is crazy.
BACKSTAGE: As a prolific choreographer, you're work has entered the repertory of, I think, more than 35 companies...
VC: ...and counting which is great.
BACKSTAGE: And I see that OBT [Oregon Ballet Theatre] just this week performed Lambarena to critical acclaim. So as an accomplished choreographer, what do you still aspire to do?
VC: I'm always looking for new thoughts and ideas and music; my choices of music are varied-I like all types of music so I'm constantly looking for new ideas and thoughts, and even storylines, and I'm really looking at ideas for full-lengths; I get offers for full-lengths quite often for new versions of certain stories and stuff but I always want to make sure that it's 100% it's going to work; so I'm searching for all those right ideas constantly.
BACKSTAGE: Well, that leads me to my next question which is: what is your process for choreographing? Do you usually start with an idea or the music, or both?
VC: Oh, it runs the gamut. I prefer having the music, but either way, having a vision or an idea or a concept is very important, so I don't like taking music and just putting steps on top of that music. I want some sort of vision or viewpoint and I'm always searching for those. Music is the point of departure for me and it's usually the easiest way for me to work.
BACKSTAGE: You've collaborated locally a number of times with ACT Artistic Director Carey Perloff.
BACKSTAGE: What's that partnership been like, and what are the differences in working in theater as opposed to dance?
VC: Wow, it's like night and day. I'm starting to get used to it; it's just different ways of working. Finding with actors that their inspiration is the words and what's on paper and we don't have that. We're inspired by the music; we go in and work on movement. They like to talk about it and work on that, know about the motivations of what they're going to do and where we don't, we go into it right away and I'm working with her, co-directing a new play we're writing that's hopefully going to open in 2010; its right now called The Tosca Project where its half dancers, half actors. And those two different ways of working is very revealing and now they're starting to find a middle ground. So it's different, it's exciting, and working with her on many projects. For instance, The Doll's House was inspiration for Ibsen's House here, so I get a lot of ideas and thoughts, for storylines and stuff because she's a great resource, Carey, and even having her come in to San Francisco Ballet with Ibsen's House, working on the dancers with their characters in the Ibsen plays was amazing. So I like going back and forth with that.
BACKSTAGE: How did it feel to have Ibsen's House premiere on The New Works Festival and then go on tour?
VC: It was pretty amazing. It was great that Helgi chose Ibsen's House, especially to take to New York. To me that was a great honor. And whenever he tours my work, I think it's great, 'cause it's important to have your work seen beyond the West Coast. Sometimes you feel isolated, but being also part of the New Works Festival, a lot of people came from all over the world to see this, so the exposure for me was amazing; it was a little daunting but I mean, I've got a lot of work for it from artistic directors who have never seen my work before, so it's served many purposes. Again, it's so important to have your work seen.
BACKSTAGE: What's next for you? What projects are you working on?
Val: I'm working on a new Nutcracker for Louisville Ballet. I have a Nutcracker ongoing for Cincinnati Ballet for the past nine years but this is a totally different version, it's in production and opens in December 2009; new work for Tulsa Ballet, for Pacific Northwest Ballet coming up. A lot of revivals: I'm leaving March for two months working with five different ballets in five different companies-so it's great; and I'm able to travel and work.
BACKSTAGE: That's great. So audiences can see you in Tomasson's Swan Lake across the street? Tell us a little bit about the production.
VC: Well the production is wonderful. It's great to see a new vision of this Swan Lake where designers who have not worked with dance before-so they have a whole different viewpoint and they bring a lot of new ideas to the table. So it's interesting to see Helgi working with these designers and the new concept and it's very exciting.