We sat down with R. Colby Damon, choreographer and former BalletX dancer, to discuss his world premiere “On the Mysterious Properties of Light.”
What is the name (or working title) of your piece with BalletX, and why did you choose to call it that?
CD: The working title is “On the Mysterious Properties of Light.” The piece is using some of the bizarre physical characteristics of light as inspiration.
What music will you be using and why did you choose that music for this piece?
CD: I am using a collection of avant garde, contemporary classical, spoken text written by myself, and various folk songs from different cultures in the piece. I try to find music and sound that has a really deep resonance, music that you can feel and causes your body to vibrate in a different way, so that the experience of seeing the piece goes beyond just being visual, to more visceral. I also like to transport the audience quickly from one place to another, and keep them guessing, and this combination of music and text I think does a good job of switching gears and atmospheres quickly.
Also, since light is really such a permeating substance, I wanted the music to mirror that in some ways, and this combination really resonates in the body.
How does this work contrast with some of your most recent work, and how is it similar?
CD: This is my first commission on a major dance company, the members of which are all my close friends, so I know these dancers really well, and I know what they can do. I think the work will be more complex for that reason, because I have time to work out some ideas, and I’m familiar with who I’m working with.
I have been interested in fusing dance with really dense philosophical or scientific text for the past few years, and this piece continues on that trajectory.
Can you expand on the ideas and themes in the work, does it have a message, or an emotion that you can put into words?
CD: The work is based on some of the characteristics of light at a quantum level, as well as some general personal meditations on light and how integral it is to our reality in so many ways. I have read a number of books on light and quantum mechanics over the past few months, and also some mystical texts, and have found some really interesting stuff upon which I will base the movement. For example, I plan on making one section of the ballet based upon the phenomenon of a photon working its way from the center of the sun to the surface over the course of a million years, as it is absorbed and released over and over again from tightly packed hydrogen atoms.
When and where were you when you first started thinking about the ideas behind this work, what inspired the work?
CD: I think in general its important to incorporate themes that are relevant to the evolution of society within artistic work, and in thinking of this I also like to try and highlight aspects of existence that may be overlooked. The incredible strides we are making these days in science and in quantum physics are often never heard of, because unfortunately much of our attention is focused on the negatives of humanity. I’m excited that I have a platform where I can share some of the incredible conclusions of quantum physics in perhaps a more accessible and moving way for the public. I also had been somewhat aware of some of the more bizarre aspects of light for a long time, but I had never had a chance, or a reason, to dig deep and really learn about it. This piece is giving me the opportunity to do that.
What was your creative process for turning the ideas into a reality?
CD: I have read a bunch of books, and done a lot of mediating and simple contemplation in anticipation of the work, and I have written a chunk of text that sort of summarizes my personal conclusions on the matter that will also be used in the piece. I have also been listening to a lot of music and trying to figure out what vibe would work best.
Can you talk about your ideas for the other aspects of the production such as lighting, staging, sound design, or costumes?
CD: Since this is a piece about light, obviously the lighting design is going to be integral to the piece. I have some ideas that I think are really going to showcase how beautiful light itself can be, and hopefully the light show so to speak in some sections will be able to stand out just at prominently as the dance. I have been talking with the lighting designer and we’re excited to get the ball rolling.
How do you think the work might challenge, surprise, or delight the audience?
CD: Usually within dance, science is rarely used as inspiration, and when it is it is always utilized in an extremely abstract way that doesn’t do much in my opinion on educating the audience. I think people will walk away having learned something new, and in the process will be transported to a bunch of different interesting atmospheres.
How do you think the work might challenge, surprise, or delight the dancers, and how has it challenged, surprised, and delighted you?
CD: I am having some of the dancers learn a monologue that contains some pretty dense language and concepts, and we are setting movement to the monologue. Dancers don’t always speak on stage so this will definitely be a something new for some of them.
What do you look forward to the most about working with BalletX?
CD: I have worked with BalletX in many different capacities, and it has become like a home to me. They have always been very supportive of me as a dancer, and as a teacher, and now I’m honored that I have also been commissioned. I am also looking forward to working with my close friends on a piece that is really personal and special to me.
What is most exciting to you about introducing this work to the Philadelphia audience?
CD: Philadelphia has welcomed me with open arms since the day I arrived, and I hope that I can produce something truly inspiring for this city and the people who have treated me so well.