One of the greatest struggles of working in a small ballet company with a very limited budget is our inability to afford a live pianist. And I don’t just say this because I enjoy live music- having a pianist play specifically for your class is an unfamiliar luxury I took advantage of during all of those summer intensives spent away from home, never realizing just how beneficial it really was. In my recent teaching endeavors, I’ve noticed that so many young dancers today tend to ignore the rhythm that is navigating them through space. When someone is playing live- on the spot- with songs curated explicitly for the class currently being danced, it promotes a precise musicality, encouraging dancers to really listen to the music that’s guiding them, instead of just writing it off as a sound that comes from a machine which says “Go”. The right pianist can feed the dancers with an external energy, sweeping the room up into their thick cloud of musical ardor. In these instances, the music becomes much more than a simple accompaniment; It’s a sharing of sound, time, and space. Of course, the next best thing to having a live pianist on hand is a meticulously crafted recording, created by a musician whose great love for music intensifies even greater when he sees it come to life through movement. Enter Christopher Ferris.
Mr. Ferris is a business consultant by day, but his true passion lies in providing music for ballet classes, particularly those at the Evergreen City Ballet (ECB), where he spends most of his time behind the keys. Chris’ specialties in composing and improvising are perhaps what make him so well-suited for playing piano for ballet. “His style is wonderfully contemporary, and he seems to find a match to all the different combinations that we do. He knows when to be upbeat and happy; he knows when to throw in a little whimsy, or a soulful adagio, which is great”, former principal dancer with the Pacific Northwest Ballet (PNB), and current ECB School Principal, Louise Nadeau, certainly recognizes Mr. Ferris’ incredible talent. “On a practical standpoint, his tempos are always clear and precise, which is fantastic for all of us,” Ms. Nadeau adds, assuring any skeptics that Chris’ music is not only unique in its style, but it’s logical, too.
Chris’ accuracy in his interpretation of a ballet class seems to stem from a true understanding and appreciation for both art forms, and how beautifully the two intertwine. In an email correspondence between the two of us, I pointed out that while much of my family is musically gifted, I am the only dancer. Mr. Ferris helped me realized just how similar my family and I really are on an artistic level. “I think that being a dancer is very much related to being a musician – in a few but not all ways. Playing an instrument is definitely a physical experience; both require charging the body with rhythmic commands, fine motor actions that combine refined technique and musicality/artistry to whatever degree is possible from an individual’s talents. While there aren’t really analogs for things like sight-reading for musicians (which I’m not very good at) or maybe snap memorization of combinations for dancers (which always amazes me), at the very least there are some similarities. Really talented dancers can use their bodies to express music like an instrument, or create visual music.” What an articulate insight into the coherence of music and dance. Wouldn’t it be lovely to share these gifts with the entire dance community?
Now here’s where you come in. Chris is working hard to record an original CD, his efforts being closely monitored by former PNB Soloist and current ECB Artistic Director, Kevin Kaiser, to make sure each track is just right for a ballet class. All he needs now is your support on his Kickstarter campaign to get things moving. Even a pledge of just $1 will help with this brilliant project, as we attempt to bring a new, interesting, and most importantly different sound to ballet class. Some of the key elements Chris would like to bring to this CD include clear introductions, a good variety of combinations, reliable and appropriate tempos, longer running times (which means fewer trips back to the player and combinations that move straight on to the other side!), and full balances and stretch music on the end of each track. Artistic Director Kevin Kaiser notes, “I’ve had artistic directors from around the country come in and teach our summer intensive; I’ve had principal dancers from Pacific Northwest Ballet, and the feedback I get is amazing – following the class – they all feel the same way the that I do, and that is that [Chris] brings such a high level of energy to the class and has that mood to be able to fulfill the steps, and it’s very nice to have a pianist like that within our organization.” Well, that’s it- I’m sold on Ferris! Are you?
To listen to Chris’ jazzy, syncopated and fun demo CD, click here.
To pledge to his Kickstarter campaign, click here.
To learn more about Chris, click here.
photos by Tim Aguero