Eric Allaman takes a break from scoring back-to-back television work to co-create a new ballet with Artistic Director Kim Maselli.
By Melonie Magruder / Special to The Malibu Times
For their second work together, Malibu composer Eric Allaman and Artistic Director Kim Maselli of the Pacific Festival Ballet decided to take on one of the great Biblical epics-the story of the Flood.
Their new ballet, titled “Noah’s Ark,” for which Allaman scored original music, will debut May 22 at the Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza.
Maselli and Allaman joined forces three years ago to create their first new ballet together, “The Sea Princess,” which played to sold-out audiences. “When we talked about creating a new ballet after ‘Sea Princess,’ Kim spoke of trying something accessible to kids, like ‘Peter Pan,’” Allaman said. “But I didn’t want to do anything derivative. Then she mentioned Noah’s story.”
A tradition in Judaic, Christian and Islamic religions, Noah’s tale is about an ordinary, righteous man who is instructed by God to build a boat large enough to house his family and all earth’s animal life, brought two by two, during an apocalyptic flood that destroys the rest of life on the planet.
“We were faced with creating and maintaining a lot of dramatic tension that could be followed through [in] dance,” Allaman said, in explaining the storyline of the ballet. “We stuck pretty closely to the Book of Genesis. Noah has to be overwhelmed with his task and we showed what the family endured during the 40 days and 40 nights.”
A menagerie of animals lends itself to colorful costumes and choreography, but Maselli and Allaman added an element to the plot essential to any good ballet-a love story.
“Well, you need a pas de deux, so we created a young lady for Noah’s son Japheth who must choose between her family’s wishes and her heart,” Allaman said. “And there’s a lot of elements in the Bible story that people don’t really think about. Noah gets drunk. His sons get defiant. There is attempted fratricide. And we add a death of one animal, which means that the species doesn’t live on after the flood. There’s a bit of an environmental message to that.”
As a choreographer, Maselli is no stranger to larger-than-life Biblical legend. In 2004 she created, with composer Bob Selvin, a ballet titled “Heaven and Hell-The Journey,” about Adam and Eve’s fall from grace.
“It was about the age-old battle of good versus evil,” Maselli said. “I wondered what other Biblical stories might work as [a] ballet. When you start analyzing something as ancient as Noah’s family dynamics, you realize that humanity hasn’t changed at all.”
Maselli said the biggest challenge in translating the story to dance was making sure that “it all flowed theatrically.” Accordingly, Maselli and Allaman plotted the ballet so the deluge arrives at the end of the first act, leaving the second act to detail the test of the family’s faith during dark nights of the storm, the gradual dawning of light, the olive branch found by the dove and the rainbow.
Maselli spent some time visiting zoos before deciding which animals to feature in her two-by-two representation.
“I had to find a balance,” the choreographer said. “Some species didn’t make the cut. It’s kind of hard to find a ballerina who wants to be a rhinoceros.”
Allaman said he found working on “Noah’s Ark” a refreshing hiatus from his recent gigs, composing scores for some new network television movies produced by “American Idol” judge Randy Jackson. Those efforts entailed back-to-back scoring of 71- and 64-minute tracks and were recorded by the 52-chair Belgrade Philharmonic Orchestra.
“I’ve been working with three different orchestrators,” Allaman said. “It’s exciting, but the turnaround is exhausting. It’s like nine minutes of full orchestrations each day.”
“Noah’s Ark” was written for a full orchestra and Allaman enlisted Russian conductor Sergei Skripka and the 86-year-old Russian State Symphony Cinema Orchestra to record his score in Moscow. Having seen rehearsals this week for the ballet he envisioned musically, the composer said he was “blown away by what Kim created.”
“In these dark times, people can’t afford $30 ballet tickets, let alone $100 for something at the L.A. Phil,” Allaman said. “That’s why it’s so rare to see a newly created ballet. If people realized what it took to create a theatrical event like this, they’d realize it was the best deal in town. I mean, there’s no remuneration in this. You do it because art is important.”
“Noah’s Ark” has two performances by the California Dance Theatre and Pacific Festival Ballet on May 22 at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. at the Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza. Tickets can be purchased online at www.californiadancetheatre.com