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Bob Dylan songs inspire Andrea Schermoly’s world premiere for ‘Front Row’

BalletMet’s upcoming production, Front Row, stands out among the rest of the season’s performances for its uniquely intimate feel.

Throughout its 10-show run, this boundary-pushing triple-bill will be held in our Performance Space, a 225-seat theater that places dancer and viewer together.

And it was for this very reason that choreographer Andrea Schermoly chose five Bob Dylan songs as the backdrop of her newest work, FARE THEE WELL.

The piece features eight dancers and is set to Dylan’s “Subterranean Homesick Blues,” “Don’t Think Twice It’s All Right,” “Moonshiner,” “I Shall Be Released” and “Dink’s Song.”

Gabriel Gaffney Smith, a BalletMet company dancer, will play the guitar on stage during two of the songs.

Schermoly, originally from South Africa, is a former dancer with Boston Ballet Company and Netherlands Dance Theater. She’s now a full-time choreographer, creating works for companies, including Kansas City Ballet Company, Cape Dance Company, Grand Rapids Ballet Company and Louisville Ballet Company.

Here, she shares her inspiration for creating FARE THEE WELL and takes us inside the studio during rehearsal.

[image_with_animation image_url=”13830″ alignment=”” animation=”None”]What about Bob Dylan’s music spoke to you?

It was a mixture of things actually. I felt it was timely for our situation in the world right now. I have personal sentiments that I wanted to express and explore within it, and it worked out to obtain the rights with BalletMet, which is great. There’s something simple about the song structure and the poetry is what I really love. It’s timeless and universal.

Talk a little about your process for creating a new work.

I prefer to create in the studio because I like making work on the bodies in front of me and for them to contribute as well. It’s an interesting part of the process. I don’t come in with steps set. Sometimes I’ll have a couple phrases I’ll play around with, but in general, we kind of morph things together. If I feel like there are things the dancers are capable of doing, even if it wasn’t my initial instinct, we’ll play around with those. It’s fun.

[image_with_animation image_url=”13831″ alignment=”” animation=”None”]What do you think are some of the core emotions the audience will feel as they watch your work?

I don’t want to tell them what to take from it, but I feel intense heartache when I listen to those songs. My inspiration is an exploration of regret and confession and the search for redemption—the possibility to live life to a FARE-THEE-WELL.  

Put us in the studio—what’s it like right now as you rehearse and set the work?

Every day is different and inspiring. We work hard, but we’ve laughed a lot. Today we were in the Performance Space, which is really helpful—I love being there. It’s dark, and I feel like my brain is more focused in there, which is nice. We shift between rehearsals that are all together or sometimes duets and trios. I have the added aspect of live music which is a key element in this piece and Gabe is an extraordinary talent. It’s challenged me to think on my toes and be adventurous crafting the theatrics and intent of the piece. Digging into the music even more has been illuminating. I’ve been surprised by the turns I’ve taken.  

How has knowing your work will be performed in such an intimate space changed your process—if at all?

It’s very intimate, which I love. I don’t think I would have chosen the Bob Dylan songs had it not been for that space. I feel like those songs are sparse in their construction and their sound. I wanted it to sound like we’re taking a peek into somebody’s living room. It’s sort of like a basement of confessionals. I love the intimacy of it. It feels like an experimental environment—I like that.

Overall, how have you enjoyed the experience of creating a new work here in Columbus?

It’ been so great. I love a process that’s full of life and exchange. That’s my goal—to have a human exchange with people. I like to have fun in the studio and see what comes up, and the dancers are really up for it. They’re super creative and attentive, and they understand the intricacy of the details of my work, which is great. They’re amazing.

Photos by Jennifer Zmuda
Dancers pictured: William Newton, Leiland Charles, Gabriel Gaffney Smith