Robert Abrams: What is your role in the show?
Joellen Meglin: I wrote the scenario for the ballet and am co-choreographer with Kun-Yang Lin.
RA: Please describe the performance you will present at PIFA.
is a "modern dance ballet" based on the archetypal travel tale — in the same genre as Gulliver's Travels
, Alice in Wonderland
, and The Wizard of Oz
. The main character, Crystallina, goes through a series of adventures, which, in the 21st century are really psychological states of the mind.
RA: Have you collaborated with anyone to create your PIFA presentation?
JM: Yes, this is a highly collaborative project.
RA: Who have you collaborated with to create your PIFA presentation?
JM: We worked closely with Richard Brodhead, the composer of the original music for the ballet. It is a choreographer's dream to work directly with the composer, and Richard is the best collaborator in world to work with. Richard's composition is a 30-minute work in 5 scenes, which ranges in mood from profound despair to ecstatic exhilaration. It is a world premiere to be played by the Temple University Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Luis Biava.
Kun-Yang Lin and I have each choreographed half of the ballet. Our ideas dovetailed really well and the final synthesis contains diversity in choreographic language, even as it coheres in subject matter and meaning. Kun-Yang Lin's approach is based in Asian aesthetics of energy flow, while mine offers an architectural sense of time-space, but we worked on the last scene together and a sort of dance kaleidoscope emerges. The story line and the music propelled us in confluent directions, we think.
Our fourth collaborator is Jillian Harris, the principal dancer, who is an exquisite dancer.
RA: What has this collaboration allowed you to achieve that would not have been possible without it?
JM: Without question. The musical structures and ideas are so stimulating. It is a ballet in this sense: we are trying to express life's journey and the various experiences of learning, living on the edge, memory, loss, profound grief, and finally self-integration. The music does this through its own architecture and expressive motivation, and as choreographers we can respond, not only to our own ideas and kinetic impulses, but also to the music's ebb and flow, passion and resolution.
Also, as choreographers I think we challenged and stimulated each other to incorporate new approaches into our own work. We literally did this when we worked together on the final scene. We were both at first nervous about this, but in the end it was a marvelously confluent process.
And Jillian's qualities as a performer have inspired us to take things to the edge.
RA: In your art that you are presenting at PIFA, what is unexpected?
JM: The integration of the ballet framework and the modern dance and post-modern dance principles of choreography is unexpected. The scale of the project, with 25 dancers, and a 50+ member orchestra, as well as the elaborate visual design elements, not to mention the collaboration across mediums, comes from the ballet framework. However, the fusion and hybridization of styles emerges from the modern/post-modern milieu. Styles are global in reach from Chinese martial arts and chi-based movement principles, to American modern dance, Argentine tango, and even European Baroque ballet.
Interestingly, we discovered along the way that the piece was intergenerational, although I will not admit who is from the older generation. It has been a joy to see how dancers brought up in different generational periods could learn from one another. And the youngest generation is the Temple University dance majors and graduate students, who are working very hard and are the absolute center of the work!
RA: What is "new" about the art you are presenting at PIFA?
JM: Original music, original choreography, original scene design were all created for the occasion. The scale of the interdisciplinary collaboration, the fusion of styles and approaches, and the concept of ballet as emerging from a community ethos — that of a university for the working class, Temple University. The Crystallina narrative is very much grounded in Russell Conwell's story of journey and self-transformation: "Diamonds in Your Backyard." It is about becoming a fully integrated person, wanting to grow and to develop one's gifts as a human being, which is really what education is all about. Crystallina discovers the gifts of memory, energy, and compassion, and a valuing of life through her journey.
RA: What is the connection between your show at PIFA and Paris between 1910 and 1920?
JM: This decade was the heyday of Sergei Diaghilev's Ballets Russes. Diaghilev brought together composers, like Debussy, Ravel, Stravinsky, and Satie; choreographers like Fokine, Nijinsky, and Massine; writers like Jean Cocteau; and visual artists like Picasso, Bakst, Roerich to create multi-media works of art, and so have we. Painters, graphic designers, and media artists at Temple have worked on the visual aspect of the production. Most of all, we have tried to retain the experimental, collaborative edge of the Ballets Russes and the period.
RA: If audience members were seeing your PIFA show for the second time, what should they pay special attention to in order to enhance their appreciation of your art?
JM: While Crystallina is not a traditional story ballet — rather, it is an abstraction of a journey — the interplay of narrative, music, dance, and visual mediums have been a source of delight for us as the creators. Our student performers — youth at its prime — are also a great source of the energy and passion of the work.
RA: Does your art have an activist message? What message are you trying to communicate?
JM: The activist message is about growth and education in a time of shrinking budgets for education. Youth is a precious contingent in our society because they bring about change and continuity. Every human being deserves the chance to educate themselves to the fullest of their desire and ability. The story is about a psychic journey of self-integration: escape, false pathways, loss, memory and ultimately, hope, and all humans deserve the opportunity to make this journey. As a woman and a feminist, I feel this is especially important for women, who have historically been denied educational opportunities. But there are other groups as well — like people with disabilities, immigrants, and the poor — who struggle with access to education. And the arts should be an integral part of that education because people learn in different ways, through different mediums, and in different areas of the brain, and the arts can enhance all that.
RA: Do you work with schools or children?
RA: Please describe your educational work.
JM: I work as an associate professor of dance at Temple University. I teach dance history — hence my feeling that memory, especially, our social memory, is important — dance composition, and dance research.
RA: What else would you like people who are thinking about purchasing a ticket to your show to know about your art?
JM: I love the idea of the university as the laboratory for new paradigms, experimentation, and interdisciplinary collaboration in the discovery of new knowledge. These values, along with a valuing of education and experience, is what this project is all about.
I enjoyed responding to these questions, which are thought-provoking and thorough, indeed! Professor Brodhead and I will be presenting the paradigm for ballet described above, as well as the music and choreography, at the Society of Dance History Scholars conference in Toronto in June, and your questions have certainly got me thinking in that direction!
Again, thank you for the opportunity to share our work with the community!
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Whitney Weinstein, Megan Quinn, and Cassandra Cotta in Crystallina
Photo © & courtesy of Bill Hebert
Megan Quinn in Crystallina
Photo © & courtesy of Bill Hebert