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Marilyn Klaus, Artistic Director of Ballets with a Twist, on "Cocktail Hour: The Show" At White Plains Performing Arts Center

Marilyn Klaus, Artistic Director of Ballets with a Twist, on  "Cocktail Hour: The Show" At White Plains Performing Arts Center
Sammi Sowerby / Follow on Instagram

By Sammi Sowerby / Follow on Instagram
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Published on June 14, 2018
Mint Julep from "Cocktail Hour." Photo credit: Nico Malvaldi.

Stirring Audiences with Cocktail-Themed Dances

Ballets with a Twist present Cocktail Hour: The Show
White Plains Performing Arts Center, 11 City Place, 3rd Floor, White Plains, New York
Saturday, June 16, 2018; 8pm
More info:

Sammi for The Dance Enthusiast: Hi, Marilyn! What’s your story? Your provenance?

Marilyn Klaus: The person who first inspired me to dance was probably my father, who was such a good dancer. When I was three, having seen him dance, I decided to put on a show for him and my mother, in the living room . . . but a terrible asthma attack meant I had to be taken to the hospital in an ambulance — and put in an oxygen tent!

I really started to choreograph at the age of five. Under the dance program at the Los Angeles Athletic Club, I studied tap and hula, which I absolutely loved. Every Saturday, my father would drive me into downtown Los Angeles and drop me off at a corner. I would then walk to the club and stay the entire day.

I remember one performance in particular. The woman who ran the program had the whole thing worked out, but I said, “We’re going to put this number of mine in the show.” I was only seven, but decided that I was ready to go on pointe. I went to the store — I don’t know how I got there or who took me — and bought a pair of black pointe shoes. I had a matching tutu and leotard in yellow, and took apart my sister's exotic harem dancer costume to use its fabric as wings. I selected "The Flight of the Bumblebee" as my music, and since it was too long, I put a piece of tape down the middle of the record. That way, when the needle hit the tape, I could stop dancing. The director was utterly horrified about everything: A) the pointe shoes, B) my dance. After the show was over, she confronted me in the dressing room, and kept telling me that I was improvising. I didn’t know what that meant, but she was furious.

As for Ballets with a Twist, my first company dancer, Kim Sikorski, was a true muse. I made Mai Tai, Martini and Margarita on her.

Ballets with a Twist in Singapore Sling from Cocktail Hour. Photo credit: Nico Malvaldi.

The Dance Enthusiast: How did you and the other co-founders of Ballets with a Twist come into cahoots?

Marilyn Klaus: We met a long time ago, way before Ballets with a Twist. Stephen Gaboury (composer) and I got together over composition; another songwriter had asked him to come in on a project we were working on. As for Catherine Zehr (costume designer), her daughter was in my dance school, and Catherine started making costumes for our shows. She has such a good eye for design!

The Dance Enthusiast: Is each dance inspired by a cocktail’s ingredients, history or flavor?

Marilyn Klaus: Each dance is inspired by the name of each cocktail and my conception of what it — a cocktail's 'perfume,' so to speak.

The Dance Enthusiast: What qualities do you look for in your dancers?

Marilyn Klaus: Classical training is important. I also look for dancers who don’t get too frustrated by the rehearsal process, who enjoy each other, and who like popular culture as well as history. I usually end up with a very, very musical bunch, which is hard for me to know right off the bat, but I’m always thrilled by this!

Of course, I love beautiful feet and all the usual features that people who love ballet love. But, a really smart dancer can relinquishe the need for all that. It’s impossible to have everything, and I've noticed something about those who do — it doesn’t mean that much to them, and they go off in search of different careers. This used to break my heart, but I've realized that people have to do their own thing. I would say that’s a challenge for me: working through all that, and not getting overly attached to the dancers.

Ballets with a Twist in Champagne from Cocktail Hour. Photo credit: Nico Malvaldi.

The Dance Enthusiast: Though it seems a bit risqué to star children in a cocktail-themed performance, I suppose every fully-stocked bar must also carry ‘mocktails.’ Tell me about the young dancers involved in the show.

Marilyn Klaus: Since I’ve danced my whole life, and especially around my parents, who would be having cocktails while I was performing in the living room, I never thought entertainment couldn’t go along with someone having a cocktail and relaxing. My dance cocktails and mocktails speak to the mixing of culture and history.

Including children in works such as Mint Julep, which we will be performing with local students from White Plains, was really a no-brainer because all little horses have to be trained! When I had a school, the children begged me to make a cocktail for them to be in. So I did. That’s why I made Shirley Temple followed by Margarita. The latter, a Mexican Catholic dance addressing Catholicism and the early religious practices of the Mayans of South America, is about Our Lady of Guadalupe. The soloist plays a beautiful goddess while the children play little geological entities. It speaks to volcanic action and how the land was created. It’s probably my most serious dance, and also my favorite.

The children just think it’s all fun. They don’t assign the same meaning or worries to things as adults do. The movements are age-appropriate, and the parts are made especially for children, but the choreography is not easy, and the young dancers have to work at it. These particular children from Scarsdale’s Central Park Dance are unbelievably intelligent. Their teacher Maria Bai chose them carefully, and the studio was recommended by Ballets with a Twist soloist Kimberly Giannelli, who knows our repertory very well.

Dance Enthusiast: Ballets with a Twist has performed in theaters, art festivals, night clubs, cabarets and more. What about the choreography/approach makes it so adaptable to spaces and audiences?

Marilyn Klaus: I get so excited about creating a piece! I have a vision of big entertainment. I like big shows and concepts that can read in large theaters or nightclubs. But a person’s vision can be different from what he or she ends up creating; I think some of my pieces are more intimate than I imagine them to be. I think my newest titled Hot Toddy has two things going for it: the intimacy of each individual performing artist expressing something unique and the feeling of big entertainment.

Ballets with a Twist in Eau de Vie from Cocktail Hour. Photo credit: Nico Malvaldi.

The Dance Enthusiast: What is your measure for excellence?

Marilyn Klaus: I’m constantly fixing things. For instance, we’ve been editing performance footage of Holy Water that was shot at the Imperial Theatre, in Augusta, GA. When I saw a part of the dance that I’ve always deemed the best — sort of an epilogue to the whole trilogy — I thought, “This is just unacceptable.” So we edited it out of the video and decided that wouldn't have it in the dance at all. In constantly reviewing the work...

The same goes for our designer Catherine. She has made about four iterations of the costume for the Pink Lady. In fact, she is constantly working on all of the costumes.

And Stephen, our composer, is constantly reworking his arrangements. When we go to the Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center this August, we will have live music, but because we won’t have many singers, the horns will do the vocal parts in Bloody Mary. That’s just fantastic because we’re not bored by our work!

I guess that’s my standard for excellence: a work is always a work-in-progress. I’m really grateful that I have self-confidence. There are so many talented people who don’t have faith in themselves. It’s nice to be able to try something new, even if you come to the realization that it was completely wacky.

Ballets with a Twist in Holy Water from Cocktail Hour. Photo credit: Nico Malvaldi.

The Dance Enthusiast: I’m sure you saw this coming, but I simply have to know: which cocktail is your go-to on a night out?

Marilyn Klaus: Margarita, straight up, no salt, with Don Julio Reposado Tequila.

The Dance Enthusiast: The Dance Enthusiast is a huge proponent of Audience Reviews. What is your take on feedback?

Marilyn Klaus: Audience feedback is always very interesting. I love talking to people after our shows. A lot of the time, their comments are not highly specific — the concert is so fast-paced that they may forget fine details — but we do get lots of really nice, positive feedback, and that’s rewarding. It’s thrilling to bring joy to a viewer. I can’t think of anything more wonderful.

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