Sunday, February 19, 2006
The following article by Larry Getlen appeared in today’s (2/19) edition of the New York Post:
February 19, 2006 — Ballet Deviare dumps the ‘Nutcracker’ for headbanger METALHEAD Andrew Carpenter and his ballerina love, Laura Kowalewski, used to laugh about one day forming a hard-rock ballet company. But in their hearts, they knew it was more than a joke.
“I used to pick her up from ballet class,” recalls Carpenter. “I remember her taking off her shoes and seeing the blisters, the blood and the scabs. I couldn’t think of anything more metal.”
Now, their one-time jest has become reality. In the face of joblessness, poverty and the threat of eviction, the pair’s utterly unique troupe, Ballet Deviare, will dance to the music of Opeth, one of the world’s most highly acclaimed progressive-metal bands, as the opening act this Thursday at Town Hall.
The pair formed Ballet Deviare in 2003, after Kowalewski, who has performed with the Sarasota Ballet and choreographed for the Boston Conservatory, grew bored with ballet’s traditions.
“After a while, doing the same ‘Nutcracker’ to Tchaikovsky, it’s like, when is this gonna end?” says Kowalewski, who met Carpenter 12 years ago at Northeastern University in a class called the Politics of Violence and Revolution, and moved in with him two weeks later. In ballet, she says, “There’s no artistic freedom to go beyond. With metal, you can take it a lot further.”
The first time Kowalewski combined graceful jet?s with gutteral grunts, she danced to “Deliverance” by Opeth, Swedish rockers whose latest release, “Ghost Reveries,” landed at No.64 on the Billboard charts. She found that the band’s complex, eclectic rhythms and melodies gave ballet a fresh jolt.
“With the qualities Opeth brings, it was like dancing to classical,” says Kowalewski. “It was compositionally and emotionally complex, and it felt natural.”
According to Carpenter, Ballet Deviare is liberating for dancers used to the rigidity of the classical ballet world.
“For the dancers, this is a breath of fresh air,” he says. “We don’t push our dancers, and we don’t have weight standards. If anything, we make our dancers eat. We’re the only dance company who shows up with brownies to rehearsal.”
The couple, who both have master’s degrees in sociology and work various jobs – including teaching classes at Borough of Manhattan Community College to make ends meet – applied for grants and approached potential investors. But they came up virtually empty, securing less than $1,000 in cash donations.
They performed in December, 2004, at an 85-seat theater in SoHo, funding it mostly out of pocket. That show sold out, and after an investor for a hoped-for performance in Poughkeepsie fell through, they sold out three nights at the 59E59 Theater last month, filling 185 seats each night and selling merchandise on the Web to help fund the show.
The performance featured music from bands including Opeth, My Dying Bride and Arsis, and in the audience that night was Jamie Roberts, an executive at Opeth‘s record label, Roadrunner Records.
“I thought it was terrific, and a lot less stuffy than I expected ballet to be,” says Roberts. “I thought, we’ve got to get them involved in Opeth‘s New York performance. It’s gonna blow people’s minds!”
Also excited about the show is Mikael Akerfeldt, Opeth‘s singer, guitarist and songwriter.
“I wanna see them,” says Akerfeldt. “I don’t know anything about ballet, but I like the fact that our songs are reaching into areas you wouldn’t expect. Metal and ballet is not a combination I would come up with.”
But with their biggest show to date on the horizon, the troupe’s greatest challenge may be forging ahead. Kowalewski was recently fired from a management job in the service industry because of the time she spends on the dance company. And the couple, neither of whom have health insurance, are facing eviction from their Queens apartment after falling three months behind in their rent.
While their next move is uncertain, their dedication means that no matter what the future brings, their mission of shedding the cobwebs of the ballet scene with an charge of metal will proceed.
“The ballet world is very rigid and not open to change,” says Kowalewski. “It’s an art form that has stagnated in a bubble, and the bubble needs to be popped.”