Winter Ball 2022 – Interview with Gilbert Bolden III

2022 Winter Ball Rehearsals with Gilbert Bolden III
Mr. Bolden holding rehearsals with SAB students.

In March of 2020, SAB alumnus Gilbert Bolden III premiered his first ballet choreographed for the School’s annual Winter Ball, just days before the Coronavirus surge and a city-wide shutdown that led the School of American Ballet into an unprecedented period of holding remote classes over Zoom. It’s been two years, but the School is finally able to hold this event in person again, and Mr. Bolden will once again be choreographing the pièce d’occasion. We caught up with him during a recent rehearsal to hear about his new work and the process of choreographing for Winter Ball a second time.

“My first year, I was just really focused on making sure the piece was firstly entertaining, but also that it worked in the space. I had a lot of questions going into it, whereas everything just feels much more comfortable this time around. I know where the students are at, I know what to expect in terms of the event and how to prepare the students for the performance.”

A stunning highlight of the evening, the premiere of the new ballet is performed by current students and is always choreographed by alumni of SAB. The work is presented in the middle of the Promenade in the David H. Koch Theater, and provides guests with an instant view of the immense talent of SAB students, as well as that of the emerging choreographers who contribute the new ballet each year.

Mr. Bolden participated in several of SAB’s Student Choreography Workshops while training at the School, before joining New York City Ballet in 2018. He has since continued to choreograph and even managed to find an outlet for his choreography during the pandemic with a 16-minute dance film entitled Missed Connections. The film, made in collaboration with director and photographer Megan L.C. McNally, brought together dancers from NYCB (Laine Habony, Mira Nadon, Spartak Hoxha and Kennard Henson), American Ballet Theatre (Joseph Markey and Remy Young) and Miami City Ballet (Ella Titus and Adrienne Carter) for three weeks of summer intensive-style preparation that saw the dancers living and training together to comply with CDC guidelines.

When it came to revisiting choreography for SAB’s Winter Ball, Mr. Bolden was able to bring in his previous experience of creating work for the unique space.

“Making work that’s going to be seen on three sides as opposed to one, like in a proscenium theater, is always hard,” Bolden explained. “But I feel like now I understand the setting and everything that goes into it. That frees me up to really just focus on the movement. This year, I wanted the ballet to be a real celebration of dance and feel happy and joyous. The movement is really up – energetic and exciting.”

Winter Ball has long been SAB’s annual gala and a crucial fundraiser for the School. The Ball raises over $1 million for the School’s extensive scholarship program, which provides need-based awards to over 40% of the student body, and it also serves as an opportunity to honor important pillars of the School’s mission. Winter Ball 2022 will have special significance, honoring and celebrating the funders who championed the launch of SAB’s formal Diversity Initiative a decade ago and have provided transformative support for our pursuit of a diverse, equitable, and inclusive school community, including Carolyn Wright-Lewis and Ed Lewis and Darren Walker and the Ford Foundation.

Mr. Bolden’s music selection for his ballet is Concerto for Violin No. 9 in G Major, Opus 8 composed by Joseph Boulogne, the 18th-century composer also known as Chevalier de Saint-Georges, who was the illegitimate son of a wealthy French plantation owner and an enslaved African-Guadeloupean woman. Growing up and training in music in France, Boulogne’s compositions were critically and publically acclaimed during his life. In 1773, he became the concertmaster of the Concert des amateurs after François-Joseph Gossec and under Boulogne’s direction, the Concert des Amateurs orchestra became widely regarded as the best in France, if not all of Europe. But systematic racism during and after his life nearly caused all of Joseph Boulogne’s contributions to classical music to be lost completely.

“He’s a wickedly talented composer and classical violinist, and such a trailblazer for the time,” Mr. Bolden shared. “The first time I heard the piece, I knew this was it – this was what I wanted to choreograph for Winter Ball.”

See the premiere of this new ballet and join Event Chair Alyssa Tablada; Honorary Chairs Elisabeth M. Armstrong, Zita J. Ezpeleta and Barbara M. Vogelstein; Vice Chairs Amanda Brotman-Schetritt, Jessie Ding, Joshua Greene, Morgan Richardson, Rob Ross, and Stephanie Sharp for this celebratory evening on Monday, March 7.

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