Val Caniparoli is a busy guy these days. In San Francisco alone, he is rehearsing Smuin Ballet’s company premiere of his edgy and challenging Swipe for the company’s spring program and preparing the Diablo Ballet world premiere of Tears from Above. In addition, he is Principal Character Dancer at San Francisco Ballet, so is preparing for both the 2012 season and Nutcracker.
One of the most sought after American choreographers in the United States and abroad, Mr. Caniparoli has contributed to the repertoires of more than thirty-five dance companies, including Pacific Northwest Ballet, Boston Ballet, Northern Ballet Theatre, and San Francisco Ballet, his artistic home for over thirty years. His work ranges from full-length story ballets like the acclaimed Lady of the Camellias to his most performed work, Lambarena, set to music by Johann Sebastian Bach and traditional African rhythms and music, which is in the repertory of nineteen companies and has become an international sensation.
The following is the first part of the interview Mr. Caniparoli shared with California Literary Review. The second part will focus on his work with Smuin Ballet and will appear in conjunction with their spring program.
Dance Vine: Do you visit a dance company to assess its capabilities before you take on a project — especially the creation of a new ballet?
I usually do assess a dance company, especially if I’ve never seen them before or it’s been a while since I’ve observed them. It’s always good to try and schedule time when the company is performing as you get a better sense of individual dancers and how they perform onstage. You can’t always know if and how a dancer transforms onstage as opposed to their work in the rehearsal studio.
Other than the dancers’ technical ability levels, what are your other considerations when agreeing to work with a company?
All of this depends on what kind of work they want. For example is it a story ballet or purely an abstract work, the amount of dancers required, actual time available on the stage, the dancers’ technical abilities, strength of the music department (if there is to be live music), among others. There are so many different considerations, and many of them have to do with the creation they wish to perform.
Diablo Ballet is a small group. Did you have a plan for the work you crafted for this company?
This work has been entirely created on the dancers of Diablo Ballet. I did not come in with any preconceived ideas prior to working in the studio; they have been true collaborators on the creation of the ballet. It has been amazing working with them.
Just curious — have you created any work for modern dance companies?
A Door Is Ajar for the Ririe-Woodbury Dance Company in Salt Lake City.
You played musical instruments when you were in school. How has this informed your work?
Studying music and knowing how to read a score has been invaluable to me. It makes it easier to know every aspect of a score — not just hearing the obvious. Sometimes the subtle instrumentation is the most interesting; therefore, I am able to hear this and choreograph accordingly.
This weekend, Diablo Ballet will be debuting Mr. Caniparoli’s Tears from Above, set to music for two cellos by Australian composer Elena Kats-Chernin. Fluctuating Hemlines by Septime Webre and the West Coast premiere of Le Spectre de la Rose by Dominic Walsh round out the program.
Friday November 18 at 7:30 p.m.
Saturday, November 19 at 2:00 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.
Lesher Center for the Arts
1601 Civic Drive, Walnut Creek
Call 925.943.7469 for tickets or purchase online at
Former dancer, Geri Jeter, has been editing and writing for over fifteen years, writing on dance, food, music, NASCAR, technical theater, and Italian-American culture. For the past five years, she was the dance critic for the Las Vegas Weekly; in 2007 Nevada Ballet Theatre presented her with the Above and Beyond award. Now living in San Francisco, Geri is excited about covering the entire scope of West Coast dance. You can read more of her dance writing at her blog Dance Blitz (www.dance-blitz.com) and follow her Las Vegas and San Francisco restaurant reviews at DishKebab (www.dishkebab.com).