Three Original Ballets Break New Ground in Program 2

How do you follow the frothy fun of “Follies of 1915?” If you’re Marigny Opera Ballet, you do something that challenges and stretches the ability of your dancers and choreographers.

No performing arts group in the region takes the risks involved in presenting original material that Director Dave Hurlbert and his team do. And that’s the essence of Program 2, opening its four performance run Thursday, January 17. Ambitious, edgy and diverse, the program of three original ballets spotlights work by three choreographers, two of whom are dancers setting works to the ballet for the first time.

Audiences –no children under 18, please — can also anticipate a commissioned score by Byron Asher, a rare performance of an Arnold Schonberg avant-garde composition, and one ballet that’s accompanied by a concert pianist. “No doubt about it,” says director Dave Hurlbert, “Program 2 is difficult to categorize. I’d say overall, though, that it’s an evening for adults. Not the confection that ‘Follies of 1915’ was, but it’s a supremely beautiful—and challenging program.”

To open the evening, dancer Derwin May Jr. is choreographing the three-part “Gottschalk Suite” by New Orleans-born Créole composer Louis Moreau Gottschalk (1829-1869). Featuring accompaniment by concert pianist Katalin Lukacs “Pasquinade” and “Bamboula,”are rooted in old Creole melodies. And, then there’s “Grande Tarantelle,” Gottschalk’s take on a Southern Italian folk dance that actually gained new popularity mid-century as “Tarantella,” a ballet created by iconic New York City Ballet co-founder and ballet master George Balanchine.

To Marigny Opera Ballet newcomer Rebecca Allen, Hurlbert assigned “the very difficult challenge of capturing the essence of one of the monuments of 20th century avant-garde music – Arnold Schoenberg’s “Pierrot Lunaire, Opus 21.” Allen, a New Orleans native whose career in dance took her to Nashville in 2001, is now back home, pursuing a graduate degree at Tulane and exploring the intersection of visual arts and dance.

Rarely performed, “Pierrot” is composed for a chamber group and singer in the sprechstimme mode, partly sung and partly spoken. In three sections of seven verses translated from French to German, the ballet depicts the famous commedia d’ell arte clown’s encounters with love, sex, religion, crime, violence and, ultimately, death.

Third-season dancer Joshua Bell leads the cast in the bravura role famously played by Rudolph Nureyev. Acclaimed Soprano Phyllis Treigle is on board to interpret the signature sung/spoken dialogue, with the New Resonance Chamber Ensemble conducted by Francis Scully.

Is “Pierrot Lunaire” too much of a stretch for New Orleans audiences? Hurlbert thinks not and so agrees with the critic who said “rule one is not to worry about the sung/spoken words” that there are no lyrics in the program or projections on walls. In other words, let the music and movement transport you.

For the center piece of “Program 2,” Hurlbert commissioned a bold, new work by frequent collaborator Byron Asher that’s based on the then scandalous 1947 novel “Querelle of Brest” by Jean Genet. Asher, who is known to audiences for his work with Nutria and last season’s Jazz Ballets, developed the score during a residency at The Barn Arts Collective in Tremont, ME this summer.

“Querelle” choreographer Diogo de Lima is also well known to Marigny Opera Ballet audiences. “He’s choreographed a good number of award-winning ballets for us over the years: ‘Salterelle,’ ‘Wary Heat,’ ‘Aguas de Dezembro,’ among others,” Hurlbert says. For the murderous sailor Charles Querelle, Hurlbert and de Lima tapped Edward Spots, known for soaring leaps and jumps in eight previous productions.

Always edgy and controversial, Jean Genet’s novels and plays generally focus on outcasts — drug dealers, pimps, thieves, murderers, sexual deviants and others who are somehow alienated from conventional society. Sailors, men alone at sea with other men for long periods, are often seen as metaphors for homosexuality. Interestingly, Genet’s work includes an unfinished ballet “Adame Miroir,” which also has a sailor as the protagonist.

Although there is no nudity in Querelle, Hurlbert advises that the content is not suited to children under 18.

Members of the Marigny Opera Ballet Company include Kellis McSparrin-Oldenburg, Gretchen Erickson, Lauren Guynes, Edward Spots, Derwin May Jr., Donovan Davis, Lauren Ashlee Messina, Aaron Wiggins, Meredith Pennison and Arden McKee (Apprentice). Jarina Carvalho Taylor is the company’s Ballet Master; McSparrin-Oldenburg serves as Rehearsal Director in addition to dancing and choreography assignments. Set design is by Steve Schepker, with lighting by Lydia Kolda. Costumes are by Laura Sirkin-Brown. Photography is by Bobby Bonsey.

Program 2 performances are scheduled at the Marigny Opera House, 725 St. Ferdinand St., Thursday, Jan. 17 and Sunday, Jan. 20 at 7 pm; Friday and Saturday Jan. 18-19 at 8pm. Tickets $45/$32 (students and seniors) are available at at the door. Additional information:


Lauren Guynes on Follies of 1915

The Q&A with Lauren Guynes
Dancer, Follies of 1915

Lauren Guynes returns to her third season with the Marigny Opera Ballet as Violet in Follies of 1915.

She holds a BFA in Dance Performance and Choreography from the University of Southern Mississippi, where she choreographed and performed with the Repertory Dance Company. Guynes continues to perform as a guest artist with Hub Dance Collective in Hattiesburg, MS. She has performed HDC’s works at RADFest in Kalamazoo, MI, Dixon Place and DUMBO Dance Festival in New York, and the Chicago Harvest Dance Festival.

In this retelling of “Twelfth Night” by Dave Hurlbert and Ricky Graham, you play a twin separated in a shipwreck who ends up instigating the whole crazy comedy of errors that is Follies of 1915. What’s Violet like? What do you see in her that’s relatable to your own life?

Violet is such a fun character — she’s ambitious, strong, intelligent, playful and even a little bit mischievous. She has grown up with her twin brother, Vincent, so I feel like she has no problem hanging with the boys.

What I love is that I am able to draw inspiration from my own relationship with my older brother. We grew up challenging, teasing, supporting and loving each other. I feel like Violet and Vincent’s relationship is similar because while they are so playful with each other, they also really care for one another. And, they have undeniable bond as twins, even after being separated at sea.

I love that Violet refuses to take no for an answer when she is rejected for a job that she auditions for as a woman. She is not defeated. Instead, she decides to put on a tux and disguise herself as Vincent to land the same job she was denied as a woman. I approach it as ‘OK boys, I see your game and I’m here to play and win.’

You have an intensely physical role in Follies that requires you to transition from girl to boy to girl. What’s it like to lift a dancer much taller than you?

Lifting Lauren Ashlee Messina is not difficult at all. Many lifts often consist of weight-sharing and/or counter-balancing, so gender and size really aren’t the most important components. We’re able to negotiate verbally and physically (a trial and error of sorts) with each other to create and present successful partnering.

The company dances together about twenty hours each week, so we are all very in tune with one another. We learn, share, and grow as artists together every day.

What role does dance play in your life? What does being a member of Marigny Opera Ballet mean to you?

Dance is a major part of who I am. It’s not an easy field, but it is so rewarding to put in the hours of practice and have the opportunity to share what I love so much with an audience. I’ve been performing, choreographing and teaching for the past ten years, and I hope to continue for many, many more.

Marigny Opera Ballet is really something special to me. It’s rare to have the ability to practice and perform as often as we do, especially in our region. I feel extremely lucky and grateful to be a part of this company where I get to do what I love every day with truly incredible artists.

We all come from different backgrounds in dance, so we each have unique qualities that blend together to create something beautiful.

A Q&A with Kellis McSparrin Oldenburg

The Q&A with Kellis McSparrin Oldenburg
Choreographer, Follies of 1915

Currently in her fourth season dancing with the Marigny Opera Ballet, McSparrin Oldenburg serves as a dancer, choreographer and rehearsal director. She has choreographed two works for the company in past seasons — “Ain’t She Sweet?” (March 2016) and “Tells” (January 2018). As a choreographer, she imagines herself as a storyteller, whose work is infused with theatrical elements and an amalgam of the diverse dance styles, techniques from her career.

The Clinton, MS native received her Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Dance from the University of Southern Mississippi in 2010. Following her undergraduate studies, she moved to New York City to pursue her master’s degree in dance at New York University, graduating from Tisch School of the Arts with a Master of Fine Arts in 2012.

At what point in the “Follies” development process did you become involved? Did you interface with Dave Hurlbert on music selection or scenario? How involved are you in costume and set design?

Pretty early on. Dave approached me about a year ago asking if I’d be interested in choreographing the first program for Marigny Opera Ballet’s fifth season. I have choreographed twice before for the company: one 7-minute piece and one 20-minute piece. When he told me it would be a full-length story ballet, I was definitely intrigued. When he told me it would be loosely based on Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night,” I was all in.

The music and scenario were outlined prior to starting my choreography but has since become a collaborative project. Though the outline had been set, my choreography begins as an interpretation of Dave’s vision, and is continually evolving as we bring the story to life. It’s been exciting and gratifying to see all the pieces of the puzzle (costumes, story, set design, music, and choreography) come together.

Were you familiar with New Leviathan before Follies?

I had definitely heard of them, but I’d never had the pleasure of hearing them perform live. The first time I heard the music for Follies, I knew I was going to thoroughly enjoy choreographing to it.

What are some of the dance styles in Follies and how do you research them?

Follies is set in the year 1915, which was a time when the social dance craze swept American. Dances like the foxtrot, the tango, the two-step, the hesitation waltz and the Castle walk were all the rage thanks to Vernon and Irene Castle, as well as other dancing masters of the time. Unfortunately, there isn’t a ton of footage from that time period, so I relied heavily on written dance history.

The beautiful thing about those dance styles is that, while they have evolved over time, their basic steps are pretty much the same today as they were 100 years ago. So, I explored a lot of current ballroom dance forms as physical contextual research and then combined that information with what I had read and gathered about social dance in 1915. There are also some balletic, contemporary, jazz and musical theatre elements within the choreography that I think will appeal to a present-day audience while honoring the history and period of Follies of 1915.

From what I remember of Twelfth Night, the story line is involved and complicated. What’s your approach to the story? Are you channeling Balanchine and de-emphasizing plot and letting dance be the star of the show?

As much as I admire Balanchine as a choreographer, with a story like “Twelfth Night,” there isn’t really a way of de-emphasizing the plot. The plot IS the backbone of the ballet. I told my dancers this on the first day of rehearsal: the main question I will be asking myself throughout the choreographic process is “Am I telling the story?”. Whether the movement is more full-bodied during big dancing moments or more gestural during the dramatic, plot-carrying moments, I always strive to tell the story.

What are five things the audience should look for in Follies of 1915?

1. Some incredible dancing. This ballet would not be what it is without the amazing talent I get to work with every day. I’m so thankful for each and every dancer in the Marigny Opera Ballet.
2. Pay close attention to the smaller, gestural movements; the big movements are awe-inspiring, but the gestures help tell the story.
3. This is less of a “look” and more of a “listen.” I find the music to movement relationship to be vital to the success of a choreographic work, so I have worked very hard to make sure that the two are melded in Follies. Therefore, I encourage the audience to “see” the music and “hear” the dancing.
4. Unlike some ballets that have a single main character, I feel like every character in Follies has a unique quality, personality and vitality to the story and movement.
5. Follies is a comedy (the first comedy in Marigny Opera Ballet’s full-length repertoire). I encourage the audience to laugh out loud, chuckle and enjoy themselves!

Gretchen Erickson on Giselle Deslondes

The award winning production from 2016 is back for a three performance run beginning Friday, March 23 at Marigny Opera House

“To dance the title role is an immense challenge.”

In her third season with Marigny Opera Ballet, Gretchen Erickson choreographed “Silk and Smoke,” one of three jazz ballets that premiered in January and plunged head first into rehearsals for the title role in the much anticipated encore of “Giselle Deslondes.”

Like other ballet companies that double and sometimes triple cast the principal roles in the classical “Giselle,” Marigny Opera Ballet has two Giselles – Kellis Mc Sperrin Oldenburg, who created the role in 2016 and Erickson, who appeared as Julia and the Bokor in the inaugural production.

It’s a rigorous and demanding role, one that also calls for Erickson to appear as Julia in the Friday and Sunday performances and McSparrin Oldenburg to dance Julia on Saturday night.

What are the physical requirements of a role like “Giselle Deslondes”?
It has been a wonderful and rewarding challenge, dancing the role of Giselle in this season’s production of Maya Taylor’s “Giselle Deslondes.”  Her choreography is physically hard —demanding both strong ballet and contemporary techniques. The role requires the dancer to have the strength to preform technically difficult turns and jumps while maintaining the freedom of the spine to evoke a sense of abandonment of classical lines.

The role also pushes you to merge technique with dramatic interpretation. I love acting, and I find a great sense of release telling a story while dancing.  The role pushes you to experience a whirlwind of emotions from all-encompassing love to intense anger and sadness until Giselle finally goes mad and overcome with her heart condition and dies.

When Simone Messmer danced the role of Giselle with Miami City Ballet she said, “it was one of the first times as a ballerina that I let everything go and did not question where I was.” It is so true. When I am in the moment and my emotions are high, I have a sense of freedom from worrying about whether or not my technique is perfect. I am able to reach a state of flow in my performance where I am actually almost unaware of where my body is. . . .  it is just moving. For me, being able to reach that state is the most rewarding aspect of dance. It’s what I strive for in every performance.”

What kind of research did you do? You talked about the physicality of the choreography, but how did you go about accessing the emotional core of the role?

In order to prepare emotionally for the role, I have done a lot of thinking and reminiscing on times in my life where I have felt the way Giselle does. The ballet moves quickly, so being able to access and trigger those emotions honestly on stage requires some soul searching.

Balanchine called “Giselle” the Hamlet of ballet. Does your approach to “Giselle Deslondes” differ from Kellis’s?  How? 

I think “Giselle” has been compared to Hamlet because people come to see the show to see the different interpretations of the same story. Every dancer dances it differently and brings their own interpretation of the emotional drama.

Kellis and I (while often mistaken for the same person) dance differently and express feelings differently, so while the choreography is the same, our interpretation of the movement and emotions through our bodies is very different.

About Gretchen Erickson

Erickson’s training provides the physical and emotion center of her Giselle, beginning with work with Carol Angin at Louisiana Dance Theatre and performances at Regional Dance America Festivals, Jazz Dance World Congress, and the Tanzsommer Festival in Austria and Germany.

Additional training came from the Pennsylvania Youth Ballet and the Joffery Ballet School in New York.  A scholarship to the BFA program at New World School of the Arts led to dancing with Of Moving Colors Contemporary Dance Company.

In 2014, Erickson received a Leverhulme grant for further postgraduate study at Trinity Laban Conservatoire in London, where she graduated with a Masters of Dance Performance. She’s also performed with Transitions Dance Company dancing works by Bawren Tavaziva, Zoi Dimitriou and Miguel Pereira throughout the UK and internationally.

She is also a Pilates teacher at Romney Pilates and a ballet teacher at New Orleans School of Ballet.

Performances are scheduled at the Marigny Opera House, 725 St. Ferdinand St. on Friday, Mar. 23, Saturday, Mar. 24, at 8pm, and Sunday Mar. 25  at 7 p.m. Tickets $40/$25 (students and seniors) are available at or at the door. Additional information:






Shaken, not stirred — Marigny Opera Ballet Is Serving Up “Christmas Cocktails”

A holiday celebration of three dances opens December 1


When you start out with a vision of each dance as a cocktail, it doesn’t take long for things to get merry. And, that’s just what Company Director Dave Hurlbert has in mind.  He’s envisioned Marigny Opera Ballet’s second production of the season as pure fun — a lighthearted break from the dramatic intensity of the recent “Book of Saints” and last season’s powerful “Orefo.”

Two “cocktails” — Diversorios and I Was told there’d Be Cake — are reprises from 2015’s “Christmas Concerto.”  In fact, choreographer Nikki Hefko uses Arcangelo Corelli’s “Christmas Concerto” as the music for Diversorios, which is meant to evoke an Italian Christmas crèche – a scene where villagers become pilgrims visiting the Holy Family.   “We decided to bookend this dance with new works that would serve as contrasts, while also retaining a sense of continuity for the evening,” Hurlbert continues.

Choreographer Maritza Mercado-Narcisse is using another orchestral work from the same period as the Corelli: a concerto grosso by George Frederick Handel. “The contrast,” says Hurlbert, “is that although the music is from the 18th century, it is inimitably English. There is a sprightly formality to it, where the Corelli is characterized by its melodic poignancy.”  Truth told, Mercado-Narcisse’s ballet is as far as you can get from the delicacy of Diversorios. Her work, I Was Told There’d Be Cake, is set at a New Orleans holiday cocktail party. Old friends flirt, have too much to drink, and celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah and Kwanza in a lovely synthesis of the holidays.

For a real change of pace, Hurlbert is tossing into the mix the world premiere of original work based on Brazilian Christmas music. But don’t expect dances to quaint, unfamiliar folk tunes from composer Larry Sieberth and choreographer Diogo de Lima. Brazil has no indigenous holiday music – just variations on standard American songs and carols.  And, since Christmas falls at the height of the summer, Brazilians find themselves dancing to holiday music with a lively Brazilian beat— at beach parties. Aguas de Dezembro is one new dance in Hurlbert’s flight of cocktails that promises to be a show-stopper.

What else is in store for Marigny Opera Ballet attendees? “ Our audience always looks forward to the performances of veteran dancers Kellis McSparrin-Oldenburg, Gretchen Erickson, John Bozeman, Joshua Bell and Lauren Guynes, “ Hurlbert says. “I would think audiences will still be getting to know the dancers who are new to the company this season: Edward Spots, Niklas Nelson, Derwin May Jr., and Lauren Ashlee Small –as well as our two apprentices who will be performing: Kentro Mason and Sarah Noelle Prescott.”

Performances of “Christmas Cocktails” are scheduled at the Marigny Opera House, 725 St. Ferdinand St. on Friday, December 1- Sunday, December 3. Tickets $40/$25 (students and seniors) are available at  or at the door. Additional information:



Three Saints in Two Acts

Dancing the Lives of Sts. Teresa, Sebastian and Francis

By the time  the avant-garde opera “Four Saints in Three Acts “opened in 1934, Gertrude Stein had expanded its cast to more than 20 saints and added an extra act.

Prepping for the Friday October 6th opening of his Book of Saints ballet, producer and librettist Dave Hurlbert is holding the Marigny Opera Ballet world premiere production to a scant three saints in two acts, along with three supporting seraphs or seraphim.

As Church of the Arts, Marigny Opera House regularly presents contemporary and classical religious music. Even so, Book of Saints is something of a passion project for Hurlbert and collaborators — composer Tucker Brooks, choreographer Teresa Fellion and conductor Francis Scully.

“You can’t work here and not be inspired by the space itself — the oldness, the sacredness, the indelible connection to the parish and the community, “Hurlbert says. “Our mission as a church is to celebrate the arts as a common spiritual bond among all people.”

Book of Saints, which opens Marigny Opera Ballet’s fourth season, is its most ambitious production to date, and features the New Resonance Chamber Orchestra together with the 8-singer vocal ensemble Krewe de Voix under the direction of Paul Weber.

Acclaimed New Orleans composer Tucker Fuller’s original score is a cantata – a narrative piece of music for voices with instrumental accompaniment. The ballet opens and ends with the Litany of Saints from the Latin Mass, a formal prayer of the Roman Catholic Church.

The lyrics for the music accompanying St. Teresa are two pieces of her writing, in her native Spanish: “Remember that you have only one soul…” and “Let nothing disturb you…” St. Sebastian’s lyrics are drawn from contemporary accounts of persecution under the Roman Emperor Diocletian (303 AD). The Act One music for St. Francis is based on an Italian madrigal of the 13th century, “Diana was not more pleasing to her lover…” in Act Two, a prayer attributed to St. Francis is used, “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.”

In addition to providing opportunities for local composers and musicians, Hurlbert’s employment of well-known New York choreographer Teresa Fellion is evidence of his longstanding commitment to provide opportunities for growth and enrichment within the ballet company.

Book of Saints will be presented at the Marigny Opera House (725 St. Ferdinand Street, New Orleans) on October 6th and 7th at 8pm, and on Sunday October 8th at 7pm. Tickets are available online now at .


Season 4 – First Look

A winning mix of past season favorites, new works and newcomers

In 2014 the Marigny Opera House became home to the city’s only professional resident dance company offering a full season of performances. Now, three seasons later, Marigny Opera Ballet continues to raise the bar for regional dance companies.

Capping three successful seasons of sold-out performances, Marigny Opera Ballet impresario Dave Hurlbert is launching the 2017/18 season with such signature elements as world premieres, original, commissioned music, edgy choreography and stellar dancers.  And, that’s just for starters.

“Book of Saints”

A new full-length ballet inspired by the lives of three saints – Theresa of Avila, Francis of Assisi and Sebastian Marty – will feature an original score composed by Tucker Fuller with musical direction by Francis Scully. (Both Fuller and Scully have been associated with Marigny Opera House for the past five years.)

Although Hurlbert remains focused on local and regional choreographers, he’s tapped New Yorker Teresa Fellion for “Book of Saints,” which runs Oct. 6-8.  Fellion’s work , says Donald K. Atwood in World Dance Reviews,  is “conceptually brave,” exploring “borders that are invisible and political, and those people find when they cross them, such as ‘metaphorical borders’ in language, culture, and class. “

 “Christmas Cocktails

“Christmas Cocktails” is a holiday confection choreographed by Diogo de Lima, with music composed and performed by New Orleans jazz artist Larry Sieberth,  “I Was Told There’d Be Cake”  choreographed by Maritza Mercado-Narcisse (Gambit Award Winner, 2015) and   Diversorios set to Arcangelo Corelli’s beloved Christmas Concerto choreographed by Nikki Hefko.  Performances are Dec. 1-3.

“Made in New Orleans” and “Giselle Deslondes”

Following last season’s “The Art of Jazz” is “Made in New Orleans – Jazz Ballets” scheduled to run Jan. 26-28, 2018.  Choreographer and jazz artists will be announced Oct. 6, 2017.

“Giselle Deslondes,” the sold out success from last season, returns Mar. 23-25, 2018, reprises Maya Taylor’s choreography and Tucker Fuller’s score. This retelling of the classic Giselle (1841) is set in the Faubourg Marigny of the 1930s.  It will again feature musical direction by Francis Scully and the New Resonance Orchestra.

Season Subscriptions

A subscription to all four programs is just $140 General/ $90 Students and Seniors (65+). Subscribers enjoy lower ticket prices as well as reserved seating for all performances. Click here for online sales.

New to the Company

Newcomers and new roles characterize Season Four. Bringing this deliberately eclectic season to life are Jarina Carvalho, rehearsal director, Kellis McSparrin-Oldenburg, assistant rehearsal director, new dancers Nik Nelson and Derwin May, Jr. and apprentices Lauren Ashlee Small and Kentro Mason, Jr.  McSparrin-Oldenberg has danced lead and supporting roles at Marigny Opera Ballet for three seasons. Look for additional information and photos of the ballet company and rehearsal team in subsequent blog postings!

Ballet Music: A Second Fiddle?

In ballet, music is almost always second fiddle, necessarily subservient to choreography. So, why then are pop composers as diverse as Paul McCartney, Elvis Costello and the Pet Shop Boys composing ballet scores?  Is ballet music finally getting some respect?

Yes but. There’s also another trend that sees ballet companies reviving classical works and tweaking everything but the score. Setting “Giselle” in a Polish concentration camp as the Northern Ballet Company did in 1990 only sounds disruptive. The alterations were largely superficial, with the production retaining most of the original choreography and the 1841 Adolphe Adam score.

“The thing about it is – ever since Tchaikovsky first elevated the ballet music beyond simply being musical noodlings to provide an agreeable accompaniment for dancers – the relationship between choreographers and composers has become such a dynamic and fertile meeting place, that it’s given rise to some of most challenging musical works of the modern era.”  That’s the perspective of Max Richter, writing in Q Magazine three years ago.

Richter views the 1913 version of Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring as the seminal event in the development of contemporary ballet music. “From here ballet music splintered into many directions from Prokofiev to Ravel and Copland – but at its core it has remained a space for innovative thinking – take for instance John Cage’s collaborative experiments with Merce Cunningham and Philip Glass’ works with Lucinda Childs.


Unlocking the Choreographer’s Brain | Classic, Contemporary Music

In a 2015 interview, director Dave Hurlbert admitted that his aesthetic is far from the world of tutus and toe shoes. “I would say we’re a classically trained ballet company performing in a modern idiom. In our inaugural season, we produced nine new works ranging from a fresh look at Vivaldi’s ‘The Four Seasons’ to a work set to ‘Blast,’ street music by the Young Fellaz.”

No surprise then that It took Marigny Opera Ballet less than a season to begin commissioning scores by Louisiana composers as well as original choreography to iconic classics like “Orfeo” and “Giselle” (aka “Giselle Deslondes”).

“I’d wanted to produce a version of Monteverdi’s ‘L’Orfeo’ for years,” Hurlbert said. “I made a new translation of the 1609 libretto, hoping to stage an English language version of the original work. Eventually it hit me — the Marigny Opera Ballet could dance the opera, at least the story, and so I streamlined the libretto into a two-act scenario for ballet.”

Next, he paired composer Fuller and choreographer Maya Taylor with conductor Francis Scully and the New Resonance Orchestra, with all three working together to realize the story of the demigod Orpheus, his love for Eurydice and the tragedy they encounter.

“Writing for ballet is hard, “acknowledges composer Fuller, who has scored “Orfeo,” “Giselle Deslondes” and other ballets. Not a dancer himself, he relies on imagination and is always curious to see if what he’s imagining aligns with Maya’s vision. All the same, his own creative process is straightforward. “I take the scenario and parcel it into numbers and scenes. From there, I start writing and imagining what the dance might be like and how much time it might take. . . .  I then sit down with Dave and Maya to talk through how I visualize everything happening. I come up with a blueprint. Then, when Maya starts working with the choreography, she might say ‘this section is a little long’ or ‘can you add a couple of bars here. ‘ ”

It’s a collaboration based on mutual respect.

“I worked with Maya on last year’s ‘Orfeo.’  She’s disciplined and focused. No waiting around for the muse to strike, if you know what I mean. Maya’s also very thoughtful. We click very well when we’re talking about character and motivation.”

“It’s fun, too, because Maya and Dave will sometimes see something or will have an idea about how to do something. So, it’s a real collaboration.”

Fuller composed “Orfeo” for four violins, two violas, cello, bass, flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon and harp, the instrument most closely related to Orpheus’ lyre.  “The score that Tucker created is a mix of contemporary and classical,” Taylor said. “And so, with his score, I’ve been able to play with the elements of ballet and modern together, which has been a great challenge as a choreographer.”

“Tucker has his very specific style of composing and music, which is really beautiful and intricate,” Taylor continued. “I was really inspired by it. … My brain unlocked when I heard his music, and anytime I got stuck, I would just listen to it over and over and over again. And it was really, really fun.”

“Orfeo” returns for three encore performances beginning on April 14th.


“ORFEO” 2015

From Marigny Opera Ballet delivers an ardent, reimagined ‘Orfeo’ (10/2/2015)

“This is no hypermodern rejection of tradition. Nor does it need to be. Instead, she [Taylor] imbues a piece customarily filtered through the literal voices of opera (Gluck and especially Monteverdi) with an alternate imperative that is potentially no less compelling.

In this respect, Fuller’s music acts as a kind of reference point in which listeners, aided here by a just‑plush‑enough church acoustic, are themselves teased, charmed, and, once in a while, hurled into what is unfolding in front of them.

The score, played by an accomplished 13‑member string/woodwind chamber orchestra conducted by Francis Scully, is by necessity in service to the dancers ‑‑ and its intrinsic vitality does very well in that regard. Still, there’s quite a bit more to absorb, particularly in how Fuller manages to evoke a Baroque pastoral sensibility (double reeds, most colorfully), constructed with just enough angularity to remind us how the relationship between Orpheus and Eurydice can veer suddenly from bliss into catastrophe.

-Andrew Adler

“Orfeo” Redux: What to Expect

If you were lucky enough to see Marigny Opera Ballet’s amazing “Orfeo” last season, you may well wonder if the reprise can recapture the magic of the original.

Choreographer Maya Taylor, composer Tucker Fuller, conductor Francis Scully and producer Dave Hurlbert are betting that it can. Having three new dancers in the cast is allowing them to see the “Orfeo”  with fresh eyes, inspiring some tweaks within the work that make it even stronger.

Four dancers from last season’s critically acclaimed “Orfeo” are back to reprise their roles – Kellis McSparrin Oldenburg, Gretchen Erickson, Ashlie Russell, and John Bozeman. According to Taylor, “Gretchen will be sharing the role of Proserpina with Kellis in Act II and Ashlie will be stepping into the role of one of Eurydice’s friends in Act I alongside her incredible work as a Shade in Act II.”

New to “Orfeo” are leads Joshua Bell and Lauren Guynes who joined the company at the beginning of this season. “I love what they are doing with their roles as Orfeo and Eurydice. They are beautiful, powerful artists who portray their characters in the most open, honest and heartbreaking way.” Taylor says.

As for guest artist Edward Spots — double cast as the Serpent and Pluto – “he absolutely blows me away every time he steps on stage. I’ve added more choreography to his roles as I want to see him dance as much as possible.”

Although most of the choreography remains the same, Taylor says that she’s added more technically demanding movement. “I learn so much from every work I choreograph and reworking some of this movement has definitely allowed me to push the movement and the dancers to a new and exciting place.”


Performances of “Orfeo” are scheduled at the Marigny Opera House, 725 St. Ferdinand St. on Friday, Apr. 14- Sunday Apr. 16. Tickets $35/$25 (students and seniors) are available at or at the door. Additional information:






Maya Taylor on the Bittersweetness of “Orfeo”

Maya Taylor has been instrumental to the phenomenal success of the Marigny Opera Ballet, serving as its Rehearsal Director for the company’s first three seasons, and as choreographer of some of the Ballet’s most important works, including the full-length contemporary ballets, “Orfeo” and “Giselle Deslondes.” Now, at the end of a highly successful and active three years, she has decided to step down from her position as Rehearsal Director, in order to pursue new opportunities as a choreographer.

I asked Ms. Taylor to share some of her thoughts and feelings about her work, past, present and future, and she graciously obliged.

“Orfeo” is bittersweet, as it is my final show with Marigny Opera Ballet,” she said. “Since I will be stepping down as Rehearsal Director and resident choreographer on April 16th, I have been soaking up every minute of my time with these beautiful and talented dancers. I wouldn’t be where I am today without each and every one of them.


“Marigny Opera Ballet has been an incredible opportunity for me for the past three seasons. I have grown both professionally and personally through each production and have had the honor to work with incredible dancers who have challenged me to be the best director and choreographer I could possibly be.


“As I start this next chapter in my professional career, to focus solely on choreographing and collaborating, I look forward to continuing to make an impact in the New Orleans arts community and beyond.”