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The 'punk ballerina' brings ‘Bitches Brew’ to Boston Ballet

Karole Armitage adds her touch to "Mirrors."

Karole Armitage, known as the “punk ballerina” for her signature style that pushes the bounds of classical ballet, is introducing gunmetal lycra costumes and rock ’n’ roll influences to Boston Ballet this May with the world premiere of “Bitches Brew.” The piece is one of several works in “Mirrors,” the assemblage of contemporary works that will finish Boston Ballet’s 2015-2016 season.

Armitage combines her classical ballet training with contemporary influences to create a genre that she terms “hard rock ballet.” Her repertoire of choreography ranges from the Broadway musical “Hair” to music videos for Michael Jackson and Madonna to work for her own company, Armitage Gone! Dance.

“It’s got the raw, visceral drive of rock ’n’ roll, the eroticism of rock ’n’ roll, the intensity of rock ’n’ roll, but the poetry and virtuosity and refinement of traditional classical dance,” she says of her style.

“Bitches Brew,” set to Miles Davis’s album of the same name, focuses on the tension between form and formlessness that Armitage has grappled with in developing her own style. It features 15 dancers en pointe, eight of whom are soloists or, as Armitage calls them, “spices” that help make up a “rich stew.” One of the prominent roles in “Bitches Brew” is the seeker, who is trying to understand and navigate the world around her.

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“The music is both incredibly refined and delicate and volcanic and ferocious – real swings and contradictions throughout,” she explains. “I wanted to make a piece that feels as spontaneous as improvisation, since of course jazz is to a great extent improvised, and yet also have really great form.”

Armitage compares adapting to her style to learning to speak a new language. Boston Ballet dancers are learning to move in entirely different ways for her choreography – one pair of dancers intertwine via the ballerina’s hair, rather than her hand.

“This is funky and democratic – this is the modern world,” says Armitage. “I tried to make movement that has a different geometry. It’s got more curves, it’s got more levels. Things are happening simultaneously, everyone’s as important as everyone else on stage.”

Armitage’s many and high profile projects throughout her career have all contributed to her goal of discovering her own unique style. She says that working with Michael Jackson in particular was “a hoot,” as when he didn’t get to choose his dance partner he retaliated by not showing up for a performance for the higher-ups at Sony until 4 a.m.

Armitage incorporates many of her own life experiences into her choreography, but also finds inspiration in theories about time and space such as quantum mechanics. She studies physics in her spare time and channels these scientific ideas into her dancing.

She hopes that audiences will be struck by the beauty of life after seeing “Bitches Brew” and appreciate its intricacy.

“Consciousness is a complicated mixture of observing and emotions and analysis and blank spots — I [hope they will] embrace the complexity of life,” she says.

If you go
Boston Ballet's "Mirrors"
Through May 28
Boston Opera House
539 Washington St, Boston
Tickets start at $35

www.bostonballet.org, 617-695-6955.

 
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