Program 5 at San Francisco Ballet opens Thursday, March 9 for seven performances through Sunday, March 19. The repertoire includes two revivals – Yuri Possokhov’s Fusion, Liam Scarlett’s Fearful Symmetries and the world premiere of Arthur Pita’s Salome. This marks Pita’s first major American commission and will feature principal dancer Dores André in the title role. I met with Dores last week prior to the company’s morning class. As I edged toward the Dance of the Seven Veils, I watched as she worked a needle and thread through shiny satin slippers. Are they for Salome? Is Salome a virgin?
“Absolutely! She’s not necessarily a bad person. Salome is a kid. Kids can be very selfish. We become more aware of bad people as we get older. But when you’re young it’s, ‘This is what I want and I want it now!’ She’s sexual, she wants what she wants. But at the same time she is not certain – because it’s all an experiment to her.”
The ancient story of Salome (Princess of Judea, stepdaughter to King Herod) and the beheading of John the Baptist occupies about 220 words in the Gospel of Mark and under a hundred in Matthew. Almost an anecdote. But onstage, in the movies, museums, and great concert halls – Salome stands alone in a very crowded pantheon of overwrought femme fatales. Playwright Oscar Wilde drew upon the behavioral and political modes of the day as he fashioned his enduring play of 1891 (published in French), Salomé: a tragedy in one act.
HEROD: Salome, come and eat some fruits with me. I love to see the little marks your teeth make.
In shaping her character, Dores André is likewise drawing upon the political modes of the day, along with behavioral moods pronounced throughout the day from the White House.
“Arthur Pita is a very theatrical person. It’s very much on Oscar Wilde’s idea of Salome. It has this upper class thing. I love talking politics. So he and I started talking politics. For me, it’s like talking about a cartel – not necessarily a Mexican cartel. It’s made me think of Trump and the whole weirdness between him and his daughter. The ballet, of course, is not exactly that – but this situation has helped me. Politics is something I care very much about and Arthur knows that. So we talked in that language to help me create my –– ”
I suggested the time-honored challenge for every actor: my motivation for being in the room.
“Exactly! Everybody is her servant. Towards the end she starts to see the consequences of her impulsiveness. She wants reactions from people. She doesn’t know their reactions will have the consequences that they do. She also lives in this other reality – this rich family that is so powerful they do not relate and cannot relate. That’s the worst part. These are not empathetic people. They are monsters.”
“So, it’s not literally based on the Trumps or the Mexican cartels – but the darkness, the power of that type of family. It helps me to tell the story. My parents, my siblings, everyone – are all social workers, doctors, people that take care of other people. I’m the only one who is in this frivolous dancey thing. And I’ve always felt a little bit weird about it. ‘Oh, I’m just dancing, it’s selfish....’ But this year, I’m getting letters from people saying, ‘Thank you for what you’re doing with Trump.’ So, as bad and strange as this may sound – Trump has made my job easier. When things like this come about, that’s when the arts are most necessary.”
Dores joined San Francisco Ballet in 2004, was promoted to soloist in 2012 and then to principal soloist in 2015. I mentioned that I began covering the company in 2006 and that my first assignment was the previous production of Swan Lake. I attended the final performance – a matinee, featuring Lorena Feijóo in the dual roles of Odette/Odeil. I have been a die-hard fan of the company ever since. Along the way, I began noticing Dores André – particularly for her dynamic appearances in the many contemporary works, the multiple world premieres of abstract ballets. With an eye towards her, the obvious became clear – without a plot line, the dancer’s own personality must shine through. Dores laughed when I admitted that my first reaction to her onstage is still, “Look, there’s that new girl again!”
“I love that!” she responded. “I hope everybody feels that way. I’m just doing my job. I love dancing. The thing with doing a new work is that you have so much input. I love performing, it gives me so much. As a creative process, there is nothing better. You get to learn about yourself, about somebody else. With a new piece, you get to truly create. It’s a fascinating process. Once onstage, it’s not that the process has died – but now you are performing it, you’re no longer creating it. When creating, your brain is working – it’s about problem solving at all times. That said, there are masterpieces created some time ago that I would love to do.”
As the first to dance Pita’s Salome, Dores will be making an entrance like no other dancer/singer/actress interpreter before her. “I step out of a limousine. That’s what I mean by ‘the cartel’ scenario. Guys in suits. It’s her birthday. She takes drugs, dances the Seven Veils. And my dress is amazing. This story couldn’t be more contemporary. It is not just something out of the past! That is the beauty – it relates to your audience.”
“When I retire, I want to do something like set design. I’ve always wanted to be an architect. I still have drawings from when I was a kid. I did a tomato house. A house that looked like a tomato. It would rotate with the seasons. In the summer, it was all windows to let the sun in. In the winter, it would turn towards the earth to stay warm. I don’t think it would work! But every time I look at those drawings – it’s just crazy. That’s why I love the theatre part of ballet. You come in and it’s just a box and you’re perplexed by what’s happening. You have to convince the audience to become part of it. In a way, that is very architectural. It’s not just movement. It’s a whole thing, a complete thing.”