Of all the Confluence dancers, most of them also have administrative positions. This includes Claire Peoples, who serves as the company’s marketing and social media manager in addition to performing as a dance trainee.
“We wear many hats,” laughs Peoples during a phone interview with Pittsburgh City Paper.
Peoples will be among those dancing in Emergence, the company’s first in-theater production. Debuting Sat., March 5 at the Kelly Strayhorn Theater, the performance is described as featuring “a range of styles from the romantic ballet Les Sylphides, as well as neoclassical and contemporary works.”
With this introduction, Confluence will add yet another voice to the city’s dance scene, and one that is an all-female company. As of now, Peoples says their only male dancer is Ken Shiozawa, a visiting artist from the Minnesota Ballet.
“We've been dancing together since this summer, and we've done different outreach things throughout Pittsburgh,” says Peoples. “But this is going to be the first [performance] in an actual theater setting.”
She says the company wanted to showcase their “versatility” for this concert. The show has four pieces totalling 90 minutes in length, including “Mirror Where She Lies,” a new contemporary work by Pittsburgh-based choreographer Hannah Knorr. From there, they will perform “Spirited Syncopations” by Durante Verzola, a Filipino American freelance choreographer who has worked with dance companies from all over the country, and who has been featured in the New York Times, among other publications.
“It’s very playful and has some moments of comedy,” says Peoples, who also calls the piece, which is set to the music of Leroy Anderson, “jazzy.”
The show will conclude with artistic director Lea Havas’ work “Resilience.”
“What we wanted to do was kind of show everything that we're capable of, and just celebrate how talented our dancers are, and how they can do everything,” says Peoples.
The performance of KST continues a journey started in 2021, when the nonprofit organization was created as a “space that is safe, equitable, and inclusive for any and all students and artists to create, learn, and express their individuality.” The company strives to not only produce works of the “highest caliber in classical, neoclassical, and contemporary genres,” but to do so in a “positive environment in which artists can grow, collaborate, and thrive.”
“We just want to treat our dancers like they’re people first, and not treat them like they’re dancers first, which I think is a lot of what the current state of ballet is in,” says Peoples. “You're just kind of treated as a body and not like an actual human being who is living and experiencing everything.”
She credits this to how Confluence is set up, which she says results in a comparatively more fair and equal power balance.
“So we do have a board of directors, and artistic directors, which is the typical setup for a company,” says Peoples. “But in terms of making financial decisions, decisions about what kind of things we want to do in the shows, we have company-wide meetings, where we're kind of like a little democracy, and we all get our opinions heard, which is a lot different than your typical ballet company, where you're just kind of there to dance and be quiet and not do anything.”
Peoples says Emergence will not only be their first production as a company, but will be the first time many of the dancers have been onstage in a theater since before the COVID-19 pandemic, back in 2019 or 2020.
“Even people who were dancing during COVID, you're dancing at little outdoor performances, that sort of thing,” says Peoples. “So it feels surreal.”
While the show will take place indoors, Peoples stresses that COVID-19 safety protocols will be in place. For Emergence, all audience members 12 years or older will be required to be fully vaccinated with an authorized vaccine and must show both a proof of vaccination and a current photo ID with their ticket. Masks will be required to be worn by everyone over the age of 2 for the duration of the performance and inside of the venue.
Peoples says that Emergence is just the first event the company has planned for the upcoming year. She teases at “some exciting stuff coming up combining fashion,” as well as another theater performance in June. She says they would also like to set themselves apart by performing at more unorthodox places.
“We want to bring ballet into places that bigger companies wouldn't be able to go, so art galleries, museums,” she says. “We've done private conferences. Kind of bring it to audiences that really wouldn't consider seeing dance, and showing that everyone can find something they relate to.”