Arts interview

Pricked will showcase extremes of ballet

Boston Ballet dancer speaks with The Tech

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Patrick Yocum, Boston Ballet dancer, spoke to The Tech about the upcoming production of Pricked.
Liza Voll


Performed by the Boston Ballet

Boston Opera House

May 8 - 18

Patrick Yocum began dancing eleven years ago, in his hometown of Souderton, PA. After graduating high school, he trained for a year at the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre School, and then joined the Boston Ballet II trainee program, working his way through to join the Corps de Ballet in 2011. He spoke to The Tech about life as a dancer, and Boston Ballet’s upcoming performance of Pricked.

The Tech: What role(s) do you perform in Pricked?

Patrick Yocum: I’m lucky enough to be involved in all three of the ballets presented during the Pricked program. Because none of them are what we could call ‘narrative’ ballets, that is — none have a clear storyline — there are no named roles.

TT: Can you talk about a little about each ballet in the program?

PY: The Pricked program is very eclectic; we are presenting the broadest possible extremes of ballet in one evening. The show opens with Harald Lander’s Ètudes, a tour de force of classicism. It’s set to the music of Carl Czerny, and is the grandest possible demonstration of a traditional ballet class. The enjoyment of Ètudes is in seeing the progression of the steps, from the simplest exercises at the barre to the flying jumps, and the turns of a grande allegro. It’s also very visually impressive: the finale involves nearly the entire company, with 40 dancers in almost militaristic unison.

The second ballet jumps to an abstract and contemporary style with Petr Zuska’s D.M.J. 1953-1977. The title refers to the three composers he used: Dvorák, Martinu and Janáček (all of Czech origin, like Zuska himself). The piece is more contemplative, with seven couples dancing around large black boxes that are moved and shifted to create the different scenes. Look for the symbolism in this piece; D.M.J. 1953-1977 alludes frequently to death, love, and regret. When Zuska first came to visit us, he spoke about his inspiration coming from a very profound, perhaps mystical experience he once had in a desert. There is clearly something important happening in the lives of the ballet’s main couple, but it’s never explicitly stated.

The final piece is my favorite of the three: a work by Alexander Ekman called Cacti. Here we have reached the other extreme of ballet, where the lines are blurred between dance and music. A string quartet spends much of the ballet up on stage with 16 dancers, who each has his or her own small box to dance the majority of the piece on. The dancers in the piece are a sort of chorus of oddballs, and Cacti is full of absurdity and humor. I say that the lines of dance and music are blurred because us normally silent dancers make lots of sounds in this piece, banging on the boxes in a thrilling drum section or smacking our bodies and breathing loudly in unison to make complex rhythms. It’s extremely engaging and I can’t wait for Boston to see it.

TT: What do you enjoy most about this production?

PY: Cacti is particularly exciting for me, not only because this is its American premiere but also because it’s so fun to dance. The movement is unlike anything I’ve been asked to do on stage before, and that sort of originality is very exciting.

TT: What’s the most challenging part of the production?

PY: Both of the contemporary ballets on the bill are very hard on the body — we are rolling around on (and frequently falling off) the boxes used in the pieces. We’ve been going around the studios comparing impressive bruises for the last month! The less obvious difficulty for an audience member is the challenge of dancing so many styles in a single evening. To go from the classical positions of Ètudes into the barefoot, awkward contortions of Cacti is a bit like asking an athlete to play a game of basketball and then tell him to try his hand at surfing. If you’re not ready for that it can be more than a bit dangerous!

TT: What would you tell a person who’s never seen a ballet before?

PY: This is a great opportunity to challenge your expectations of what dancers can do — because we literally do it all in this show! To someone expecting to see something like Sleeping Beauty or Cinderella, you may be a bit surprised. In Pricked we still tell stories and make art, but we also challenge the audience, even while we entertain them. You’ll also hear some fantastic live music; the Boston Ballet Orchestra accompanies all three pieces and their repertoire in the course of the night is just as varied as ours is.

TT: What’s your life like when you’re not rehearsing or in ballet class?

PY: Cross-training is very important these days in the dance world. I do cardio and yoga, and I have to eat. A lot. But I also love reading, biking around Boston, cooking and going to see other performers around town.

TT: Did you ever consider another career?

PY: I’ve been dancing this since I was a teenager, so I never really seriously considered another profession. I think it’s one of the best jobs in the world and it is hard to imagine myself in different shoes. I suppose everybody has times in their work that they fantasize about doing other things. If I had to choose another job, I think I’d enjoy working in food — being a chef sounds like a pretty great career. Maybe that’s my stomach talking. But for now I’ll stick with dancing.

Pricked will be performed by the Boston Ballet at the Boston Opera House on May 8–18.