A Preview of Michele Wiles’ piece for Utah Ballet I, Birds of a Feather

02 October 2018 Published in News and Announcements
School of Dance Ballet Program undergraduate student, Nicole Kallsen, discusses Michele Wiles’ piece for Utah Ballet I, Birds of a Feather 


Both underappreciated and overlooked, pigeons take on a whole new meaning in Michele Wiles’ piece Birds of a Feather for Utah Ballet I. Embodying both pigeons’ playful nature alongside their high-intelligence, the dancers are able to merge personality and technique within this ballet. Birds of a Featherwill be opening up Utah Ballet I October 4-6th and 18-20th at the Hayes Christensen Theater within the Marriott Center for Dance. The dancers are accompanied onstage by pianist Dr. Vedrana Subotic; she is a piano professor at the U for bachelors, masters, and doctorate students. This collaboration of musician and dancer creates both visual and auditory delights. 

The University of Utah is happy to present Wiles’ choreography for the second time, just after her work for Utah Ballet II in the spring of 2018. After a career with American Ballet Theatre, Wiles left her position as a principal to start her own company, BalletNext. Now, BalletNext is celebrating their seventh season of choreographic “risk taking.” Through this company, Wiles continued to develop her “need to explore new choreography” alongside finding “a more collaborative… way of working [with musicians and dancers].”  Drawing inspiration from improvisation artists such as flex dancers and jazz musicians, Wiles choreography is pushing the boundaries of the relationship between music and movement.

Within her ballet Birds of a Feather, Wiles’ explores the parallels between how pigeons are consistently able to find their way back “home” and how ballet dancers return “home” to the barre, music, and stage. Wiles’ choreography utilises a mixture of both birdlike and music-reflective movement in order to convey this theme of “home.” From effortless arms to intricate footwork, the dancers are the perfect balance of bird and dancer. With the energy and joy of city pigeons in addition to a musical understanding that reflects their high-level ballet technique, Wiles effectively merges the idea of the intelligence of pigeons to finding “home” within the music.

Furthermore, Wiles' choreography sheds new light on the proverb "birds of a feather flock together," as dancers perform unison and individual phrases. The piece emphasizes how humans, like birds, can join together as a community while retaining their individualities. Wiles states that this choreographic quality highlights “how truly stunning each individual dancer” is in their own way; she does not try to force a dancer to be someone other than themself while onstage.

The sense of group collaboration is further created through the usage of meaningful eye contact. The dancers are aware of everyone around them, recognizing their presence through a purposeful glance or a smile. These small details emphasize the friendships onstage that also exist offstage, and the emotions that dancers share are genuine and heartfelt.

The collaboration is not just limited to the dancers. Wiles highlights the importance of the music by placing the pianist onstage with the dancers.The music is no longer there just to be heard, it is a visual centerpiece that intimately connects the musicians to the dancers and audience. If you attend the performance, you may be able to notice how the smallest movements of the dancers' hands to the largest leaps are coordinated with Dr. Subotic's playing.

Audiences have a chance to see Wiles perform with the students at the U. Birds of a Feather is part of a program that includes classical and contemporary works: ​Paquita​ set by Victoria Stocki-Kim, Ordinary Resilience ​by Christine McMillan, and ​Fractured ​by Melissa Bobick. Be sure to come watch Utah Ballet I October 4-6th and 18-20th at the Hayes Christensen Theater.