The music comes first for Patricia Blair and Daniel Duell, the couple who co-direct Ballet Chicago. "We get inspired first and foremost by the music that we are listening to, looking at it analytically and structurally," Duell says about their choreographic process. "In our choreography, we always feel a need to provide a thematic shape—a beginning, a development and a conclusion, the way a piece of music goes."
They both have music in their past: Duell was a classical flutist long before his 15 years dancing with New York City Ballet, and Blair frequently staged Balanchine's music-centric ballets throughout her own performing career with Eglevsky Ballet and on Broadway. At Ballet Chicago, they are committed to live accompaniment for all technique classes. “Mr. B preferred live accompaniment, because part of musical education is the experience of listening to music that's created live," explains Duell. “I think that gives an appreciation of music in young dancers from an early age."
When a live pianist isn't available, Blair and Duell turn to tracks recorded by former School of American Ballet accompanists. As Duell says, “Class CDs can memorialize the very beautiful classwork of someone who plays live for you. There really is a ton of wonderful class music on CD these days."
Blair teaching warm-up class for Ballet Chicago's Studio Company. Photo by Erin Baiano, courtesy of Ballet Chicago