Christopher Williams’ artistry will open a gateway to another world on the Amphitheater stage this weekend. This other world is a glimpse into Western Greek Mythology, as well as a world where people are not bound by societal norms.
“I think of theater as a portal to this other world. My interest in creating choreography and live theatrical experiences is to give an audience a sense of entering that world,” said Williams, an award-winning choreographer, dancer and puppeteer. “I’m interested in how a contemporary concept of queerness can be infused into our mythmaking.”
“Christopher Williams Dance Showing featuring Taylor Stanley” begins the Chautauqua summer season at noon Saturday in the Amp with an open rehearsal of Williams’ newest choreography.
The noon performance is unusually early for a Chautauqua opening weekend and caps a two-week long residency of Christopher Williams Dance. Stanley, a New York City Ballet principal dancer, is among the cast of contemporary dancers. The open rehearsal will feature a Q-and-A with Williams and members of his team.
This will be the dancers’ first opportuinity to run through Williams’ original queer reimaginings of Ballet Russes classic works The Afternoon of a Faun and Les Sylphides. Williams will officially debut these two ballets Tuesday, June 28, through Sunday, July 3, at The Joyce Theater in New York.
These classic ballets feature Greek mythological creatures, such as animal-human hybrids, nymphs, naiads and sylphs.
“I’m taking the original scores to these incredible ballets and reimagining their scenarios in a contemporary queer context, or in my own contemporary queer idiom with regards to the choreography,” Williams said.
Williams connects the idea of queerness and mythology through the works he chose and his choreography style, which he describes as a classical base with a Cunningham twist, and a focal point of the head and neck in spiral.
“I’m deeply invested in allowing the male body to bleed past traditional concepts of masculinity in dance. You will probably see the men dancing in a very lyrical way, what I like to call a fay way,” Williams said. “I’m just one of many that is opening up the possibility for particularly gay and homoerotic elements to enter the ballet as a more acceptable and standard element.”
Williams has created over 35 original and collaborative works in New York and abroad. The works performed at Chautauqua are a part of Williams’ long-term project “ ‘Queering’ the Canon: Reimagining the Ballets Russes.”
While preparing for these performances, Williams struggled to find studio space, but he found an opportunity at Chautauqua Institution.
“I believe that putting the dancers in a tranquil setting where we can have a focused environment, a studio to ourselves and a kind of fellowship among ourselves is incredibly valuable and meaningful,” Williams said. “I was just so delighted to hear of Chautauqua, because here was a perfect idyllic opportunity to get the conditions that I need to create the artwork I do.”
Williams finds great importance in his open rehearsal performance Saturday largely due to the similar dimensions of the Amp and The Joyce Theater.
“It’s a joy to get to perform and share my work in such a way that enables this new renovation to be used at the very beginning of the season,” Williams said. “The wealth of artistry that goes through here is mind-boggling and I hope that locals take advantage of it. This little open rehearsal is just a bonus to those who are going to come see the debut.”