‘Ballet, Brass & Song’
Chamber Dance Project
Sidney Harman Hall
610 F St., N.W.
In an airy white rehearsal studio in Northwest Washington, Luis R. Torres smiles through the sweat. He laughs as he easily switches from Spanish to English teaching two young male dancers their parts for a piece in Chamber Dance Project’s upcoming fourth-season program “Ballet, Brass & Songs.”
“It’s work but there’s a lot of joy in the process,” says Torres, 42. He first danced with the company and now is its ballet master. His duties include restaging choreography, rehearsing the dancers and ensuring pieces have the right count, musicality and style. Today he’s restaging the New Orleans-inspired “Rue Noir” by New York choreographer Jennifer Archibald.
Founded by choreographer Diane Coburn Bruning, Chamber Dance Project is a company of professional artists dedicated to redefining contemporary ballet in partnership with live music played by visible musicians sharing the stage. Their upcoming performance takes place at Shakespeare Theatre Company’s vast Sidney Harman Hall, giving the ingenious and thrilling company the opportunity to perform for their largest audience to date.
Torres, who is gay, first connected with the company’s artistic director Bruning when he was completing a master’s degree at George Mason University. He restaged some of her choreography after having seen the piece on video. Bruning was mightily impressed. Soon after, she asked Torres to dance in her male duet “Exit Wounds,” a piece first performed early in Chamber Dance Project’s meteoric four-year tenure, and then hired him as the company’s ballet master.
“Luis is brilliant at what he does,” Bruning says. “He allows me to focus on the choreography while he takes care of the mechanics. He’s the master of all things related to dancers partnering. He’s the skeleton behind my ideas. It’s been a great collaboration.”
“Ballet Brass & Song” features the premiere of “Songs by Cole”, a ballet with a live jazz trio performing the beloved music of Cole Porter; sultry tangos of Sur by Argentinean choreographer Jorge Amarante; and the soaring athleticism of the poignant male duet “Exit Wounds” by Diane Coburn Bruning; and the aforementioned “Rue Noir.” The onstage music includes the company’s string quartet, Mosche Brass Band and a jazz trio led by acclaimed singer Lena Seikaly.
“The Cole Porter piece is a reaction to a contemporary driving work I did last season,” Bruning says. “It was time for me to do something on the lighter side. But I also wanted to include his wit and incisive intelligence.”
For Torres, Chamber Dance Project is a month of intense rehearsal leading up to its annual program, but the job also entails promotions and the various events throughout the year. Torres is also an adjunct professor at George Mason University and a guest teacher and choreographer in many locations around town, and he is a company member and ballet master at the Washington Ballet. Before the Washington Ballet, he was a soloist with Ballet Theatre of Maryland in Annapolis, Md., and performed soloist and principal roles with Ballet Arizona.
He says restaging other choreographers’ work never gets old.
“To keep it fresh I go to the music. I love music. It’s the main reason I dance and I want to translate that excitement. Chamber Dance Project is contemporary dance at its finest. We invite dancers with top-notch classical training who are interested in exploring space and movement to the next dimension with live music. Our dancers may be on point or wearing sneakers or cowboy boots. It’s my time to think outside the box and to create a new image or feeling. I’m explaining to dancers how to approach the work and break through despite misgivings they have.”
Torres began ballet training in his native Puerto Rico under the direction of Elizabeth Calero when he 16. After a several years he was awarded a scholarship to Point Park University in Pittsburgh where he trained under Roberto Munoz who was to become Torres’ longtime mentor
“When I first dancing I was teased. Kids said I was gay. I’d say ,‘Tell me something I don’t know.’ My family was accepting of my sexuality so it wasn’t a big deal,” he says. “I think the stigma associated with boys dancing grows less and less.”
He says his identity informs his work.
“I create from my experience, my hurt, my judgments, and from who I love. Like all artists my work definitely reflects my life. I’m also influenced by the gay community’s struggles which are increasing under the Trump administration.”
Dance is hard on the body. Over the years Torres suffered myriad injuries including fractures and two hip surgeries.
“The body is like a car. It doesn’t go as fast as it used to. But this allows me to focus on other things like how you move and what you’re saying with your body. And while a dancer’s time is limited, I can be ballet master so long as I have memory and a voice.”