Val Caniparoli’s Choreography Magic
by Adrienne Warber
There are some choreographers who have a special way of creating ballets that touch the emotions and bring out the unique beauty of dance. Val Caniparoli is one such choreographer. Few choreographers can boast of a repertoire that includes a mix of ballets based on literary classics and cutting-edge dance themes than Val Caniparoli. The San Francisco Ballet-based choreographer has been dancing and choreographing for over 40 years, with several long-running shows that are continuously performed. A choreographer and principal character dancer at San Francisco Ballet, Caniparoli has created works for the repertoire of more than 50 dance companies all over the world. He has a gift for creating beautiful works of classical ballet as well as fusing it with other styles of dance to create thought-provoking and artful masterpieces. Find out about Val Caniparoli’s dance journey, his inspirations for dance, and learn why he is one of one of the most highly sought-after choreographers in the field of dance today.
A Love of Music Led to a Joy of Dance
Music is important to Val Caniparoli and greatly influences his choreography. In fact, he studied music since early childhood in Renton, Washington. He played the flute, alto saxophone and clarinet fluently. He went on to Washington State University (WSU) to pursue a degree in music and theater. His music foundation led to an appreciation of a variety of music and genres, which is obvious in his music choices for his choreographies.
Caniparoli discovered his gift for dance when he participated in the First Chamber Dance Company’s ballet workshop at WSU. His teacher noticed his talent and recommended that he audition for San Francisco Ballet School. He received a scholarship from the Ford Foundation to attend the San Francisco Ballet School.
He talks about his decision to pursue a dance career and how a teacher helped him see it was not too late to study dance: “She (the workshop teacher) said you should study and that her husband started very late and made a career out of it. I always loved Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire movies. I just thought I would give it a shot…It was hard starting later. My technique was not there with the rest of them. I worked hard to catch up. But after a year, I got into the professional company.”
After studying at the San Francisco Ballet School for a year, he was offered a job with San Francisco Ballet in 1973. During his career at San Francisco Ballet, Caniparoli has worked under the artistic leadership of Lew Christensen, Michael Smuin and Helgi Tomasson. Today, he works as a principal character dancer for San Francisco Ballet and as a choreographer for projects at San Francisco Ballet as well as many other companies all over the world.
Versatile Choreography with Heart
Val Caniparoli was always interested in choreographing. Early in his dance career, he began choreographing for San Francisco Ballet and other companies. Over the years his choreography career has expanded to both national and international dance companies, while still working as a dancer for San Francisco Ballet. He has created more than 200 collective works for ballet, theater, opera, symphony, film and TV, contributing to the repertoire for more than 50 dance companies. He has choreographed for companies all over the world, including BalletMet, Joffrey Ballet, Finnish National Ballet, Royal New Zealand Ballet, Atlanta Ballet, Grand Rapids Ballet, Hong Kong Ballet, Israel Ballet, Pennsylvania Ballet, Singapore Dance Theatre and Pacific Northwest Ballet. He has also choreographed operas for San Francisco Opera, The Metropolitan Opera and Chicago Lyric Opera. His work included choreographing a pas de deux for Queen Elizabeth II’s Golden Jubilee visit to Canada in 2002. He also co-choreographed a Super Bowl commercial with Helgi Tomasson in 2015.
Caniparoli discusses when he knew he wanted to both choreograph and dance during his time at San Francisco Ballet School: “Even in school, I knew I wanted to choreograph one day. A light bulb went on. I realized that everything I’ve been studying had been leading up to this. The music, the acting all led up to this. Watching the dancers perform and watching choreographers, I realized that it was all leading up to this. I was amazed watching the company. I knew right away that I wanted to choreograph.”
Caniparoli is known for his inventive choreography and blending classical ballet with other dance techniques. His signature style builds upon a foundation of classical ballet that is influenced by all forms of creative movement, ranging from modern dance, ethnic dance to ballroom dancing, social dancing and skating. Two popular works, “Lady of the Camellias,” a classical ballet based on the classic story by Alexandre Dumas, and “Lambarena,” a fusion of classical ballet with traditional African dance have been performed by numerous dance companies since their world premieres in the 1990s and are still performed on stages today. He has a special gift for recreating favorite ballets and stories into fresh, original works. Caniparoli has choreographed four different original productions of “The Nutcracker” for Cincinnati Ballet, Louisville Ballet, Grand Rapids Ballet and Royal New Zealand Ballet.
Dance companies enjoy working with Caniparoli because he creates works that are highly versatile, whether traditional ballet or a blend of styles, and his collaborative working style that encourages dancer feedback in the creative process. He teams with dancers and the artistic directors of dance companies to bring their unique voice to the stage.
He comments on the importance of collaborating with the dancers and the entire creative team: “Collaboration creates a better product. I like collaborating with everyone involved in the project. It provides a way for the dancers to take ownership of the ballet. Everyone gets involved, inspires each other and produces better quality work because they take great pride in what they accomplish. Rehearsals force you to work out how to get to the point of what you want to say, and sometimes it is surprising. Sometimes a mistake works better what you have planned. I keep an open mind.”
Caniparoli talks about his long dance career and how continuing to perform as a principal character dancer at San Francisco Ballet influences him as a choreographer: “I love that I don’t lose sight of what it means to be a performer on stage. It is something that stays with me and I remind myself of that when I work with the dancers. I keep that perspective and that is why I have always felt it creates a better product when the dancers are part of the creative process. You take more pride in what you do. I know what I like as a dancer and I keep that in mind.”
Caniparoli takes inventory of his works when they return to stage in effort to perfect them. “Balanchine, up until his death was always reworking things, always perfecting things trying to make it better. I also do this. I love being able to go back and rework to perfect something. Sometimes, you can add something large one year that you couldn’t afford to do the previous year. Other times, you might just make a barely noticeable small change like a gesture,” he comments.
Inspirations to Create
Val Caniparoli draws inspiration from music, theater, creative movement and working with dancers. He is known for setting his choreographies to a diverse range of music and incorporating classical ballet with other types of movement like modern dance or world dance. The dancing of golden film era stars Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly and the artful movements of ice skating also inspire his work.
Caniparoli comments on things that inspire him to create: “Music, literature, musicals, old films, everyday experiences, dancers that I want to create on all inspire me. I love anything that has to do with movement…I love discovering new forms of movement. I look at the movement and think about how I can fit it into my style.”
He talks about his love of movement and how his love of dance grows over the years: “Dance is an art form that is always evolving. I love being a part of this. Ballet, ethnic dance, ballroom, ice skating, modern dance – I love seeing it all evolve.”
When Caniparoli learns a new style of movement and creates a work mixing the dance method with classical ballet, it becomes a part of his overall choreography style. “All the styles of movement that I use, stick with me. After “Lambarena,” African dance became part of my choreography. My style keeps evolving,” he says.
He talks about his creative process: “Music is number one. The best thing is having music that inspires. The hardest thing is having the idea and finding music to go with it. Music is the key. It is absolutely central to your work, not secondary…It is not the steps I first think of. I am most inspired to create by being in the room with the dancers and the music. We work together and sometimes a new idea forms or we realize one idea doesn’t work.”
Caniparoli’s Upcoming Works
There are many opportunities to see Val Caniparoli’s work around the country and world during the 2018-19 season. Caniparoli will have three different versions of “The Nutcracker” playing at Grand Rapids Ballet, Louisville Ballet, and Royal New Zealand Ballet this holiday season. His world premiere of “The Nutcracker” for Royal New Zealand Ballet runs Oct. 31-Nov. 9 at The Opera House in Wellington, NZ. “The Nutcracker” will be performed by Louisville Ballet on Dec. 8-23 at Whitney Hall in Louisville, KY. Grand Rapids Ballet’s “The Nutcracker” plays Dec. 14-23 at DeVos Performance Hall in Grand Rapids, MI. Caniparoli’s “A Christmas Carol” ballet will be performed by The American Conservatory Theater (A.C.T.) at A.C.T.’s Geary Theater in San Francisco, CA on Dec. 6-29. The Kansas City Ballet will perform Caniparoli’s “Lady of the Camellias on Feb.15-24 at the Muriel Kaufman Theater in Kansas City, MO. Milwaukee Ballet will perform Caniparoli’s “Lambarena” on April 4-7 at Marcus Center for Performing Arts in Milwaukee, WI. Grand Rapids Ballet will perform Caniparoli’s “Ibsen House” as a part of their production of “Extremely Close” on April 12-14 at the Peter Martin Wege Theatre in Grand Rapids, MI. Nashville Ballet will perform Caniparoli’s “The Lottery” on April 26-29 at TPAC’s Jackson Hall in Nashville, TN. Diablo Ballet will perform Caniparoli’s “Tryst” on May 3-4 at Dev Valle Theatre in Walnut Creek, CA. Sacramento Ballet will perform Caniparoli’s “The Bridge” on May 16-19 at The Sofia Tsakolpoulas Center for the Arts in Sacramento, CA. Visit Val Caniparoli’s official website for details on his upcoming shows. Be sure to see one of Val Caniparoli’s amazing shows. Each one is a work of artistry and heart-warming entertainment.