Jared Nelson, California Ballet Company's new associate artistic director, has tasked six members of his dance staff to create choreographic works for "Beer and Ballet," a show staged at Park6 in Bankers Hill this weekend.
It's an event that allows the audience to mingle with the company and witness its original dance ideas in a relaxed setting. In fact, the approach has been known to attract capacity crowds in other cities, including Sacramento, Salt Lake City and Indianapolis.
The show was presented for the first time in San Diego last year at the California Ballet headquarters.
And like last year, the first beer is on the house.
"It was successful, so let's do it again," Nelson says. "I told the choreographers to keep it short and experiment. Try something new."
Trying something new is not as simple as it sounds in a classical ballet setting, where dancers are expected to master difficult technique and adapt to a strict discipline.
Creating original choreography - work that allows for one's own choice of music and approach - opens the door for great talent.
Consider former California Ballet student Justin Peck, for example, who went on to become New York City Ballet's resident choreographer, where his movement style earned complimentary profiles last year in The New Yorker and Vanity Fair.
"Beer and Ballet" events across the country give audiences an opportunity to see fresh and original versions of traditional ballet mixed with a range of dance styles.
Nelson's original ballet "Ruled by Secrecy," for instance, is a sensual pas de deux danced to music by the English rock band Muse.
"You can have a ballet that is 50 years old, and every dancer after that is made to look like the original," Nelson says.
"And I think there are a lot of people in the dance world who always try to make dancers perform like someone else, be someone else. But I think it's important for each dancer to make work their own - that is what makes it more human. You never know when you'll find the next great choreographer."
Like composers, choreographers consider orchestration and create movement that tells a story, ideally one that is both personal and relatable.
Some dancers will perform en pointe; others wear contemporary attire.
"Beer and Ballet"
When: 8 p.m. Friday; 5:30 and 8:30 p.m. Saturday
Where: Park6, 590 Fir St., Bankers Hill
Tickets: $25-$40. One free alcoholic beverage for guests 21 or older provided with each ticket purchase.
"The styles are all very different," says principal dancer/choreographer Trystan Merrick, who also choreographed a work for last year's "Beer and Ballet."
"The company is ballet-based, but we are expanding into codified steps from modern dance and even taking a departure from that. We are speaking with a broader vocabulary."
Merrick's dance, for instance, suggests all the physical things we do to enchant those we hope to attract. He has titled his work "Spellbound" and will use Fleetwood Mac songs and jazz music that's reminiscent of a New Orleans vibe.
"I'm exploring the idea of using something mystical and magic to deal with something basic, like the way we fall in love or fall in like or try to deal with people we see on a daily basis," Merrick muses.
"If you want someone to be nice to you, you are nice to them. The tone of our voice, the way we smell and move and smile - all these things can cast a natural human spell."
This year, a new venue has been chosen to present the production.
The building where Park6 is located was once a church, now transformed to include a bar, a stage and professional lighting rather than the harsh fluorescent bulbs of the ballet studio.
Nelson says the space fits his vision because "it's small enough to get close to the dancers and big enough to accommodate more people."
Manna is a freelance writer.