A traditional ballet choreographer thinks more in terms of movements - pli'es (bends) and jet'es (leaps) and pirouettes (turns) - than words. So when you ask American Ballet Theatre's Clark Tippet what goes into a work such as his ``Bruch Violin Concerto No. 1'' - thunderously received at its world premi`ere here last week - you get answers that are broadly pictorial: ``You think of the entire stage and all your dancers, considering balance and shape through beginning, middle, and end,'' says the 33-year-old choreographer, whose background is as much modern dance as classical ballet. ``And you are careful there are no holes or moments for the audience to twitch and say, `That doesn't feel right,' or `I knew that was coming.'''
Fifteen years of dancing with American Ballet Theatre (mixed with forays into modern dance) have now been capped by two successful attempts at designing the dance - the first being the well-received contemporary work ``Enough Said'' last January, to the music of George Perle. His second was inspired by Bruch's passion-and-fury 19th-century Germanic concerto and by the four principal dancers, whose lush, lyric, and energetic dance personalities he felt were its perfect counterpart.
Those couples were Leslie Browne and Ricardo Bustamante, and Amanda McKerrow and John Gardner, whose wit and bravura lent the right lilt to the otherwise essentially conventional idiom.
There was no audience- twitching during Mr. Tippet's inspired, 26-minute tour de force. Shrewd, energetic, and seamless, the work is a tapestry of romance and emotion - a backdrop of formal maneuvering by the corps of 16, punctuated by primary and secondary pas de deux. Contemporary-colored tutus (pea green to electric pink and eggplant purple) gave a modernist feel to the essentially romantic music. The musical structure - from gentle to languid to opulent - provides much for lyric ebb and flow.
The crowd was on its feet immediately at the end, and even curmudgeonly critics saw Tippet's handiwork as evidence of someone well on his way to becoming a choreographer of note. There were flaws to be sure, but the work held together as lavish and distilled at the same time, grandiose without ostentation or waste.
On the successful heels of the more modern and stylized ``Enough,'' ABT artistic director Mikhail Baryshnikov asked Tip-pet if he had a piece of more traditional music he'd like to put to movement.
``I had bought this Mendelssohn Violin Concerto for $1.99,'' recalls Tippet, ``and the Bruch was on the flip side, and it just occurred to me this would be great for ballet.'' He toyed with the overall structure for six months, then honed his vision over six weeks of rehearsal, five days a week. He describes the process of choreography as essentially visual, based on experience as a dancer. Playing the record on a home stereo, he began to envision the principal pas de deux from the notes suggested by the lyrical first movement.
``The piece required a very lush duet to start, so I chose Amanda [McKerrow] and John [Gardner], who are married and portray the meaning of pas de deux together very well.'' Known more for his work as a dancer in duet, Tippet says his first attraction as a choreographer is in the same realm.
``For me, a really good piece is going to have a strong central duet in it. Usually the big adagio section in a piece of music is the most passionate and enraptured, so that's the part I'll shape first - that's the thing I'm most familiar as a dancer with a partner.'' Next, he says, you sit there envisioning the music, looking for clues from the score - entry of violins or timpani - that you might not have heard in the music itself.
``In the last movement the music does a pizzicato boom, boom, boom, boom, boom,'' he says, slicing the air, ``which became the inspiration to get my two principal women back on stage to repeat their competition dance. I had been sort of wondering how to get them back on stage when I turned up the bass on my stereo real loud and heard those strings and said, `That's them!'''
The seventh of 11 children, Tippet began studying dance at age 5 and went to New York on scholarship at 11 to Thalia Mara's National Academy of Ballet. He joined ABT in 1972. He says Mr. Baryshnikov is very supportive of new choreographers, holding workshops and ``creating opportunities left and right.'' For Tippet, that opportunity will be kept within the confines of traditional ballet vocabulary. ``I don't understand the inventing of a new language. ... The language is pretty rich. What you need to do, and what you do, is create your signature, and that becomes something new.''