Daniel Roberge
Daniel Roberge and partner dance at CityCenterDC. Credit: Joy Asico / Asico Photo

Editor’s note: Due to high likelihood of inclement weather, the June 2 performance has been canceled. The June 3 and 4 shows will go on as planned.

American audiences tend to think of ballet as a light pink world of tutus, ribbons, and toe shoes. But classical ballet was originally the domain of men. When King Louis XIV ruled France, men were often the stars of the court dances that formed the basis of the classical positions still taught today. 

Only in the 19th century did ballet re-center itself around women, with the rise of pointe shoes and superstar ballerinas. Choreographer George Balanchine intensified this focus in the mid-20th century, devoting his life to exalting women dancers (he famously said, “Ballet is woman”). In this world, men existed to support the ballerina, helping her into higher jumps and longer extensions. 

Today, more and more choreographers are merging these two movements, bringing men and women onto equal planes. Dancer and choreographer Daniel Roberge offers us a sample of such balance in The Rest is Noise. City Paper asked Roberge to discuss his new work for the Washington Ballet.

The company will perform The Rest is Noise at CityCenterDC nightly from June 2 to 4 as part of the company’s Dance For All events. This interview is the second of three Q&As with local dancers ahead of the free performances. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.  

Washington City Paper: How long have you been dancing ballet, and how did you land at the Washington Ballet? 

Daniel Roberge: My background is deeply ingrained in dance and the performing arts. From the age of 5, I was working on set for television commercials, short films, in musical theater, and small and large productions. At the age of 16, I fell in love with classical ballet after taking my first class, and began working towards a career as a professional ballet dancer. At 18, I was selected to be a finalist at the Youth America Grand Prix in New York City and was later offered a scholarship to come to the Washington Ballet. It’s been a rewarding 12 years. 

WCP: Some choreographers start with music, some start with a creative concept, others start with an old story or a feeling. Can you explain how you began creating The Rest is Noise

DR: My process always begins with the music. The music then inspires either a concept or a narrative. The Rest is Noise was not an exception; I fell in love with the music years ago, but then was able to develop a concept once I began working with my dancers: a performance of powerful women and powerful men as equals. The music by Jamie XX is just over 5 minutes long but it’s like listening to a musical journey with lots of texture and layers. It was a joy to choreograph to and outside of the box—in terms of what usually would be considered as musical accompaniment for ballet or neo-classical ballet.

WCP: What was it like stepping into the choreographer role and working with other company members in this capacity? 

DR: I have choreographed [dances with] several of the company and studio company members in the past, so this time around, it was just pure fun and joy.

WCP: Can you describe a particular moment in the design process where things snapped into place? Or a moment that you’re particularly proud of?

DR: I really love the men’s rhythmical section in my piece. When listening to that particular section of music, I imagined a reinvented tap-meets-soft shoe dance with ballet mixed together. I added in some percussion too and it all seemed to work out even better than I had expected. This was the first section I choreographed.

WCP: How did you choose the music for this piece? 

DR: I’ve always loved Jamie XX as an artist. “The Rest is Noise” has been a favorite track of his for quite some time. I always knew I wanted to choreograph to it and now felt like the right time.

WCP: Tell us about the costumes. Were you involved in designing them? 

DR: I typically like simple and sleek costumes. All black high-necked leotards and flesh toned pointe shoes for the woman. Comfortable black pants and tanks for men. Simple, chic, and not overdone.

WCP: What do you hope viewers will take away from seeing your work? 

DR: That classical ballet or neo-classical ballet doesn’t always need to fit into a box. It doesn’t always have to be one way. Men can dance with men; and women with women. Each dancer can be just as powerful and as beautiful as each other.

Dance For All Performances at CityCenterDC start at 6 p.m. on June 2, 3, and 4 at CityCenterDC. washingtonballet.org. Free.