Zach Manske Creates Ballet-Contemporary Hybrid for MDT

Zach Manske (photo by Alex Esch)

Dancer and choreographer Zach Manske is just 20 years old, so you might think his professional career is just getting started. In fact, when he was just 13, he was already touring the country with Billy Elliot the Musical, playing the titular role. Now the real-life Billy Elliot comes to Minnesota Dance Theatre to set a new work for our Fall Season performances, showing at The Lab Theater, October 11-20. 

Zach is no stranger to Minnesota. He grew up in St. Paul, trained as a dancer there, and has been a frequent guest artist with MDT. You may recognize him from Loyce Houlton’s Nutcracker Fantasy, for which he also played a titular role, the Nutcracker Prince. One can hardly forget his virtuosic athleticism: high jumps, dazzling spins, and a distinctive fluidity of movement. 

Inspired by William Forsythe

(photo by Masquerade Dance)

Now he’s entering his junior year at the University of Southern California’s Glorya Kaufman School of Dance where he works with master choreographer William Forsythe, among others. In addition to further developing his dance chops, he’s developed a passion for choreography. 

So how has working with a choreographer as legendary as Forsythe influenced him?

Zach says it’s been an incredible experience, working with Forsythe, learning his repertory, working on his improvisational technologies. In fact, before Forsythe goes to set a new work on a company, he’ll workshop the material with his students. Zach values “the play that he instills in us. Play, chance, counterpoint, improv, creating movement in the space, trajectories of different body parts, constant curiosity. He still wants to reinvent his own process.”

And then in addition to these inspirations, Zach says he draws from his varied experience in hip hop, jazz, contemporary and ballet. “I enjoy extending the boundaries of classical and contemporary ballet to broaden its effect on audiences.”

Conceiving “Cyclical Rave” 

“My new work explores routine within our daily lives and the importance of realizing the destructive comfort that can accompany this loop. I’m finding beauty in what it means to mix up routines. So it’s really about stepping outside of boxes, not being afraid to take risks.”

For the music, Zach is working with composer Thomas Adam Barnett for parts of the score. Like Zach, Thomas is both classically trained and experimental, so it’s a good fit. They utilize a house beat with complex rhythms to generate a club feel and to mimic the feeling of being in and out of a pattern within life. (And you’ll also hear the Gógó – Lulu Rouge Remix by Kúra.)

In the Studio with MDT

With just two weeks to create the work for MDT, Zach knew he had to create quickly so there would be time to step back and assess, and then recreate.

As a dancer, Zach has worked alongside many of the company members. Now being in the role of choreographer is something new, and one that he enjoys — leading, creating, directing, and also collaborating. He creates space for input from dancers and sees their participation in the creative process as a necessity, understanding that different movements work differently for different dancers.

Zach has never choreographed for pointe, so he’s taking this opportunity to explore that since the MDT women are strong on pointe. “I’m interested to see how my movement translates to pointe. Seeing how the ballet form can be modified and translated is something that Bill [Forsythe] does a lot, making it more accessible to today’s dancers and audiences.” 

Taking It to The Lab Theater

Having performed previously at The Lab Theater, Zach was familiar with its gritty atmosphere, and it informed the nightclub underground feeling of the piece. He hopes the intimacy of the space will bring the audience into the world of the piece so that they can interact with feeling of routine. “I’m really excited for both the dancers and the audience to play with that.” 

And we’re excited to experience it too. View the video below to catch Zach in the studio with the dancers. 

Cyclical Rave premieres as part of MDT’s Fall Season at The Lab, October 11-20. Zach will return for the second weekend of performances, and audiences are invited to stay following the show on Friday, October 18 for a post-performance discussion.

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