Pink Floyd in a Small Town: Paying Homage to the Unsung Ballet Treasures

By Mary Hierholzer

I will never forget Fresno Ballet’s 2005 Pink Floyd rock ballet, or what it taught me about artistry and industry.

The ballet set to Pink Floyd’s albums The Dark Side of the Moon and The Wall was choreographed by the former Fresno Ballet company’s artistic director, Christopher Doyle, whose artistic eye and sharp ear always produced excellent work. The attitude of Mr. Doyle’s rock ballet, like the music, expressed a range of tones: angsty, edgy, melodic and energetic. The dancers rocked and swayed with so much soul, the moves clean and precise, with no narrative but still telling a story of relationships in the pas de deux and of self-expression in the solos.

Because the performance took place just months before the local newspaper was digitized (and because my high school’s online newspaper didn’t save its archives that included my older sister’s review of the show), evidence of its occurrence exists only on an obscure ‘00s Pink Floyd fan site, which blogged about The Fresno Bee’s print coverage. In the article, a dancer said that “the songs evoke surprisingly strong emotions—from anger in ‘Hey You’ to contemplative melancholy in ‘Time.’ She finds herself in rehearsal caught up in the crashing beat and the wailing score. ‘It's all about the music,’ she says.”

Many years and many ballets later, I still admire Mr. Doyle for conceptualizing this piece, for recognizing this music’s balletic potential and for his tasteful marriage of movement to music. This performance was an early lesson in what true artistry looks like. It’s a vision that encompasses multiple elements, speaks on multiple levels and appeals to multiple senses. And thanks to www.brain-damage.co.uk, we can glean Mr. Doyle’s insights:

 
 

“It's stretching the boundaries as far as movement for the dancers," Doyle says. "It's still really ballet based, the bulk of it, but I would say the style has a lot more modern and jazz influence to it."

"From the very first song on 'Dark Side of the Moon' to the last one, I started thinking, 'This is perfect for a rock ballet,' " Doyle says.

The Pink Floyd ballet was also a testament to the many unsung heroes of ballet, whose work is exceptional though their names may not be known. Such hidden gems can be no less talented than the widely circulated stars, but they may simply lack the avenues to and opportunities for fame. With fewer high-profile dance critics, fewer ballets are publicized and reviewed; with fewer ballets getting press, fewer artists are exposed to the public; with less exposure, decision-makers are less willing to give “unknowns” a shot. It’s a vicious cycle that leaves many deserving artists concealed and confined.

I’m convinced that Mr. Doyle’s ballet could have taken off like wildfire had the Fresno Ballet (RIP) not been such a small and under-resourced company. Quite frankly, I would prefer the Pink Floyd ballet to many of the expensive, mainstream ballets listed on big companies’ programs.

I recently discussed this predicament with a low-profile choreographer who wisely noted that triple bills are a wonderful opportunity for companies to take a risk on lesser known names. Throw a wild card on the program between big names like Balanchine and Kylian. Balanchine and Kylian will sell the tickets, so there’s nothing to lose—if audiences don’t like the wild card, it’s not a huge loss next to the two guaranteed successes; if audiences do like the wild card, everyone wins, choreographer, company and audience alike. And, more broadly, it’s a win for the world of art.