NEW YORK — As Daniil Simkin bounds into a cafe near Union Square in Manhattan, it’s impossible not to be struck by the coiled energy in his step, even after a long day of rehearsals. The slight 27-year-old has been with American Ballet Theatre since 2008 and became a principal dancer four years later. Onstage, he’s known for his silken technique, arrow-like leaps, and a palpable desire to please the audience.
But for the past few years, the Russian-born Simkin has also been quietly developing a side venture named “Intensio.” Yes, it sounds a bit like a line of Nespresso coffee pods, but the name is meant to evoke the qualities he strives for in performance: intention, intensity, intent. On July 22-26, “Intensio” will have its US debut in a program of new works at the Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival — a show that is also scheduled to go to New York’s Joyce Theater in January.
The initiative, which Simkin describes as an “art project, not a company,” features his own dancing and that of a select group of ABT colleagues: Isabella Boylston, Alexandre Hammoudi, Calvin Royal III, Blaine Hoven, Hee Seo, Cassandra Trenary, and James Whiteside. To the ABT contingent he has added Céline Cassone, a French-born dancer from Les Ballets Jazz de Montréal with a fluid, fearless style. (“She moves like a cat,” says Royal.)
The seamless integration of technology — immersive lighting, computer-generated imagery, real-time video capture — is central to Simkin’s concept.
“I grew up in Weisbaden, in Germany, watching cutting-edge work by Netherlands Dance Theatre, Jean-Christophe Maillot, Jiri Kylian, the Cullberg Ballet,” Simkin says, “and I miss the European aesthetic of dance, of creating cohesive happenings, where it’s not just about the steps and dancers in unitards.”
Three of the four choreographers he has chosen — Alexander Ekman, Jorma Elo, and Annabelle Lopez Ochoa — are European or Europe-based. The lone American, Gregory Dolbashian, is, in Simkin’s words, “European-ish” in that he works in a style that crosses genres, blending elements of street dance, martial arts, and rough-and- tumble partnering for both sexes. Dolbashian’s “Welcome a Stranger,” a quintet, is the least classical of the works on show, and the only one that does not use pointe work for the women. (The dancers are in socks; there is a lot of sliding around.)
Simkin says he chose the Swedish Ekman for his “wit and honesty.” Ekman’s piece, as yet untitled, is a solo for Simkin in which the dancer riffs on classical movement as the recorded voice of a dance historian (Jennifer Homans) expounds on the courtly origins of ballet. The dancing is complemented by projections showing Simkin as a young ballet student.
Elo, the Finnish-born choreographer-in-residence at Boston Ballet, is known for fast-paced, quirkily articulated ballets. His piece, a trio, is set to excerpts of Bach and Chopin; it is the only work that will have live accompaniment.
The piece de resistance is a new work by Lopez Ochoa, a Colombian-born, Belgian-trained choreographer who is well-known in Europe but has only recently begun to make inroads on the American scene. “The piece is about time,” says Simkin “and about how each of us is trying to add something to society, to life.”
“Daniil likes strong work, with a balance of technical challenge and theatricality,” Jacob’s Pillow executive and artistic director Ella Baff said recently by phone.
But he isn’t the only dancer who is spreading his wings at the festival. Another example is Daniel Ulbricht, a 15-year veteran of New York City Ballet, whose “Stars of American Ballet” is at Jacob’s Pillow (July 29-Aug. 2) for the second summer in a row.
The dancers in Ulbricht’s ensemble are colleagues from New York City Ballet and Boston Ballet; they will perform works by Jerome Robbins (“In the Night”), Christopher Wheeldon (the “After the Rain” pas de deux), Johan Kobborg (“Les Lutins”), and the hot young choreographer Justin Peck (“Sea Change” and “Distractions”). All five will be accompanied by live music, played on piano and violin.
“After our first season, in 2008, I feel in love with the experience,” says Ulbricht, who also sees teaching as a big part of his mission.
Jacob’s Pillow gives audiences a rare chance to see such extraordinary dancers up close. The new repertoire allows the dancers to explore new ways of moving. And for young impresarios like Simkin, it’s a chance to discover their own tastes and the sense of empowerment that comes with being the one in charge.
Marina Harss can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.