Milissa Payne Bradley takes classical ballet to new heights in her most ambitious work, Up in the Air, showing at this summer’s sixth annual Summer Performance Festival in San Francisco. The piece transforms grounded, classical movement into flight, inviting the audience on a majestic and exhilarating journey. Nine dancers balance the technique of classical ballet while weaving in contemporary dance vocabulary.
“A critic wrote that I ‘speak the language of classical ballet with fluency and a modern accent,” Bradley said.
The critic went on to write that much of Bradley’s vocabulary is traditional, but her sentence construction and punctuation is delightfully quirky and offbeat; essentially, she is E.E. Cummings of ballet.
“Since I founded the Milissa Payne Project in 2010, a narrative has driven most of my work,” Bradley said. “However, for this project, I am trying to express the feeling of flight in all of its related meanings: lightness, freedom, uncertainty, abandonment, the strength needed to escape gravity, and so on.”
In bringing us Up in the Air, Bradley relinquished her cherished role as storyteller and invites the audience to take away their own interpretations.
Bradley’s greatest lesson from her experience as a dancer is to know and honor her roots. She has studied other styles of dance, from jazz to modern, swing to tango; but her passion and love remain with ballet, its history, evolution, and foundational role in Western dance.
“Many choreographers whose work is grounded in classical technique deliberately downplay or sabotage certain elements of technique as a way of rebelling against the constraints of tradition,” Bradley said.
However, rebellion only goes so far; it has almost become expected of contemporary choreographers. Rather than rebel, Bradley prefers to perfect and explore the existing form.