Few things good ever come easily, or without stepping outside one’s comfort zone. But persistence paid off in Cincinnati Ballet’s pursuit of Peter Frampton, the Grammy-winning guitar hero with a career spanning decades. And he’s still touring and making new music, including some original compositions written especially for Frampton & Cincinnati Ballet Live.
Speaking by telephone from Nashville, Tenn., his new home base, Frampton plays up a little British charm. He’s affable, jokey and quick to chuckle.
After Cincinnati Ballet Artistic Director and CEO Victoria Morgan first suggested to Frampton a full evening program of his well-known music, his response was, “Are you sure?” He laughs. Then he said yes.
Being commissioned to write music for dance was something Frampton had never done before. It was his own suggestion, and an exciting prospect for both him and Morgan. Little did he realize he was also going to be asked to play live onstage, with a full band, alongside the Ballet’s dancers. And this became another thrill.
“[Morgan] said we’d do three 20-minute sections, with two intermissions, and I figured I’d be in the audience watching all this,” Frampton says. “And she said, ‘No, no, no! We’d want you to play it with the band live onstage.’ And I said, ‘Ohh!’ My stomach turned on that one. I thought, ‘How exciting… but how scary at the same point.’ ”
How did this seemingly unlikely pairing come about? It’s not so far-fetched when considering a follow-up to the Ballet’s 2011 hot-ticket Infamous Love Songs production, featuring beloved local Alt/Folk band Over The Rhine playing live onstage with the company.
Another local point: Frampton had lived in the Cincinnati area for a number of years with his former spouse until fairly recently.
Yet getting in touch with him took some time and effort, between Frampton touring extensively and the Ballet’s various commitments and pursuits to reach him. Morgan says she and Frampton finally connected through a local attorney (who wishes to remain anonymous).
“When he got to the [Ballet’s] studio, he saw the caliber and the quality, and I think we looked really legit,” says Morgan.
Frampton was “suitably amazed and impressed” by the dancing he saw: rehearsals for Carmen during the 2011-2012 season. He also watched a DVD of a New Works piece the Ballet’s Associate Artistic Director Devon Carney had choreographed in 2009 set to music from Frampton’s 2006 album, Fingerprints. He says he was floored by how moving it was. Frampton says he doesn’t generally listen to his own music, but, “Where another art form has been latched on in a huge way, and turned [my music] from just audio to this incredible visual emotion, it’s rather wonderful,” he says.
The three 20-minute sections of the production feature wildly diverse interpretations of Frampton tunes, thanks to brand-new choreography from the top-notch talents of Carney, Missy Lay Zimmer and Andrew Hubbard of the local Exhale Dance Tribe, and the Ballet’s Resident Choreographer Adam Hougland.
Morgan describes Frampton’s new music for this production as sounding “so smoothly, greatly Peter Frampton.”
Frampton says, “Obviously, it’s going to be my music… It’s not going to be Nutcracker à la Frampton.”
“It’s so interesting that in some ways, we just are who we are,” Morgan says.
Clearly, part of the appeal for Frampton was stepping outside his comfort zone, even if it made him a little nervous at first.
“I think it was just, to start with, writing for dance, with dance in mind, but still being me,” he says. “But I think the actual fear was whether I could do it.”
“I’m not nervous about anything except for the fact that I, the band, has to play exactly what they are dancing to right now, what I have sent them on the tapes,” he says. “We cannot alter or change the tempo or the length by one beat. Otherwise there will be a complete Cincinnati Ballet company lying down on the stage on top of each other and that will all be my fault.” He laughs. “Not their fault, my fault, that I’ve caused it. I’ve caused a train wreck.”
Morgan speaks of the Ballet moving beyond its boundaries into increasingly modern, or even riskier territory.
“There might have been a time when we couldn’t have done [a production like] this, because we’re so ballet,” she says. “But now our ballet is so not ballet. It is ballet … but it’s something else altogether.”
Frampton and Cincinnati Ballet live, sharing a stage? Sounds like something else indeed.
FRAMPTON & CINCINNATI BALLET LIVE takes place at the Aronoff Center Friday-Saturday. Tickets: 513-621-ARTS or cballet.org.