Jamila Khan | Sacramento365.com

Photo by Keith Sutter Photography.

Go Behind the Barre with the Capital Dance Project

  Rex Wheeler is one of Capital Dance Project's nine choreographers for Behind the Barre: Made in Sacramento. Rex joined the San Francisco-based dance company, Smuin Contemporary American Ballet, in the Fall of 2015 after dancing…


Rex Wheeler is one of Capital Dance Project‘s nine choreographers for Behind the Barre: Made in Sacramento. Rex joined the San Francisco-based dance company, Smuin Contemporary American Ballet, in the Fall of 2015 after dancing with the Sacramento Ballet for five years. Originally hailing from London, England, Rex shares his thoughts on returning to Sacramento to create his new work for Capital Dance Project.



Photo courtesy of the Capital Dance Project.

As someone who cherishes the time I had in Sacramento as a dancer, I’ve been anticipating my return to Capital Dance Project for a while now. In May 2015, Behind the Barre became something much larger than any of us ever considered. In the following months, I accepted a contract with a San Francisco-based contemporary ballet company — Smuin Contemporary American Ballet, beginning rehearsals for their new season right away. While the transition to this particular company was something I had worked hard for and welcomed with open arms, it felt bittersweet. I was excited to experience new work, dance for new choreographers, and make new friends but after five years of being in Sacramento, I knew I was going to have to say goodbye to some very special people.

Since then, a year has gone by and although a lot has changed, some things haven’t changed too much…creating a new ballet can often be a very daunting feeling. Walking into a studio with a group of very talented dancers staring at you can be scary, especially when they’re waiting for you to tell them what to do, knowing that this process could be a complete waste of their time or…it could turn into something quite remarkable. There can be an element of pressure involved and most of the time it’s self-inflicted. In this case, it was walking into the sparkling new studios at the E. Claire Raley Studios for the Performing Arts and seeing an old friend smiling at me that reassured me. Her smile became so wide that as I walked closer to her, she merely broke into laughter. I knew right there in that moment that I was home again! I was so happy to be back amongst friends, people that had grown to become family to me.

It’s this kind of atmosphere that I love and that any choreographer is lucky to have, no matter how long it lasts. It’s this kind of place that makes one want to return, time after time and create new work. It’s the smiles and the laughter that let me know I’m free to truly go for it and to try something I might otherwise be afraid to try.

I think that this is what makes Capital Dance Project different – it has a cheeky sense of humor and a very open mind. We’re not afraid to mix things up, while still honoring the art form that inspired us all in the first place. Now we just want everyone else to see what all the fuss is about!

Christopher Nachtrab
is a founding member of Capital Dance Project. He has choreographed for Sacramento Ballet’s ‘Beer and Ballet’ program and for the company’s affiliated Youth Ensemble — as well as for the inaugural performance of Capital Dance Project.



Photo by Alexander Biber.

The Capital Dance Project is a unique collective of artists that have reshaped the Sacramento dance scene — by empowering the creative and collaborative talents of local dancers, musicians, and visual artists. As one of the founding members of the Project, I have been able to see first-hand the ingenuity, resourcefulness, and passion of a close-knit group of dancers who unceasingly push the boundaries of our art-form, with a determined sense of grace. After a successful premier presentation last summer, we are back in the studios rehearsing for Behind the Barre: Made in Sacramento.

Adding to the excitement of Capital Dance Project’s return: this summer each choreographer (including myself) has accepted the challenge to join forces with another local Sacramento artist.

In April 2016, the Project reached out to team up with M5 Arts and we were able to speak about our original concepts and ideas. A few weeks later I was put into contact with the artist Kevin Zee and made plans to grab some coffee and see if our artistic senses would mesh. I quickly came to find that any apprehensions I had possessed were lifted as I explained to Kevin what I had envisioned. It was a brief meeting, but an instant connection was formed — designs were generated and a common voice was discovered.  Fast-forward to August and a handful of text messages later, and Kevin and I are now forging ahead with our creation – “Desiderata” (Desired Things) — set to the music of Tchaikovsky’s “Souvenir de Florence” Movement 1.

As a choreographer, I generally don’t feel as though I particularly choreograph to a specific narrative, but rather to allow the music to encourage me to explore an intention and in this case: the recreation of the universe. As I began to create this performance piece I found great inspiration in the 1927 prose by Max Ehrmann, from which I borrowed my piece’s title. I imagined as if the words of Mr. Ehrmann were set as a list of instructions given to a group of dancers to “begin again”, by realigning the planets — resetting the stars in the sky — reshaping our worlds and repairing our spirits.

Max Ehrmann writes:

“Go placidly amid the noise and haste,
and remember what peace there may be in silence.
As far as possible without surrender
be on good terms with all persons.
Speak your truth quietly and clearly;
and listen to others,
even the dull and the ignorant;
they too have their story.”

In my opinion that kind of sounds like the “how-to” directions to resetting the button on the human condition.

As of today, I have taught all the steps necessary to fill the voluminous music of Tchaikovsky’s work, but there is still much to be done before the piece is ready for the stage next week. All dancers in the Capital Dance Project not only dance and choreograph, they all actively work together in putting together a stellar show — from designing and sewing costumes to theater rental, advertising, programming, outreach, finance, photography, promoting, scheduling and fundraising…in essence we are all very busy! I believe that as a group we do not see obstacles as hindrances to achieving our goals, but rather as challenges that we can overcome by allow our passions to fuel our dreams, because…and if I may quote Max Ehrmann again:

“With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams,
it is still a beautiful world.
Be cheerful.
Strive to be happy.”

The public has to two chances to see what Wheeler, Nachtrab, and the rest of the Capital Dance Project have in store this year on August 26 and 27 at Crest Sacramento. For showtimes and tickets, visit Behind the Barre: Made in Sacramento’s Sacramento365 event listing here.