When the French talk about “l’heure bleue,” they mean that magical time of morning or evening that divides full daylight and full darkness, especially the pre-dawn moments when we’re still half-dreaming and half-awake. (By contrast, the British “blue hour” refers to the time that pubs close between lunch and evening sessions. No poetry, those Brits.)
There’s no evidence that paintings in the Louvre come alive during that mystical time, but they’ll do so in the Bubenicek brothers’ world premiere Thursday. “L’Heure Bleue” joins Twyla Tharp’s “The Golden Section” and Sasha Janes’ “Rhapsodic Dances” in N.C. Dance Theatre’s season-ending Contemporary Fusion program.
The brothers have different responsibilities: Jiri choreographs, Otto designs sets and costumes. (He also sometimes composes for his brother’s work, though this piece uses the music of J.S. Bach.)
But as a chat with the identical twins reveals, the creative lines between them blurred long ago.
“Sometimes I’ll say, ‘The steps could be this way,’ ” Otto explains. “He may be stubborn and say ‘No,’ but then he has trust in me, and he tries it. This week I wanted to tell him about a step, and he had the same idea before I could speak.”
The Czech siblings are in a kind of “blue hour” in their own careers, that inexact place where dancers often turn to choreography. (They’ll be 40 next year.)
Jiri has already leaped in, setting 40 pieces of varying lengths and planning his first full-length story piece (Stravinsky’s “A Soldier’s Tale”) for a debut this June. Otto has contributed to many of those, and both men still dance in Germany: Otto at Hamburg Ballet, Jiri at Dresden SemperOper.
Fate has kept them together as the children of circus acrobats, as conservatory dance students, as amazingly well-matched performers (who also had other dance partners), even as apartment-mates in Hamburg for a while. (Search YouTube for “Bubenicek” and “ballet twins” to see a multi-part documentary.) When apart, they consult via Skype.
They came to the interview in the NCDT rehearsal studio wearing nearly identical haircuts and dressed in nearly identical gray T-shirts, blue pants and black shoes. (Jiri’s shirt had a Bob Dylan photo on the front; Otto’s was blank.) Yet they’re distinct individuals.
“I’m the one who jumps into projects, who’s always organizing things, full of ideas,” says Jiri. “Otto’s good at (details): Give him complicated software, and he understands everything after two weeks. Our talents go well with each other.”
They collaborated here in 2011 by reviving Jiri’s “Le souffle de l’esprit,” which also interpreted painted images (Leonardo Da Vinci’s) and used music by Bach. Artistic director Jean-Pierre Bonnefoux took to the work and proposed a world premiere this year.
“We are both from big companies where there’s a lot of stress, where it can become like a dance factory,” says Otto, thinking of Bonnefoux’s time in New York and theirs in Hamburg. “We all do art because we love it, but sometimes we can forget that in a big company.
“A smaller one, like Dance Theatre, can be more like a family, if that (attitude) comes from the top. There’s a kindness in the air here.”
Jiri was still working on the new piece last Wednesday, shaping it to the dancers’ strengths and his own: a kind of movement less angular and more fluid than he learned through years of classical training.
“I don’t want to be the choreographer who comes in with everything written in a book,” he says. “I’m creating it on the dancers, so they feel it belongs to them.”
Some of the steps are modern. Some of them summon up centuries past, when art that inspired Jiri was made. (“When paintings are really good, it’s almost like they’re trying to tell you their story.”) Because “L’heure bleue” is also the name of a heavily floral perfume by Guerlain, love enters the piece, symbolized by roses.
The precise beauties of Bach’s music might seem an unusual choice for an emotional ballet, but Jiri says “I love it: It’s rhythmic, but it’s also full of feelings: I think of him being in love as he wrote. This piece is really about what’s happening inside the characters.”
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