APEX: a (Killer) Whale Ballet

APEX: a (Killer) Whale Ballet

APEX: a (Killer) Whale Ballet

APEX is a contemporary ballet about the social lives of orca (killer whales). Created for a cast of 18 dancers, it features four sections and runs 19 mins.

The piece debuted in 2018 on Convergence Ballet in Phoenix, AZ.  


Killer Whales (orcinus orca) are beautifully intelligent and emotional creatures, more like us than not, and as such may have much to teach us. Like humans, they are apex predators, in that there are no animals that prey on them. They sit atop the food chain and also, it could be argued, at the apex of the evolutionary chain. But it’s their social and emotional needs that are so like humans’ that I relate to most and that call out to the deepest part of ourselves. Despite their strength and power, they are still tender with one another, still move beautifully through their environment. Their rich and unique social lives are also impressive. In particular, the matriarchal dominance of the females, who hold the primary positions of power, and to whom, in an inspiring example of devotion, the sons stay connected for most of their lives. They have successfully triangulated many of the divisions that beset us: male vs female, individual vs group, strength vs grace, and have done it all while keeping alive a notion of play and while singing the most moving of songs. 


I. Return

Each year, northern resident orcas return to a specific gravel beach off the coast of British Columbia, rolling, scrubbing, and rubbing themselves on the rocks. Why they do this is a mystery: it is one of their many enigmatic social behaviors.

II. Source

Southern resident orcas’ diet consists entirely of chinook (or king) salmon, which are themselves threatened by dams on their habitat. In order to hunt their food, whales use unique vocal calls and clicks, reading the sound vibrations to visualize where the food is: a process called echolocation.

III. Rest

Because orcas are mammals, they have to breathe air. In order to sleep, they close one eye, shutting down half their brains. They subconsciously rise to the surface to breathe, while swimming in a line, shoulder to shoulder, for protection and comfort. In this section, a trio of dancers envisions a mother holding her young close as she passes on the pod’s traditions and harmonious culture.

IV. Breach

Whales hunt and sleep, but they also play, shown here as a series of physical behaviors such as breaching – in which they live their entire bodies out of the water, and spy hopping, where they rise out the water and spin around to see their surrounding. Despite their enormous weight, they perform these gestures with ease and grace and in total unity.


Media coverage included photos from the piece running in The Seattle Times accompanying an article gathering responses to a grieving mother orca carrying around her dead calf.  


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