Russian-born prima ballerina Valentina Kozlova and choreographer Margo Sappington of Texas say it was serendipity that brought them together several years ago.
In a span of about five years, the women collaborated on new dances and formed the Daring Project dance company, which opens the Florida Dance Festival on Saturday with a performance at the University of South Florida.
Shortly after they met, Kozlova, then a principal dancer with the New York City Ballet, began collaborating with Sappington, a freelance choreographer whose work includes Broadway shows, TV commercials and music videos, as well as ballet.
Sappington created a new ballet for Kozlova to Gershwin's Prelude for Piano No. 2. It premiered during Kozlova's triumphant return to Moscow, 12 years after she defected in 1979 while performing in Los Angeles with the Bolshoi Ballet.
In 1994, Sappington choreographed "From Bolshoi to Broadway" for Kozlova and nine other dancers. From that independent success, the women began talking about forming a company.
It wasn't a new idea to Kozlova, who for years had longed for her own company.
"I wanted to create something of my own; the Daring Project is my dream," she said in a telephone conversation from New York last week while preparing for the company's performance here.
She decided to leave the New York City Ballet in 1995 and devote her time to the dance ensemble she already had begun assembling.
"I was with the New York City Ballet for 12 years," she said. "I learned a lot, I gave them a lot, it was time to go. I wasn't excited anymore because I had done it all."
With themselves as co-directors, Kozlova and Sappington formed the Daring Project with a core group of about 10 dancers.
"We look for dancers who are classically trained who can go from one style of dance to another in a split of a second," Kozlova said.
The women used their own money to start the company. "Neither Margo nor I pay ourselves," Kozlova said. "After all expenses, we put whatever money is left back into the company.
"After our first season last year, we made over $200,000, but we spent slightly more than that. We had about a $15,000 deficit."
For the past two years, Kozlova and her husband, Carlo Montali, and their 4-year-old daughter, Clelia, have lived first in West Palm Beach and now Miami. Next month, they will move back to New York City. "The way the company is going, I have to be in New York now," she said.
Sappington, 49, has lived in New York City since she went there at age 17 to join the Joffrey Ballet Company. After four years with the company, Joffrey urged her to move into choreography.
"It's my calling," she said. "I had been doing it since I was in high school. I feel very fortunate that I have something that I love to do and people think that I'm good at."
That she is a woman doesn't matter. "In the dance world, especially in choreography," Sappington said, "it doesn't matter if you're a man or a woman as long as you deliver the goods."
The creation of a dance sometimes begins with a musical score and sometimes with just a concept, she said.
"Choreography is more than just making up movements," she said. "It's what the movements express. It's how you pick up a glass, how you feel about something in that particular moment in time. It's a form of expression, not just arbitrary jiggling around."
Saturday's program will feature some of Sappington's work. Six of the company's members will perform in the evening's program.
Corsaire is a traditional, classical ballet pas de deux.
Blue Angel is the first solo work Sappington created for Kozlova. It is the contemporary ballet to Gershwin's Prelude for Piano No. 2.
The entire company will perform in One Summer Night, Sappington's high-spirited dance to the nuevo flamenco music of Paco di Lucia.
Jazzmania, a work choreographed by Sappington, also features the entire company. It's set to the music of Ray Charles, Dave Brubeck and other jazz greats and, Sappington said, "is just plain fun."