If Parris Goebel has been making waves in the international hip hop scene for the past few years, she’s just caused a tsunami. The 20 year-old Samoan-New Zealander was recently announced as a choreographer for Jennifer Lopez’ first world tour.
It’s a dream come true for the South Auckland dancer and choreographer, but she is no overnight success. Parris formed her own, all-female crew ‘ReQuest’ in 2007, and has been working hard to push the boundaries in her field. In conjunction with her father and manager, Brett Goebel, Parris runs The Palace, a dance studio in Auckland, new Zealand which is dedicated entirely to teaching the art of hip hop.
At last year’s Hip Hop International’s World Dance Championships in Las Vegas, The Palace cleaned up. Crews choreographed by Parris took home two gold medals and one silver – out of four categories. The previous two years, ReQuest had won the gold. In 2010, they were the first group ever outside North America to be selected for Season 6 of Randy Jackson’s America’s Best Dance Crew, triumphing over 400 crews in the auditions before making it all the way to the finals. More recently, Parris was crowned Female Choreographer of the Year at the 2012 Industry World of Dance Awards.
And now, at the time of writing, she is in Los Angeles, working with three other acclaimed choreographers on a stage show that will be seen by much of the world. American Idol judge Lopez has paired up with Enrique Iglesias for the two-month tour, which begins in July and covers South America, Europe, Asia and the States. It was reportedly J-Lo’s boyfriend – ex-back up dancer and now lead choreographer Casper Smart – who suggested Parris for the role.
So what’s it like to work with one of the biggest names in pop music? According to Parris, Lopez is “a very positive and genuine person. She is passionate about her work and wants the world to feel emotion through her music.”
In the recent American Idol finals, Lopez hit the stage with ReQuest to perform Parris’ signature ‘Polyswagg’. Parris describes the style as “combining sassy woman fire with aggressive inner strength. The grooves, heavy hits and milky flow are unique and will leave you inspired!”
Her recent successes have catapulted Parris onto the international stage, and her goal to be one of the world’s leading choreographers could be well within reach. As her father says, it’s “no longer a long term goal, [it will] pretty much happen in the next year.”
That family support, coupled with pure passion and dedication, have brought the choreographer this far. Her dancing journey began at age three with jazz classes, and although she now also enjoys contemporary dance, it’s hip hop that has her heart. “I have loved it since I was young,” she says. “It calls you and has so many ways to express yourself. It’s raw and from the street. You can do it if you are short, tall, big or small, boy or girl.”
To have achieved so much at such a young age is truly an inspiration. So what’s her secret? “Believe in yourself, chase you dreams” Parris says. “Make sure you have only positive people around you. Anything is possible. Crowns up!”
Dot-com start-ups are all the rage in the business world, but what about the unsung entrepreneurs in the dance community? These dancers and dance makers are trying new tactics to find success and re-energize the dance profession. Among these individuals is Asheville native Nick Kepley, an ambitious go-getter who is applying his ballet and Broadway know-how to his own start up MOTION Dance+Theater.
Kepley received his early ballet training from Sandra Miller at Asheville’s Balance Point Studios. He danced professionally with Ballet Austin, Kansas City Ballet, on Broadway in Mary Poppins, and with the New York Philharmonic in Camelot. Throughout his performing career, Kepley demonstrated a knack for choreography and created works for many reputable showcases and regional companies. He learned a lot from each experience, but creating “a 20 minute ballet in five days” was no easy feat. He began to wonder what would happen if the stress of deadlines and scouring for resources were removed. What type of art would transpire?
Adam Still from Colorado Ballet. Photo by Peak Definition
This inspired Kepley to launch his own creative endeavor – MOTION Dance+Theater. He wanted to provide dancers and choreographers employment during the typically slow summer months, as well as give them an outlet to take artistic risks. Kepley describes MOTION as a “laboratory rather than a performing company”, where more importance is placed on the process rather than a finished product.
In July 2010, MOTION had its inaugural season with sold out performances at NYC’s Dance Theater Workshop. Leading up to the shows, Kepley and NYC choreographer Valerie Salgado had three uninterrupted weeks to choreograph on a group of professional dancers. He gave no rules or guidelines, but allowed the art to develop naturally.
Kepley didn’t create MOTION just for his own artistic indulgences. He wanted to provide a new type of dance experience for the audience. “I really try hard for the audience to think about dance as a modern art form”, he explained. At each showing, there was a moderated discussion to talk about “how dance is made” and, afterwards, he invited the audience to participate in a Q & A with the dancers and choreographers.
Choreographer Brian Carey Chung
Unfortunately, the arts were hit hard economically and MOTION felt the blow; it looked as if there would not be another season. Then donations came forth from North Carolina and Kepley decided to move the company to his hometown. Last summer, MOTION enjoyed three weeks in the fresh mountain air of Asheville. “I like having it down there”, he said. “[In New York] it’s so hectic, having it in North Carolina feels freer and more artistically inspiring.”
What to expect from MOTION Dance+Theater in 2012
Six dancers from Colorado Ballet, Ballet Austin, Kansas City Ballet, and Nashville Ballet will join MOTION in Asheville for three weeks of artistic discovery. Kepley will create a new ballet with original composition by North Carolina School of the Arts graduate Bruce Tippette and has invited two other choreographers to participate in the project: Gabrielle Lamb and Brian Carey Chung.
Chung has his own NYC company called Collective Body Dance Lab and has created works for Cedar Lake II, Connecticut Ballet, and Santa Barbara Ballet. He was drawn to MOTION and its mission immediately. “[Kepley] is so earnest about the process of creating work and a safe place to do that”, Chung said. Both guest choreographers agreed that the concept of having resources provided would allow for more artistic possibilities. Lamb, who has choreographed for Ballet X, Morphoses, and Dance Theatre of Harlem, expressed, “when you are a freelancer … and based in New York, everything becomes that much more difficult. You have to do everything yourself: rent the studios, employ the dancers, find venues. It’s a wonderful chance to have that all taken care of, to go someplace and to concentrate on the work.”
Choreographer Gabrielle Lamb by Ken Kramer
Kepley believes it’s important to present a diverse program and felt that could be accomplished by bringing Chung and Lamb onboard. Chung likes to “play with different ways of creating work”, and Kepley loves his integration of multi-media. The two have already discussed building on this cross-disciplinary display. Lamb, who is also a dance filmmaker, sees her work as “cinematic”, saying “the work I have done in film has changed the way I think about choreography.” All three choreographers pull from their ballet backgrounds, but look for deeper meaning in the movement.
The future of MOTION Dance+Theater
Currently, Kepley is working towards a transition out of the limelight and into more choreography, so MOTION comes at a perfect time in his life. But it’s a lot of work. “Funding is a non-stop job”, he says. “As soon as the season ends, I’m already working on the next.” Kepley strives to cover 100% of his dancers and choreographers expenses, including travel, accommodation, production fees, and operational costs.
MOTION is on the right track. Kepley fundraises proactively with special events and invitations to rehearsals. Additionally, he is forming a board of directors with Camp Wayfarer director Nancy Wilson, one of MOTION’s main sponsors, at the helm. There’s no doubt these are difficult economic times, but Kepley’s MOTION Dance+Theater has the potential and artistic integrity to prevail.
Divided by so much distance, it’s easy for American dance communities to disconnect with one another and forget that there is stimulating dance happening all over the nation. My professional dance career took me from the East Coast, to the West Coast, and in between, where I encountered a spectrum of incredible dance. Here are 5 American choreographers making artistic waves across the US.
Emery LeCrone's "With Thoughtful Lightness" by dancers Gabrielle Lamb & Thomas Forster. Photo Matt Murphy
Emery LeCrone New York City, NY
At only 24, Emery LeCrone already has several major choreographic commissions. She grew up taking dance with her two older sisters and joined North Carolina Dance Theater after graduating from North Carolina School of the Arts in 2005. NCDT exposed Emery to the dynamic work of William Forsythe, Alonzo King, and Dwight Rhoden, which would eventually influence her own choreography.
For Emery, choreographing is “an ever-evolving process.” She attributes her movement vocabulary to her classical roots, improvisation, and contemporary notions, incorporating “lots of spirals and interesting use of space”. Every ballet has its own process, affected by a number of variables such as music or allotted time.
What’s on the horizon for Emery? In 2012, Emery joins Andrea Miller and Shen Wei, as fellows for the New York City Center’s inaugural choreographic residency. City Center gives each talent 200 hours of free rehearsal space and the chance to show work in the 2012 Fall for Dance Festival. She will also continue to serve as the resident choreographer for NYC based New Chamber Ballet and Columbia Ballet Collaborative. In March, Colorado Ballet premieres her new ballet Archetypes.
Divergence, created for the Oregon Ballet Theater, premiered on April 22, 2010
Penelope Freeh presents "Pilgrim". Photo Sean Smuda
Penelope Freeh Minneapolis, MN
After performing in NYC, Penelope Freeh moved to Minneapolis in 1994 to join the James Sewell Ballet. She had a gut feeling she would connect with James’s work, but had no idea Minneapolis would become ‘home’ and lead her to a new passion … creating movement.
Her first choreographic opportunity came in 1999. A friend was presenting work in the Minnesota Fringe Festival and had extra time on her program; she offered the space to Penelope. Despite no prior choreographic experience or inclination, Penelope accepted. “It was such a no brainer … to say ‘no’ would have been stupid.” The moment was a revelation. “I [felt] like I unlocked some big life secret … It was really exciting!”
She describes her movement as “theatrical and poetic,” yet “athletic”. With no set choreographic process, Penelope strives to let movement evolve organically, avoiding the “predictable” and allowing it to “unlock and open”.
Already, 2012 looks to be a big year. In January, she’ll present two pieces at Minneapolis’s Red Eye Theater and a piece commissioned for the St. Paul Conservatory of the Performing Arts. Next fall, she’ll collaborate with a local composer and NYC choreographer Patrick Corbin for a production at the Southern Theater. Additionally, Penelope will choreograph Wonderful Town for the Skylark Opera.
With each ballet, Penelope finds new depth. “I could [choreograph] for the rest of my life and it would make me really happy”, she says.
Simple Folk , premiered on the James Sewell Ballet in February 2009 at the Southern Theater in Minneapolis Dancers Featured: Nicolas Lincoln, Sally Rousse, Chris Hannon, and Stephanie Wolf
Brian Enos working with dancers in the studio. Photo courtesy of Mystic Ballet, Photo by Glenn Goettler
Brian Enos Chicago, IL
The transition from dancer to choreographer wasn’t difficult for Brian Enos. After performing with the Houston Ballet and Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, he was ready for the next phase in his life. “I’ve never been the kind of person who has to be onstage … I enjoy working in the studio”, he explains.
Brian discovered a knack for choreographing while attending the Houston Ballet Academy. The academy’s summer intensive gave him a chance to create and exposed his raw talent to artistic director Ben Stevenson. Impressed by what he saw, Ben asked Brian to choreograph on the professional company – at the time, Brian was only 18 and still a student in the academy.
It’s impossible for Brian to describe his work and process in a few select words. “I haven’t thought of my pieces as a body of work [because] each is so individual”. He says the music and his dancers inform his choreography. “Usually, I spend the first [rehearsal] playing around with material, getting to know the dancers … to see how they work and move”.
His next project takes him South, to work with the Nashville Ballet. Now that he is no longer performing, Brian looks forward to exploring choreographic opportunities and further developing his artistic voice.
Three, created for Hubbard Street Dance Chicago Featured Dancers: Shannon Alvis, Jamy Meek, and Ana Lopez
Catherine Cabeen and Karena Birk. Photo Tim Summers
Catherine Cabeen Seattle, WA
As a child, Catherine Cabeen made dances in her backyard, but her true choreographic voice emerged while she was performing in NYC with the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company. Along with several other BTJ/AZ dancers, she showed work at small festivals, allowing choreography to be an outlet for emotions she could not express openly as a dancer.
Catherine describes her style as “aggressive, classically informed and therefore iconoclastic …” She likes dance to inhibit space and assimilates the sensation of choreographing or dancing as “trying to feel the wind in my hair …” Her work is a collaboration with not only her dancers, but with “interdisciplinary artists” as well.
Currently, CCC’s roster has six diverse dancers. In 2013, CCC will premiere a “large-scale work” in Seattle. Simultaneously, Catherine will create a new repertory show to be performed locally and nationally.
A montage of Catherine Cabeen and Company repertoire Dancers Featured: Catherine Cabeen, Michael Cepress, Bo Choi, Echo Gustafson, Sarah Lustbader, Kane Mathis, Julian Martlew, Jay McAleer, and Connie Yun
San Francisco choreographer Amy Siewert has been creating dances since high school. “I made my first piece when I was 16 [as part of Cincinnati’s School of Creative and Performing Arts curriculum]… it’s something I grew up doing,” she explains.
From Ohio, Amy ventured west to dance with the Sacramento Ballet and San Francisco’s Smuin Ballet. She received her first big commission in 1999 for the Carolina Ballet. From there, her choreographic resume developed in conjunction with her performing career.
Amy credits her classical upbringing for the backbone of her movement and harbors no intentions to ever detach herself from it. “I am fascinated with classical technique … I like to take [the basics] and split them open … I follow the physics [of movement], the way ballet follows physics, but try to use it in a way traditional ballet doesn’t.”
Now, Amy is the resident choreographer for Smuin Ballet and has several exciting premieres to look forward to. This spring, she’ll choreograph for the Colorado Ballet. She’ll also create a collaborative work for BalletMet, featuring software artist Frieder Weiss. Her busy spring concludes with a premiere on Oakland Ballet. Amy also choreographs on her own contemporary ballet troupe Imagery.
Dear Miss Cline, premiered on the Smuin Ballet in May 2011 at the Palace of Fine Arts, San Francisco Dancers Featured: Terez Dean, Jonathan Dumar, Jared Hunt, Shannon Hurlbert, Jane Rehm, Susan Roemer, John Speed Orr, Christian Squires, Erin Yarbrough-Stewart
Requiem, premiered on the Smuin Ballet in May 2011 at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco – the ballet was created in memory of the late Michael Smuin Dancers Featured: Travis Walker, Susan Roemer, Erin Yarbrough-Stewart, and Jonathan Powell
Top photo: Choreography by Amy Siewert. Dancers Katherine Wells and Ben Needham Wood. Photo by David DeSilva
A dance performance seems like a simple equation: one part choreography, two parts proscenium stage, and three parts talented cast. Add a few lights and some great music, maybe even a set piece or two, and you have the perfect show. Easy enough, right? Too easy, it seems, for the Los Angeles-based choreographer Heidi Duckler of Heidi Duckler Dance Theatre. Duckler has made a living creating site-based work in the greater Los Angeles area for over twenty-five years. A “non-traditional” choreographer, as she prefers to call herself, she has run a successful contemporary dance company in an area of California where dance seems to be dominated by commercialization and the persona of Hollywood. However, after speaking with Duckler and her Managing Director, Emily Wanserski, it became clear that this idea of celebrity, privatization, and, conversely, accessibility in the Facebook-era feeds into the company’s overall mission.
“We like the idea of bringing dance to a location versus expecting an audience to come to us [and the dance]”, Wanserski stated. This zeal to reach out to audiences, whether they know they are being an audience or not, has characterized a lot of Duckler’s most notable works, including Laundromatinee, which takes place inside a laundromat, and Expulsion, which always occurs in a vacant lot.
Their newest piece, based on the life of Cleopatra, will premiere in February 2012 on the 51st floor of the City National Bank Tower building in downtown Los Angeles. As a project Duckler has been longing to do for a while, Cleopatra ~ On the Banks provides “so much untapped opportunity” in the site and the story. The site-specific choreographer sees great challenges in the performance, as it mixes the corporate lifestyle of the 1980s Los Angeles power suit with the elusive feminism of the iconic Cleopatra. Coming into an extravagant site like the bank tower, which has been abandoned for over ten years, is par for the course for Duckler. “Sometimes when you have an idea, you have to wait until you find the right venue to express it,” Duckler says of her work. Her company almost always rehearses in the site they are performing in, and this creates, what Wanserski refers to as, their aim to “animate the landscape” wherever they are.
Of L.A., a city she has lived and worked in for almost thirty years, Duckler finds daily muses in the city and its pace which is constantly changing and evolving. She states, “I’ve lived here for 30 years and can still drive down a street that I’ve never been on.” Duckler hardly shies away from the idea of celebrity and media that seem to define the entire city. Instead, she chooses to mirror those ideas through her own artistic viewpoint. In fact, a contributing point of inspiration for the Cleopatra work came from a quote by pop star Macy Gray. Duckler also draws upon the talents of another female artist; author Stacy Schiff, to find ingenuity and inspiration to drive this work. In Schiff’s new book, Cleopatra: A Life, she explores a feministic point of view on the Egyptian queen and exposes how Cleopatra was not only an object of beauty and desire, but how she possessed qualities both cunning and opportunistic.
The parallels between the ancient and the new are reflected in Heidi Duckler Dance Theatre’s mission to challenge the relationship between audience and art through site-specific performance. It is evident that finding connections in our world is inherent to Duckler as both an Artistic/Executive Director and choreographer, for she believes, “on some level, people want to [ultimately] be united.” And this performance will be no exception.
“Cleopatra ~ On the Banks” will have its world premiere in February 2012 in Los Angeles. Find ‘Heidi Duckler Dance Theatre’ on Twitter, Facebook, and at heididuckler.org.
When a dancer steps down from the stage and “hangs up his or her shoes”, it doesn’t always mean an end to a dance-centered career. Many go on to teach, open a studio, direct a company, design costumes, and several choose the route of choreographer. Those who make the shift from dancer to choreographer may find a most freeing, creative outlet to express themselves. And a former life as a dancer just may make that transition smoother and richer.
Dance Informa hears from two established choreographers, both former professional dancers, on how and why they made the jump and what their life as choreographer provides them artistically.
Did you always know you wanted to choreograph? When did those desires begin to surface?
Edwaard Liang, freelance choreographer, USA www.edwaardliang.com I never had the thought or desire to choreograph. I had a one-track mind in terms of what I thought I wanted in my career. When I was dancing with Nederlands Dans Theater, I was urged to try my hand creating in their annual choreographic workshops. I had such a great time with the process. I had no clue what I was doing, but loved it.
Where are you along this transition from dancer to choreographer? Have you completely shifted?
Edwaard Liang I have completely shifted from dancer to choreographer. I don’t feel sad about not performing, I think because I’m still a part of this world. I get to take class and feel like a dancer and move when I want to, but don’t have the same pressures I used to before to be perfect. I get to enjoy movement for movement’s sake. Plus, I never got the ‘juice’ or ‘high’ from performing, so it was not hard to leave.
What does your life as a choreographer offer you that life as a dancer has not?
Stephen Baynes, resident choreographer for The Australian Ballet, rehearsing Baynes's "Beyond Bach". Photo by James Braund
Stephen Baynes As a choreographer, I have relinquished the challenge and fulfillment of performing but have been challenged and fulfilled in a different way by creating my own dances and seeing them interpreted by wonderful artists.
Edwaard Liang My life as a choreographer has given me more freedom and input into what I want to say. Making ballets are like making mini movies. You get to decide the music, costumes and sets. You feel like you’re able to mould the whole package.
For dancers who want to either delve into choreography or who want to transition completely, what suggestions do you have?
Stephen Baynes Be very sure that you really feel you have something to say. Try to get as much experience in making dance as you can. It is a very practical endeavour and needs constant practice, but that can be difficult. More than anything else, search for your own voice, which doesn’t always mean that you can be completely original, but at least it is uniquely yours.
Edwaard Liang's "Age of Innocence" performed by Fabrice Calmels and Victoria Jaiani. Photo by Herbert Migdoll
Edwaard Liang Keep working and creating, whether it’s a big or small project. The only way to get deeper, better and do richer pieces of dance is to get in there and create. Try not to edit. Find your own voice. Enjoy the process and time. This profession is one of the hardest, physically and mentally, so try to find joy in some of the little things that happen. Don’t always wait for the big promotions to celebrate yourself.
What’s next for you as a choreographer?
Edwaard Liang I finished presenting my work at Fall for Dance at City Center in New York. I am now starting my first full-length ballet – a new production of Romeo and Juliet for Tulsa Ballet and also new works for San Francisco Ballet, Washington Ballet, Joffrey Ballet and a project with Yuan Yuan Tan and myself.
Stephen Baynes I am busy with commissions until the end of 2012, including a full-length Swan Lake for The Australian Ballet’s 50th anniversary, and hopefully there will be more after that.
Top photo: Edwaard Liang rehearing with Victoria Jaiani. Photo courtesy of Edwaard Liang
Known worldwide for his Emmy nominated work with Madonna , Alex Magno is a highly regarded international director and choreographer for the stage and screen. His diverse resume includes works for Madonna, Yanni, Britney Spears, the Parisian Lido, Ballet Hispanico, Ringling Brothers, and the Academy Awards, to name a few, as well as his own highly acclaimed dance company With Passion.
Alex took time to share his unique story with Dance Informa.
Tell us about your upbringing in Brazil and the impact it had on you as a dancer and choreographer.
My upbringing has absolutely had a strong influence on the kind of dancer and choreographer I am today. As a Brazilian, improvisation is part of your DNA, it is entrenched in the culture, the music and the way of life, and I am no exception to that rule.
I grew up in a small town called Vila Kenned outside Rio De Janeiro, and at an early stage of my life I learned how to cultivate my imagination, to improvise (in life and dance), and create my own world in which anything was possible, even though the world outside me had infinite roadblocks. I remember every Sunday getting together with the entire family and gathering around in a big circle for an impromptu music and dance jam, with the entire family playing rhythms on whatever was around that could be used as an instrument. This is where I learned not only rhythm, but how to improvise, listen to the music, and let it move me.
I did not grow up taking dance lessons, but I did do Capoeira and two different styles of Karate. In my teens, I put a dance group together called “Old Jazz” and we used to go to different night clubs and perform. I would make up the routines that were influenced by watching different dance videos and films. So I actually began choreographing before I began training as a professional dancer. I ended up getting discovered in one of those clubs and got a scholarship to begin training.
How did you get to LA?
I arrived in LA in 1986 after winning a choreographers competition in Brazil (sponsored by Paramount Pictures) in which the prize was a trip to LA with all the expenses paid for one week.
It was very surreal for me; they had a limo waiting with the driver holding a sign with my last name. This was a far cry from the harsh reality of life in Brazil at that time.
I ended up staying and received scholarship at one of the best dance studios in the US at the time – Dupree Dance Academy. There I took classes with amazing dance teachers such as Doug Caldwell, Hama, Jackie Sleight, Randy Allaire, Rosemary Randy, Tony Cappola, Melinda Cordell, and Vicktor Manoel, amongst others.
You’re known worldwide for your Emmy nominated work for Madonna. Tell us about your experiences with her.
I worked with Madonna on two worlds tours. The first tour was The Girlie Show Tour – a tour that was all about staging, choreography, costume and lighting. It was one of Madonna’s few tours that relied heavily on theater, and the choreography shared an equal spotlight with Madonna herself.
The first thing Madonna told me after I auditioned as a choreographer for her was, “Alex, just so you know, I approach each of my songs from a character point of view. I need you to not take it personally if I don’t like a certain step or if I challenge you to tell me the reason why you’re choreographing this step or that…You are going to be fine as long as you keep those guide lines”.
Lucky for me, that was the way I used to work, in a very theatrical way. All of my movements came out of a character.
There is an interesting story behind me working with her a second time. A few months prior to the Drowned World Tour starting production, there was news that Madonna was going to be touring again, but I had no information on who was to be her next creative team. So I submitted to Madonna’s manager a full tour concept, along with my new choreography reel. It happened, just by coincidence, that some of the concept I sent to her was very similar to the direction that Madonna and her director Jamie were thinking. That synergy was what got me the gig the second time, and eventually the Emmy nomination. This tour was the perfect balance of music, theater and hi-tech production. It was one of the most challenging tours, because I had to choreograph all different styles of dance, ranging from Martial Arts, to Tango, Flamenco, Contemporary, etc.
Madonna is an artist who is highly intelligent, deeply in tune with herself and always true to what moves her. She makes no excuses for her motivations and beliefs. As an artist, it is inspiring to be able to create alongside someone so bold and fearless. The other great thing about Madonna is that she is always clear – she loves it or she hates it. That may be harsh at times, but in the end you always know that she is truly happy with the final product. She will push until it is perfect.
What was it like to be nominated for an Emmy?
Being nominated for an Emmy, for doing what I love, was an absolute honor. The Drowned World Tour was actually the only one of Madonna’s tours to be recognized with that honor.
You are often called a “story teller” when it comes to your body of work. Why do you think that is?
Because I explore the movement from a character’s point view, from real emotions we all can relate to. Dance is an art that can be both abstract and communicative, but in order for it to be effective, it must provoke emotion.
Most of my work has universal themes that cross frontiers, language, age, culture and gender, but when you apply them to a specific setting they become much more tangible and emotionally effective. I appreciate dance that is about the beauty of the movement, but for me the steps are secondary to the emotion.
In every work I do I try to bring all of the colors of the music to life through the movement, showing the unspoken poem of the song and getting to the core of the music itself. The idea is to have the music translate visually through each body movement.
You’re an avid dance educator in addition to being an award winning choreographer. Why are you so passionate about teaching?
Because it keeps the flame of dance alive. I had some amazing teachers that inspired me to be what I am today, so I feel that is part of my job to pass that on. It is also what keeps me artistically alive. It is my “creative workshop” where I create the castles out of “playing cards”, it is a place where I see magic being created. I learn from my students, they teach me to become a better teacher, choreographer and director.
What is next for you?
I am currently directing, choreographing and producing Benise’s The Spanish Guitar world tour. I am also in development for a new dance multimedia show starring actress/dancer Jenna Elfman, as well as shooting a series of dance short films.
Does choreographic creativity ooze out of you or are you petrified by the choreographic work required in your dance major? Whether the urge to create naturally flows from you or you think of yourself as a performer and technician who does not need the required choreography class, you have more to gain by taking the class than you may think. And, believe it or not, your dance professors are fine with either attitude as you enter choreography class. They just want you there. Why? Because there’s movement potential in you that must be explored. Choreographic training will make you a better dancer and might even lead you toward an additional passion in the field. Here are a few tips for getting the most out of those choreography classes.
First and foremost, realize that most brilliant choreographers did not come by it naturally, they were trained. Accept this.
Find inspiration. Your life experiences ARE interesting. Find new ways to look at them and create work based upon your reinterpretations. You may be inspired to create linear works that tell a story, abstract works without a literal interpretation, or a mixture of both. Spend time moving in silence or to music you find that triggers your creativity. Discover how your body moves and what thoughts come to mind. Be inspired by these realizations; they are your most honest creative desires.
A choreographer’s job is to make the dancers you are working with look fantastic. There are typically three strategies for choosing your cast members. You can cast accomplished dancers, novice dancers, or a mixture of technical expertise. Regardless, it is important to work with conscientious dancers and to take time to teach your choreography in detail. The most expertly crafted work will fall flat if you have not clearly communicated your movement or if you find yourself working with dancers who either cannot or will not respond to direction. A cast of dancers who ‘almost’ execute your intended movement and style will undoubtedly deflate the value of your work. Be realistic about your cast members’ abilities, choreograph accordingly, and expect clarity.
Be true to your individuality. Take a risk and share something of yourself. You are inherently influenced by all movement, dance and otherwise, you have seen or danced in your life. Embrace these influences on your way of moving. Draw from them but do not be paralyzed by them. Utilize the physical and aesthetic experiences to develop your own choreographic voice. Inexperienced choreographers frequently develop phrase after choreographic phrase with little attention to developing a concise vocabulary or style for the piece. Begin manipulating a few movement phrases and expand upon them. Less is more at this point. If you find ‘filler’ steps in your work, cut them. Choreography class work frequently involves the creation of several short choreographic studies. Create solid studies and you may find they form the basis for expanded works in the future.
Find music that both speaks to you and is inextricably tied to the work. Lyrics are fine, just realize you will be bound by them. And, be aware that recognizable tunes and songs carry with them a litany of memories and preconceived notions for your audience. Realize symphonic pieces are difficult to pair with a small cast of dancers and that sparse music is difficult to make work with a large cast. Consider utilizing some choreographic tools like syncopation and stillness in your work. Rhythmic texture adds intensity to your work.
Staging changes everything. This is something you will learn in choreography class. Devise a way to begin visualizing what staging works. Draw staging diagrams, move coins around on paper to represent dancers in the space; whatever works for you. Choreography class content includes a lot of tried and true staging information. Implement these choreographic techniques and experiment with other ideas. Our brains and eyes are accustomed to deciphering multiple stimuli at once. Be intentional about the texture and staging of your work. If your preferred aesthetic is stark, be true to it. If you enjoy creating the decadent opulence of bodies in space; explore that. Either way, be intentional and leave nothing to chance.
Explore the creative capacity of your work in at least one other art form. Write a poem, paint or draw, create a collage or a story board, journal, compose a jingle, read texts that relate to your ideas about the piece…the possibilities are endless. Keep these inspirations near you throughout your choreographic process in order to create a portfolio of inspirations for the piece. Share these creations or discoveries with your cast members. Or, better yet, involve your cast in the creative process and be sure to share your inspirations.
Reflect and revise. We all know how frustrating it is when you’ve spent hard found time setting and learning choreography only to return to the next rehearsal and learn that the director has major changes to the piece. Expect this as part of the process. Accomplished choreographers reflect and revise, and you should too. It is often difficult to discern if something is going to work until it is seen in real time. Invite your faculty choreographic advisor to your rehearsals or provide a video for him/her to watch. Listen to his/her impressions of the work and either implement their recommendations or request more discussion about the ideas.
We all know that good choreography comes from the manipulation of the most basic elements of dance: time, space, and energy. A choreography class will help you realize that well crafted choreography is much more than the simple orchestration of mechanical elements. The best works embody the physical exploration of heart and honesty working in tandem with the splendid manipulation of time, space and energy. Whether or not you continue to create after the completion of your choreography class, you’ll be a better performer, technician, teacher and artist as a result of the effortful journey.
“A fusion of many styles,” is how New York City choreographer Larry Keigwin describes his young, vibrant company Keigwin + Company. Originally from New York, Keigwin first became involved with dance by “fake tapping” his way through a fifth grade musical. Now, he is a hot ticket choreographer, with big aspirations for his troupe of dancers, and gaining artistic recognition both nationally and internationally.
At the beginning of Keigwin’s artistic journey, dance sort of ‘happened’ to him rather than it being a clear-cut decision to pursue the profession. Often cast as a dancer in high school musicals, he discovered he possessed a natural affinity towards movement and began training seriously at age 16. Upon graduating from high school, Keigwin attended Hofstra University, where he received a BA in dance.
From there, he ventured into a career as a New York City freelance dancer, performing with companies and choreographers such as Doug Varone, the Metropolitan Opera, Doug Elkins, John Jasperse, Mark Dendy Dance Theater, and an off Broadway show titled The Wild Party. He served as Associate Artistic Director for Mark Dendy Dance Theater, and says his time there exposed him to commercial dance.
Keigwin+Company dancer Ashley Browne. Photo by Matthew Murphy
Originally, Keigwin did not intend to start his own dance company. In 2001, after a diverse performing career, he began showing his own work and produced his first full evening of repertoire in 2003. But, the process was simply about creating a show; one successful show led to the next, then to another, and so on. Even now, with a consistent ensemble of dancers, Keigwin says, “it [still] feels like a series of shows.”
So, what inspires Keigwin’s choreography? “Life!” he states. Yet, since no two dances are alike, Keigwin acknowledges that his sources of inspiration come from a range of ideas. “Anything from architecture, music, to pop culture, to an observation . . . human nature, the environment, the animal kingdom,” he adds.
Typically, he starts with music, Keigwin’s “catalyst” for inspiration, but he is known to change the music as the work evolves. Sometimes, he’ll begin the choreographic process with his dancers improvising and an idea will “pop out.” But, ultimately, “dance comes first.”
The dancers are an integral part of the Keigwin’s choreography and company. After all, it is Keigwin PLUS Company. He considers the group to be a collaborative effort. The dancers contribute both artistically and administratively – a true sign of each artist’s commitment and belief in Keigwin’s work.
Currently, the roster of dancers numbers 12. Because of the intimate nature of the company and work, Keigwin prefers to really know a dancer. Most of the dancers worked with him in a class or commission setting prior to joining the company. However, of the 12 artists, one dancer did receive a position with the company by attending an audition and another dancer came on a recommendation.
Keigwin+Company dancer Ryoji Sasamoto. Photo by Matthew Murphy
Regardless of how a dancer comes to work with Keigwin + Company, the choreographer holds them all to the same high standard. Dance critic Deborah Jowitt acknowledges Keigwin’s ability to assemble a group of artists and wrote in a review, “One of Keigwin’s greatest gifts is for revealing the individuality of his champion dancers. He lets you see them, he allows you to love them.” Keigwin adds to this, “I look for someone who has a specialness about them . . . [someone] that I sense is unique.” In addition to that ‘special something,’ Keigwin also looks for dancers with technical ability, intelligence, quickness, creativity, and who are unabashed with it comes to performing.
While he hopes to build the company’s New York performance season, for now, the troupe tends to perform more on the road. They have done an extensive amount of national touring, particularly to universities, and have made repeat trips to Santa Barbara, CA. Upcoming travels include Upstate New York, Tulsa, Minneapolis, and the Kennedy Center in Washington DC. Keigwin will also set a new piece in New Zealand.
The company is making a name for itself in the New York dance community, but Keigwin’s ambitions for himself and his dancers span so much more than simply gaining acclaim among peers. In the next several years, he aims to expand the company into a full time gig for 12 dancers and 2 apprentices. He wants to take these dancers all over the world, increasing Keigwin + Company’s international presence. Additionally, he plans to continue to create new work on his own company, other ballet and contemporary companies, and Broadway.
The future is looking bright for the artists of Keigwin + Company. With a strong, clear vision and the tools to achieve these goals, Keigwin has the potential to exceed his own dreams. The company has already been included in the talented groups of artists to participate in the Guggenhiem’s Works & Process series, which featured the world premiere of Balloon Dance. Other past venues include Jacob’s Pillow, a residency at Martha’s Vineyard, and Central Park’s SummerStage series. In January 2012, Keigwin + Company will participate in the Focus Dance Festival at Manhattan’s Joyce Theater.
Hofesh Shechter, Artistic Director of Hofesh Shechter Company, is recognized as both a choreographer and a composer. Born in Israel, he studied at the Jerusalem Academy for Dance and Music before joining Batsheva Dance Company. In 2002 he moved to London to dance with Jasmin Vardimon Dance. Forming his own company six years later, Hofesh Shechter is currently one of the UK’s most exciting artists.
On a world tour, Shechter recently brought his bold contemporary work Political Mother to Los Angeles, and spent a few moments talking with Dance Informa about it.
Political Mother is a physical and gritty work danced to Shechter’s own score, featuring a band of live drummers and guitarists.
Describe the experience that is Political Mother.
It is likely to be quite an intense experience. There are nine musicians onstage and there are twelve dancers. It’s a piece that sort of explodes on you and shouts at you. It has also some tender moments, but it’s rhythmic, like a demonstration that goes on and flickers through worlds – from one world into another. It’s a pretty intense experience. The idea is to create a sort of emotional build up and tension. It’s loud at times, it’s angry, and it’s fun, if you’re in the right mood.
What are the themes you’re trying to explore with that intensity?
I’m a little bit scared of the word ‘themes’, but I do deal with human emotions and human experience below and underneath the pressures of modern life. But it’s not about these pressures, it’s not about politics, it’s not about politicians. It’s about the people that live underneath, it’s about the emotional experience, it’s about the way that we deal with it. There is a lot going on, but it’s definitely dealing with human emotions.
What sort of emotions in particular do you deal with in this work?
Anger and I think there is a lot of despair, and a feeling of hopelessness. But through that, sometimes at the bottom we find hope, we find a sense of perspective, a sense of brotherhood, a sense that we share this experience with other people. So it’s a lot about hope and the loss of hope.
What was the catalyst for the creation of Political Mother?
The work always starts with things that I deal with in my life. I did deal with collision of different worlds. I’ve seen and experienced in my own life, how you can see something that is happening just next to you, or very far away from you (something that is very powerful, very disturbing) and you can forget about it in five minutes. It can really disturb you, and then you just move on. I find our ability to have parallel worlds that are conflicting in a way, but actually exist sometimes very closely, kind of disturbing and worrying. But it’s also just the way it is. That’s the way we respond to the world. It started from this curiosity about our ability to care and then to not care.
In this work you use both traditional Jewish folk dance and live, hard rock music. What is the relationship between these two?
There are parallels between the social structures that allow people to feel connected to each other, and to feel connected to certain emotions that they need to express and want to experience. Rock can give you that angry experience, but it’s like a bubble in a way – you’re not doing anything, you’re just venting, you’re not changing the world at all, or yourself. Folk dance can give you this sense of belonging, a sense of identity. It helps direct people towards a certain way of thinking. I find this interesting – the social systems that help direct people to where you want to direct them. That’s the parallel that I’m looking at.
Hofesh Shechter Company is currently performing Political Mother and other works across Europe, and will be touring across the world well into the New Year.
Top photo: Israeli Choreographer Hofesh Shechter, photo by Carl Fox
Born in Kingsley, England, Paul Lightfoot trained at the Royal Ballet School before joining Nederlands Dans Theater in 1985. He created his first ballet for NDT 2 in 1989 and went on to create over 40 works for Nederlands Dans Theater, in collaboration with his wife, Sol Leon. Since 2002, the couple – operating under the harmonious name Lightfoot Leon – have been Resident Choreographers for NDT. Rain Francis caught up with the charismatic Paul Lightfoot, on NDT1′s recent tour.
Your work, Silent Screen was performed as part of NDT 1′s tour. Tell me about Silent Screen.
Every piece has a different catalyst; for this piece it was silent movies. It was Hitchcock who said that silent film is the purest form of cinema. I’m a big film fanatic, and I love the genre of silent movies. It’s basically choreography, because it’s people telling a story without words. I wanted to use a film without anybody in it to create a surreal situation, where you have real people moving with the camera, and they can go to different places that evoke different feelings. I thought it would be beautiful to create a tromp l’oeil, a Victorian parlour trick. Phillip Glass was also a huge inspiration, and his Glassworks is one of his most famous pieces. I was very lucky to come across it at the right time for this project.
Nederlands Dans Theater 1 present Silent Screen by Lightfoot & Leon
Are there themes or ideas that you find yourself returning to in your work?
Yes. Silent Screen is an incredibly important piece for us. It is the journey of a man and a woman, which of course is in relation to Sol and I, the way we work, and the way we are. It wasn’t to tell our story, but it was to tell the story of emotions that every couple can relate to, during the stages of a relationship. Sol and I have been together 25 years; we’ve had many ups and downs and those things inspire you.
Do you always create together with Sol?
Always. Ever since the first piece. For the first few years the works only had my name on them, and Sol wasn’t really aware how much she was becoming a choreographer. She was helping me. We’d go home and chat, go into the studio and work something out, and slowly this partnership was growing. I like to share. Our partnership is highly irregular in the world of choreography. It’s like a dialogue; we combine our ideas, we respect each other, and move forward together.
Do you ever struggle for inspiration, or are you full of ideas?
It sounds very pretentious when I say I’ve got lots of ideas, but sometimes I think it’s a curse. Generally I’ve got too many. I have to chop them down, get to the essence. It can be very chaotic, but I work very instinctively. I’m a good planner but I immediately break all those plans, and follow my gut. With Sol there too it’s very important to remember that there’s somebody else there. You might be fixated on your idea but you have to be ready to let go of it, because the other person isn’t going to always be on the same wavelength.
Do you get to a point where you are satisfied with a piece of work, or could you go on tinkering with it?
No, there’ve been very few pieces that we’ve tinkered with. There are other choreographers I know and love very much, who get itchy. So they return to older works and make changes. It’s funny, even if it’s a lot better, I feel that they haven’t succeeded. I think when pieces have been made, they’ve been made – there’s a certain kind of destiny to it. Imperfections can be very beautiful, and what make things or people special, so I don’t look to make the perfect piece, and I think that’s part of what makes it magical sometimes. I haven’t touched a step of Silent Screen.
You say you are a film fanatic. What kind of things do you watch?
I love everything. I am a bit of a maverick really, I go to anything. Of course I watch the commercial things. I have a 13 year old daughter, so I’m quite often going to see those ones. I can have as much fun watching those as with a much more artistic film, but generally it’s more enriching to watch the work of great directors.
So, what did you think of Black Swan?
I think it’s a good film. It isn’t realistic, in terms of what a ballet company is – it’s a dark, negative fantasy, and frankly, I can imagine someone in that frame of mind going that far. We do deal with obsession, and we do stare at ourselves all day in a mirror and judge ourselves constantly, and those things can turn into a sickness if you’re not careful. I saw it as a lot less of a ballet film and more as being about the destruction of a human being, and ballet was just a tool to describe her story. The film paints a very dark tale. I love thriller and fear and they’re very important elements to all of us.
What advice can you give to budding choreographers?
I would give them a warning, with all the kindness in my heart – make sure you’ve got something to say. It’s not good to do anything in life if you don’t really believe it. Choreography is sort of an exaggerated version of that, it will show you up very fast.
Also, it’s very important to have your own language. Work a lot with your own body first, don’t just wait for others to do all the hard work for you, because it is hard work. It’s hours in the studio, and you have to be dedicated to doing that yourself.
Don’t be afraid to be influenced. I was highly influenced by many people, in many strange ways. Hans van Manen was a giant inspiration to me, and Jiri Kylian of course. People say, ‘I can see you are influenced by Kylian’ – well, absolutely – where else am I going to learn from? I don’t see that as being somehow negative. It’s very important to learn from people who are lots wiser and more experienced, like we do in all walks of life.