Tag Archive | "choreography"

Recreational Choreography for 2-6 year olds


By Paul Henderson with Tiffany Henderson.

It’s possible to devastate an entire dance classes’ season at the end-of-the-year dance recital, resulting in a sharp drop in the next season’s enrollment. We’ve all seen it, right? Dancers running around on stage, bumping into each other, looking at one another to see what the next step is. It’s embarrassing for the dancer, the parents, the audience, the instructor and the studio owner.

At our studios, our instructors know that the dance recital is their “final exam.” Failing the exam, or even getting a “C” on the exam, is completely unacceptable.  

By far, the most important, but oftentimes most overlooked, age group at a dance studio’s recital are what Tiffany calls “the babies” – the 2-6 year old recreational dancers. These dancers are critical to the long-term success of any dance studio. In the past 10 years, we have seen more than 24 dance studios come and go near our eight studios because they all lost track of how important their 2-6 year old recreational dancers truly are to the health of their business. Instead, they focused 80 percent of their time, energy and faculty on their “performing company” dancers – those “advanced” dancers between 10 and 17 years old that take 20 hours of “unlimited” dance per week (at a reduced tuition rate) and attend conventions and competitions throughout the season. And guess what? Those dancers don’t refer friends, they pay a drastically lower hourly tuition rate and their teachers are likely the highest paid on a dance studio’s staff. Furthermore, they make the recreational dancers’ moms feel alienated and unimportant.

Do you know what happens when you focus 50-80 percent of your attention on the “performing company”? Disaster. They grow up and move on in life and you, the studio owner, run out of students and eventually you will run out of enough money to sustain your business. I’ve seen it so often that I can literally predict when a studio will go out of business by examining their schedule of classes. If the schedule is lacking significant recreational dancer classes and is chock full of performing company classes and solos, the studio is not going to last long in this world.

Little girl jazz dancer“I understood from the very beginning that having a great baby program was the absolute key to success,” says Tiffany Henderson, owner of eight Tiffany’s Dance Academy locations and the founder of Twinkle Star Dance™.  

“Our Twinkle Star Dance program is the foundation of everything we do. It keeps our classes full. It keeps our instructors happy by giving them full-time jobs. It is the best marketing program I’ve ever heard of because of the ‘Word of Mouth’ factor.

“Plus, it feeds our award-winning performing company, which is now over 300 dancers strong. It has created a family of dancers that love each other and don’t compete with one another.”

The Twinkle Star curriculum Tiffany uses in these classes is also incredibly important, but it will all go unnoticed if, at the end of the year, the dancers don’t know what they’re doing on stage.

Tiffany says, “Here are my tips to a successful ‘final exam’ performance at your end-of-the-year dance recital.”

Click tip title to view actual recital and choreography footage video

1. Keep it simple - Seems obvious, I know, but it’s important to say. Using easy, simple steps that young dancers can execute is your main objective.

2. Phrasing in 8’s - Choreography should be done is phrasing of eight counts or more before changing to the next step. Sometimes it takes them eight counts to realize what is going on and if the choreography changes too quickly they will always be behind the music. Give them enough time to catch up to the dance. The only time a phrasing of two or four works is if the music tells them what do with cues in the lyrics.

3. Repeat after me…USE repeat - Repeat is your best friend specifically for the chorus. You can make your chorus a little more challenging for your dancers as they will repeat that chorus three times in the dance and will eventually master the steps.

4. Use themes for choreography that are appropriate for the cognitive development of the dancer - Can the child relate to the lyrics in the song? Most 2-3 year olds don’t really know what it is like to be a princess yet, but they know how to make animal sounds. Most 2-3 and 3-4 year olds do very well with movement that is more like pantomime and gestures that emulate the music. If the music says “Bunny Ears” then remembering to make bunny ears is natural for the youngest dancers.

Choreography for 2-6 year olds5. Make the most of the musical accents and changes - This is so important. Even the youngest dancers can hear the big accent changes (the quiet parts, etc.) in music. Make sure your choreography matches the music. This will make learning and retaining the dance much easier for the young dancer because it makes sense to them musically.

6. Keep staging changes and formations to a minimum - Remember, parents want to see their child happy and dancing onstage, not running around bumping into other kids seeming confused. They don’t care about exciting line changes or formations.

Choosing music for baby dances: When choosing music for baby recital dances ask yourself these questions. Does is have a beginning, middle and end? Is it too fast or too slow? Is the arrangement too complicated? Is it age appropriate? Is it too long? Can the dancers relate to the lyrics?

Tiffany’s tips for music:

• Tempo should allow for going slow or fast – so music with a middle tempo is the best.

• It needs to build and have a strong ending – no fades for babies.

• If it is a pop song or even Disney I can tell you it is too complicated for ages 2-3 and 3-4…sometimes 4-5 can handle those songs and the 5-6’s are fine as long as it is age appropriate. The 2-3 and 3-4’s need simple melodies that don’t distract them.

• No baby dance should be longer than two minutes.

• Editing is your friend. Sometimes I have to edit parts of the music from the start of the songs into the end to create a more exciting song for the audience and dancers.

• On the use of props: They need to be child size. No umbrellas for 2-3 and 3-4’s. Make sure you are using the prop each day in class.

About Twinkle Star Dance
Founded by Tiffany Henderson, owner of eight Tiffany’s Dance Academy locations in California, Twinkle Star Dance is a complete toolkit for studio owners that enables them to “plug” a recreational dance program into their existing studio without increasing their workload. Our mission is to help dance studio owners re-focus their efforts on the backbone of their studio – the recreational 2-6 year old dancers and the tricky 6-11 year old beginners. For more information, visit www.twinklestardance.com

All photos courtesy of Tiffany’s Dance Academy.

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No wallflower, Travis Wall


By Kristy Johnson.

As an Emmy nominated choreographer on America’s smash hit So You Think You Can Dance, Travis Wall has come a long way since competing on the show. Along with the exposure has come plenty of job opportunities. Not only will we see his choreographic talents in the next Step Up instalment – Step Up 4, but Travis has a reality show already in the works.

Dance Informa caught up with Travis to talk about So You Think You Can Dance, and life after the show.

How grateful are you to So You Think You Can Dance for all the opportunities you’ve had since competing on the show?

I thank them as much as I can (laughs). They are pretty much responsible for my big break as a choreographer. I was doing the odd job here and there, but because of the exposure I got with the show as a choreographer, it really opened up all the doors and all the jobs I’ve actually had since then. I always call the executive producers and tell them all the time, ‘thank you so much.’ This entire experience has changed my life, and I’m very grateful.

When you were learning Mia Michaels’ Emmy winning ‘The Bench’ piece, did you already know or have a feeling it would garner so much attention?

I actually did not. I was so excited to do the piece with Mia, but at the time my partner was having trouble with it. I wasn’t dancing with a contemporary dancer; I was dancing with a ballroom dancer. So for me I wasn’t thinking about how the audience or judges would respond to it. I was constantly worried about whether my partner would even get through the routine. I didn’t even know if we would finish the routine because she was crying so much. I was worried about that. I wasn’t even worried about what everyone was going to think. I was making sure that we were actually going to have a piece. Right before dress rehearsals, she felt okay about it, so the next time we did it, it was on stage in front of everybody. It really just came to life. So the response from that piece…we weren’t expecting it because we weren’t seeing that product in rehearsal. It kind of just came out of the blue. It got such a huge response.

Teddy Forance, Travis Wall, Kyle Robinson & Nick Lazzarini of All the Right Moves. Photos by Andrew Eccles/Oxygen Media

Congratulations on having your own show picked up – All The Right Moves. Can you tell us what the show will be about and your involvement in it?

The show follows my three closest friends and me. I started a dance company along with two of my best friends called Shaping Sound. The show is really about how to get a dance company up and running. I’m more of a choreographer and my friends are pretty much trying to break in as choreographers, so we’re just trying to get our name out there as much as possible. It’s following us, building this company off the ground, looking at how to get money, how to deal with dancers’ egos, how to deal with our own egos, and the whole process. And at the same time it follows our personal careers and our personal lives. Pretty much the show is what happens to us in our day (laughs). It’s very emotional and it’s definitely something to watch.

How did the concept for a show come about?

A producer approached me and asked what I would think about having my own reality show. I was like, ‘I don’t know about that’. We are all entertaining and together we have a great show. If it were just about me, I don’t know how entertaining that would be (laughs). I introduced my friends to everybody and we came up with this concept. It’s been a two-year process getting this TV show up and running.

How was the experience of choreographing for Step Up 4?

I had an amazing time on the movie. We had to do it pretty fast. We had to choreograph in two weeks! We shot the whole movie in I think two and a half months. We started at the end of August and finished right before Halloween. It was a great experience. It was my first movie choreographing and I can’t wait to do more because of it. I love choreographing in movies!

Did you have a say in casting?

I didn’t have a say in the hip hop casting and I had to actually work with the hip hop dancers. The dancers who I did cast were Miami locals, so I did have a say in some casting. I had a great group of dancers, so I was very happy with whom I found. Sometimes when you’re not working in Los Angeles or New York, you don’t necessarily get the best dancers. I definitely picked the best dancers from Miami, so I was very happy with that.

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MOTION Dance+Theater: Artistic Retreat


By Stephanie Wolf.

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.

Want to catch MOTION Dance+Theater in action?

2012 Season Performance Dates:
June 21, 2012, Tryon, NC at the Tryon Fine Arts Center
June, 23, 2012, Asheville, NC at the Diane Wortham Theater

If you want to learn more or contribute to MOTION Dance+Theater be sure to visit them online at www.motiondt.com or on Facebook.

Watch a montage video of the 2011 summer creation residency. June 28-July 17th in Asheville, NC:

Top photo: Nick Kepley by ArtX Photography.
Published by Dance Informa dance magazinedance news, dance auditions & dance events.

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Five American Choreographers to Watch


By Stephanie Wolf.

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.

Video Gallery

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.

Video Gallery

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.

Video Gallery

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.

Video Gallery

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

Amy Siewert choreography. Dancers Katherine Wells & Brandon Freeman. Photo David DeSilva

Amy Siewert
San Francisco, CA

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.

Video Gallery

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

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Making the Leap: Dancer to Choreographer


By Laura Di Orio

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.

Stephen Baynes, resident choreographer, The Australian Ballet
www.australianballet.com.au/about_us/artistic_staff/stephen_baynes
I always had an interest in it, but I wanted to have a career as a dancer first. It was only after several years as a professional dancer that I began to attempt choreography.

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

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Alex Magno – Making Magic with Madonna


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.

 

Alex Magno is represented by The Movement / A Dance Management Company
www.MovementMGMT.com

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Musical Inspirations


By Laura Di Orio.

While each choreographer seems to have his/her own process during the creation of a work, most seem to share a common driving force: music. Whether the choreography stems from a piece of music or a choreographer needs to search for music to suit the movement’s needs, the importance of the relationship between dance and its accompanying music in undeniable. Here, Dance Informa speaks with a few choreographers about their musical inspirations and processes.

What inspires you musically? What is it about a certain piece of music that moves you to choreograph?

Christopher Liddell and dancers. Photo by Bill Hebert

Christopher Liddell, theater dance choreographer
www.cliddellchoreography.com
First, I’ve got to feel it in the gut, whether it’s because the lyrics spin a great tale or the music itself paints a robust picture. A great arrangement is key, containing at least three ‘acts’ or movements: plot intro, exposition and/or conflict, resolution. And I like when it’s catchy enough for the audience to hum on their way out.

Lar Lubovitch, choreographer, Lar Lubovitch Dance Company
www.lubovitch.org
It’s not totally conscious, but I’m certainly looking for something that makes me need to dance and that triggers my inner eye. My response to music is in effect making an action painting for the music.

What comes first for you – the choreography or the music?

Lydia Johnson, choreographer, Lydia Johnson Dance
www.lydiajohnsondance.org
I think that’s changed. It used to be music first, but in the last four or five years what started to happen was whatever I’m working on is kind of coming of its own accord and is growing independently from music. I’m starting to get a feeling or see images and then I’m searching for music that will work. So now something’s coming from me and then I go through music to find what will work to meet those needs.

Adam Barruch Dance in "Lapse". Photo by Nan Melville

Adam Barruch, choreographer, Adam Barruch Dance
www.adambarruch.com
Usually I find a piece of music that I love and play it repetitively while creation in the studio is in process. I do this so that the physical work generated is steeped in the environment the music creates. Other times, I revert to a playlist on my computer that is full of music that I would never choreograph to, but is there to inspire me.

Christopher Liddell
Music always comes first for me. My process is like this: I pick a song, then I count it and break it into sections, getting the technical aspects down. If the song has lyrics I usually base the dance on the story of the song.  I work in musical theater styles. I don’t normally do abstract work. I need the audience to know what is going on and the music choice has to support that.

How do you find music to which you want to choreograph?

Lar Lubovitch
I actually go to a lot of music concerts. I like attending live music events. If I find a composer I like, then I seek out a lot of music by that composer and choose a specific piece with all the ingredients I’m looking for.

Lydia Johnson
Now, because of the Internet, I use a combination of Pandora and iTunes. I put in a composer and make a station on Pandora and play it while I’m doing other things. Then I’ll hear someone who’s really interesting and I’ll go over and find out who the composer is. It’s a way of finding similar composers. I love the Internet for music searches. It’s completely changed by life. I remember having to walk across the street to CD stores or old LP stores and sit there looking at the covers trying to guess if it was something I’d be interested in because you couldn’t listen to excerpts.

Christopher Liddell
I usually pick a song I’ve known for years. I have this ability to memorize every note and instrumentation in a song. It drives people crazy when I hum all the notes of a crazy jazz trumpet! Over a lot of time, when I’ve gotten to know a song really well, I’ll one day realize, ‘Oh, I can choreograph something to this!’

Do you choreograph so that the dancer becomes the music or is it more of a partnership between the body and the music?

Lydia Johnson Dance in "Summer House". Photo by Brian Krontz

Lydia Johnson
I think some of both. I think there are places that the body is carrying the line of the music and there are places where I think it’s in counterpoint. There are parts of group pieces where different clusters of people will be the music at that moment or a certain movement will be reflecting the music at that moment, but there’s also a lot of counterpoint. So it’s almost a duet with music, and the dancers are expressing something the music makes me feel but not necessarily note for note or exactly what’s happening in the music.

Christopher Liddell
For my work, I try to use the Balanchine method: dance for the music. I think it is my job to paint a picture of the music. The dance and its music should feel completely connected. My goal is for the movement to enhance the music so that the audience ‘hears’ it visually and ‘sees’ it audibly.

Who are some of your favorite musical artists or composers?

Christopher Liddell
I love John Williams. His music is so iconic with his big use of brass. It usually feels good and exciting to listen to. I love Irving Berlin, the Gershwins, and Kander and Ebb for their easily danceable music theater genius. I also love Barbra Streisand, Bebel Gilberto, and yes, I have Bieber fever, too. I’m inspired by his music lately.

Lar Lubovitch Dance Company in "The Legend of Ten". Photo by Steven Schreiber

Lar Lubovitch
No favorites, just people over the years I’ve responded to very well – Brahms, Mozart, Steve Reich, Philip Glass, and some jazz composers.

Adam Barruch
I really enjoy Purcell and Handel, especially their emotionally rich arias. I also couldn’t possibly listen to Steve Reich and not want to move. I love contemporary artists like Loscil, Murcof, Ryuichi Sakamoto and Amon Tobin, all of whom are playing with a mix of electronic textures and classical sounds. I also love singer/songwriters like Jacques Brel for his poetry, and the work of musical theater composer and lyricist Stephen Sondheim.

Lydia Johnson
Gorecki, Philip Glass, Hindemith. I like a lot of 20th century composers, and then of course Bach and the later Beethoven quartets. I listen to almost everything, but I seem to be drawn lately to living or our lifetime composers.

Top photo: Lydia Johnson Dance in “Summer House”. Photo by Brian Krontz

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Choreography Class


More than a manipulation of the elements.

 By Emily Yewell Volin

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.

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Playtime with Loni Landon and Gregory Dolbashian


By Tara Sheena

Loni Landon and Gregory Dolbashian are two undeniably emergent forces in the NYC dance scene. Between the two of them, they have a strong roster of credits, ranging from Juilliard to the Ailey School, to professional companies and to Met Opera productions. Most importantly, they run their own respective companies: Loni Landon Projects and the DASH Ensemble. Last fall, like so many professional dancers in New York City, they were fed up with expensive classes and lack of opportunities to explore more creative outlets in an open environment. With a little determination and a lot of creative desire, The Playground was born.  

What was the original motivation for starting the Playground?

Loni Landon: When I returned from dancing in Europe I felt like I had nowhere to go in terms of a dance class. I did not have the money to go to a $ 25 workshop, where the class would be filled with more than 50 people. I knew many other dancers felt the same way as I did and had similar complaints. In the dance scene in NY, sometimes it can feel very closed, and impossible to make a connection with a choreographer. When I met Greg Dolbashian I started talking with him about the idea of a collective. I spoke about my experience and wanted to  have an environment that was like a company setting with no company attached. He was speaking about how pricey it can get to rehearse and we thought that it [would] work out if the dancer and choreographer could benefit from each other.

Money and budget are always a big issue for dancers and choreographers. Since the recession hit, trends of donation-based and discounted classes have been popping up all over the city. What is unique about the Playground?

Loni Landon & Gregory Dolbashian:  The people we bring in as choreographers are encouraged to play, whether that be sharing their methods of choreography, working on ideas for upcoming commissions, or trying out new techniques for movement invention. It gives dancers a chance to genuinely work with a choreographer for a day without spending $30 to do it. Dancers need a place not only to build their technique, but to apply it to something beyond. They need a place to be pushed to elevate their dancing in a creative, energized environment. We also make it a point to reach out to choreographers that are in-demand and generating a following both in NYC and abroad. For instance, in our last session we were able to have Alex Ekman from Nederlands Dance Theater and also Danielle Agami, former rehearsal director of the Batsheva Company.

If I’ve never experienced a class with the Playground, what can I expect?

Loni Landon & Gregory Dolbashian:  You can experience an atmosphere of drive and enthusiasm. You will feel pushed and challenged, yet completely supported. You will be around high-levels of talent both from the dancers and from the choreographers. The best thing is that every day at The Playground is different. We are always so excited to see what the choreographer will bring in for that day. There is also a great feeling of appreciation. We get so many reactions from people saying, “Thank you for doing this. Dance really needs this. Keep it going”. For us, that is the best because we believed that we had something really big on our hands when we started, and we are so glad that people feel that same energy.

What do you hope the teachers of the Playground get out of the experience?

Loni Landon & Gregory Dolbashian:  So much. What we are mostly giving the choreographers is space for experimentation. Since The Playground is not a technique class, the teachers are given a 2-hour time frame to venture new ideas and test their creativity on trained professionals.  How the choreographer uses the space and time is up to his or her individual discretion.  It’s literally as though we are giving a painter a huge blank canvas with excellent paint! We hope they get the chance to discover more about the ideas and languages that they have. We hope they get stimulated and inspired from the work they are playing with. We hope that they give a dancer in a session a job. We hope that they feel productive and excited. We hope the Playground generates more exposure and insight into their work and their respective companies/projects. We are trying to build the ultimate exchange where both dancer and choreographer grow and benefit from their time with us.

Your Vision Statement speaks to the importance of an open forum for not only students and teachers, but also presenters who may observe these classes. Why is it important that presenters see this development occur?

Loni Landon & Gregory Dolbashian: Many times the audiences’ experience of a work is a lot different than the choreographers and the dancers experience of the work.  Both are extremely important. We want to expose the process of making choreography and the dancers effort in learning it. In the process and rehearsal of creating dance, there is a beautiful roughness—there is laughter, frustration, community, camaraderie, exploration, and play.  The truth is, in dance we spend most of our time in the ‘process’ stage rather than the ‘product’ stage. If presenters understand our process, they’ll only then be able to better understand our product.

Where do you hope to see the Playground in the future?

Loni Landon & Gregory Dolbashian: We want The Playground to have a permanent home where we would love to have residencies, performances, and have a consistent presence in NY [and, eventually] nationally and internationally. The Playground (New York), The Playground (Seattle), The Playground (Detroit), The Playground (Rome), The Playground (Barcelona). We want The Playground to be a community where artists feel like they can go whenever they want.

This November, playtime starts up again at the Manhattan Movement and Arts Center, 248 West 60th Street, NYC. Come out and play 10:30am-12:00pm every weekday, November 28- December 16.
Also, check out “The Playground NYC” on Facebook and Kickstarter.

Photo by Jennifer Jones

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Have choreography?


Opportunities to show your work in New York.

By Katherine Moore.

Living and working as a dancer in New York City can be quite a challenge, especially if you’re new to the city. Young dancers arrive in the Big Apple full of dreams, but often with very little concrete information about how to begin their dance careers.

This task can be even more daunting for aspiring choreographers looking for venues to show their work. In many cases, young choreographers have just graduated from college dance programs, where they had unlimited space, resources, mentorship, and guaranteed venues and performances to demonstrate their burgeoning creative talent. Making the big leap to showing work in New York can be extremely challenging for a multitude of reasons, but for emerging artists and for those who hope to gain an MFA in dance and enter higher education, choreographic experience outside of undergraduate work is an essential component of a career in dance. 

Luckily, the dance scene in New York is vast and varied in its opportunities for young artists. With a little pre-planning and organization of application materials, choreographers can find themselves performing and showing work all over the city in venues specifically designed for emerging artists and new work. These venues allow choreographers to gain exposure, feedback, and networking opportunities with their peers. For some dancers who have been unlucky in their search for dance employment, these venues give young artists the ability to take their performance career under their own control by creating opportunities to be seen doing what they love most: dancing.

These opportunities take creativity, organization, and initiative to bring to fruition, and in an effort to make the task more manageable for our inspired readers, we have compiled a listing of some choreographic opportunities suited for emerging dance artists and works-in-progress in New York. Each has its own set of requirements and dynamic character, some requiring fees and extensive documentation, but with a little pre-planning and, of course, some talent, young dance artists could be performing all over the city before they know it.

The Steps Performance Lab

http://www.stepsnyc.com/steps-beyond/performances/the-performance-lab/

 Green Space

-Fertile Ground Performance Series

-Take Root Performance Series

http://www.greenspacestudio.org/performance.html

Dance New Amsterdam

-RAW material

http://www.dnadance.org/site/artist-opportunities/gene-pool/

-Works in Progress

http://www.dnadance.org/site/artist-opportunities/works-in-progress/

Movement Research

-Open Performance

http://www.movementresearch.org/performancesevents/openperformance/

-Movement Research at Judson Church

http://www.movementresearch.org/performancesevents/judsonchurch/

Danspace Project

-Draft Work

 http://danspaceproject.org/forartists/about_our_programs.php

Amalgamate Dance Company

-Amalgamate Artist Series

 http://amalgamatedance.com/schedule/amalgamate-artist-series/

Williamsburg Art neXus

-WAXworks

http://www.triskelionarts.org/?page_id=1166

Chen Dance Center

-newsteps

http://www.chendancecenter.org/index.php/the_theater/series/

Jennifer Muller/The Works

-HATCH Presenting series 
http://jmtw.org/educational-programs-hatch-presenting-series.html

Dance Theater Workshop

 -Fresh Tracks 

 http://www.dancetheaterworkshop.org/freshtracks10 

Harkness Dance Center, 92nd Street Y

-Fridays at Noon 

http://www.92y.org/Uptown/Dance-Performances-and-Events/Fridays-at-Noon.aspx

-Sundays at Three

http://www.92y.org/Uptown/Dance-Performances-and-Events/Sundays-at-Three.aspx

Photo:  © Patrick J Hanrahan | Dreamstime.com

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