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Budding, Not Yet Blooming: Four Young, Emerging Chicago Choreographers

By Tara Sheena (with the help of Julie Nakagawa of DanceWorks Chicago).

Chicago has long been a hub for some of the most respected figures in American jazz and contemporary dance, including big names such as Hubbard Street Dance, Gus Giordano, Frank Chaves (River North Dance Chicago), Melissa Thodos (Thodos Dance) and the recently disbanded Luna Negra Dance Theater. With such a strong community of established and respected dance-makers, it is not difficult to see why forging a career as a choreographer offers a considerably more difficult path for those who are younger and in the earlier stages of their careers.

In speaking with four emerging choreographers working in the Chicago area, it is clear that many of them have had years of performing and teaching experience in order to supplement their ventures in dance making. In fact, many keep up an active life of teaching and performing while finding opportunities to showcase their own work.

Dance Informa recently spoke to four young choreographers—Joshua Blake Carter, Paige Cunningham, Josh Manculich and Jessica Miller Tomlinson—who were featured in this year’s DanceMoves Showcase, an event presented by DanceWorks Chicago to identify emerging creative voices in Chicago’s dance community. The dancers discussed challenges: identifying them, overcoming them and finding ways to develop a choreographic voice amidst them. See their responses below and stay tuned for next month’s emerging choreographer spotlight – when we’ll bring it back to NYC!

Chicago emerging choreographer

Joshua Blake Carter. Photo by KJ Heath.

Joshua Blake Carter
Dancer, Giordano Dance Chicago
Director, Giordano II

The biggest challenge for emerging choreographers is getting hired!

Firstly, a great amount of emerging choreographers are in the midst of their professional dance careers too. Finding the time to do both can be frustrating.

Second, you have to find someone who will take a chance on the unknown. In my free time I am always sending out reels, press kits, emails, going to events to network, etc. I’ve found that contacting artistic directors of companies is easy, and many make themselves accessible. Also, choreography competitions [like DanceMoves] are a great way to get your work seen, and hopefully have the opportunity to create a new work on a company.

Paige Cunningham Caldarella
Assistant Professor of Dance, Columbia College Chicago

The biggest challenge [for emerging choreographers is] finding opportunities to make work. I’ve just learned to apply for anything and everything because you never know where an opportunity may be. And if you don’t get something the first time – apply again!

Josh Manculich
Dancer, Thodos Dance Chicago

The biggest challenge for me within this [my work] and, currently, in this summer time of creation, is seeing the piece from a non-dancer perspective. I am challenging myself to engage not only the dance audience, but also wondering what is communicated to everyone in the audience.

Chicago emerging choreographers

Josh Manculich and Jessica Miller Tomlinson in Tomlinson’s work “Synopsis: Abrasion.” Photo by Katie Graves.

Jessica Miller Tomlinson
Dancer, Thodos Dance Chicago
Co-Artistic Director, Thodos Dance Chicago Youth Ensemble

I think funding is a huge challenge for emerging choreographers. All of the arts are struggling on a financial level. It’s a reality that dancers and choreographers are always fighting to make ends meet. I think that entering choreography competitions, such as DanceMoves, is one way to find funding for your work. Not only do you receive funding [from the DanceMoves program], but oftentimes the opportunity to work with a company and gain exposure. Also, setting up Kickstarter or Indiegogo campaigns is a popular way to raise funds. I think that collaborations between different artists are always a great way to jointly raise funds and boost audience base. I have created a working title for myself, “Jessica Miller Tomlinson (JMT) Choreography,” and have produced several evening-length productions with colleague Jackie Stewart under our working title “JMT/JLS Choreography.” I often collaborate with artists in different mediums to help gain exposure and to further the dance community in Chicago.

Photo (top): Jacqueline Stewart and Josh Manculich performing in a work by Josh Manculich. Photo by Eddie Eng.

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