Emily Schoen directs and choreographs for Schoen Movement Company, a three-time invitee to the prestigious Jacob’s Pillow Inside/Out Dance Festival. With support from the U.S. State Department and Dance Motion USA/Brooklyn Academy of Music, the company is embarking on a two-week residency in North African city Tunis, where they will collaborate with locals on a new piece, and perform it in an international livestream broadcast on October 14. Dance Informa spoke with Schoen to learn more about the company and this unique collaboration.
What inspired you to create the Schoen Movement Company?
“I love dancing, and I love making dance. I believe in dance’s ability to bring people together to facilitate reflections on the human experience and moments of joy. That’s what we do — we make work and pursue new avenues of dance performance that may improve our quality of life.”
How did the idea of this Tunisian residency originate and grow into a reality?
“I am a longtime dancer with Keigwin + Company, and last spring, we went on a Dance Motion USA tour through three countries in Africa, funded by the U.S. State Department for the purpose of cultural diplomacy. One of those countries was Tunisia, and it stole my heart. Not only is the country a beautiful place, but the dancers are special movers. They come largely from a hip hop background but have learned movement invention and contemporary technique through various American and European guest artists over the years. I wanted to return to Tunisia under the umbrella of my own company, to further excavate a movement relationship between American and Tunisian dancers.”
What is the scope of the upcoming residency in Tunis?
“We will be spending a little over two weeks in Tunis, teaching open classes and collaborating with five Tunisian professionals on a new work.”
What do you hope to experience, understand and share as a result of this collaborative project?
“I hope to be open, vulnerable and available to this new group of artists. I hope to find where our movement languages converge and to highlight how they are different. I hope to show the world that strangers from vastly different backgrounds and countries can find synergy and friendship.”
Is there a choreographic intent already established for the piece being produced during the Tunisian residency?
“The working title is ‘Here we are.’ The pathway of me and my dancers ending up collaborating with Tunisian professionals is winding and beautifully serendipitous. We are people of vastly different culture, language, birthplace and training, and ‘here we are’ making moving art together. I want to celebrate our differences and how, together, they make all of us better.”
How did the Schoen Movement Company secure funding for the Tunisian collaboration?
“While in Tunisia with Keigwin + Company, I got to know people from the U.S. Embassy in Tunis. There is a lovely Foreign Service Officer posted in Tunis who is also a dancer! What are the odds? She even took a year sabbatical from the Foreign Service to gig in New York. She pointed me to various government grant applications. I ended up securing funds from the U.S. Embassy in Tunis and supplemental support from Dance Motion USA /Brooklyn Academy of Music because it is a follow-on project to their spring tour. Since my company is small, we have to get funding in multiple small grants, so we also have support from American Dance Abroad and through private donors as well. It has been a big undertaking!”
Who are the dancers participating in and performing during the residency?
“We have profiles and images of all eight dancers in the cast, as well as their answers to a fun Q&A, on our Instagram! I love introducing these artists to the world. Check it out: @SchoenMovement #SMCinTunisia.”
How do people access the livestream of the residency’s culminating concert?
“Dance Motion USA /Brooklyn Academy of Music has generously offered to sponsor our livestream. They are sending their video team to Tunis at the end of our residency to film the final performance and broadcast it all over the world. It’s free and public; all you need is internet. We go live on Saturday, October 14, at 2pm EST. The livestream link is: livestream.com/dancemotionusa/SMCinTunis.”
What’s on the horizon for Schoen Movement Company after the completion of this collaboration?
“I’m not sure where this collaboration will lead next. I have a dream of fundraising (again) to bring these artists to New York, where we can have a shared show on home soil, so that my community and Americans at large can be part of our collaboration in person. Aside from that, we will continue our regular company pursuits, including work on new iterations of our happy hour brewery performance, titled ‘A Movement Flight’.”
Follow the Schoen Movement Company’s international exchange, and see other international exchanges, online at the following hashtags:
By Emily Yewell Volin of Dance Informa.