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John Heginbotham launches three-year residency with National Center for Choreography

John Heginbotham. Photo by Bud Lammers.

John Heginbotham is having a good year. Having founded his company, Dance Heginbotham, in 2012, after a 14-year tenure with Mark Morris Dance Group, Heginbotham has spent the past six years receiving accolades and support as he tours his company around the world and creates work for various schools, artists and venues. In fact, he may just be having another good year of many. One of the stand-outs this year, however, is the launch of a three-year choreographic residency at the new National Center for Choreography that opened within The University of Akron, in Ohio, last year. Under the directorship of Christy Bolingbroke, the Center has begun offering residencies of various durations in support of choreographers who are given the time, space and collaborative support to immerse themselves in process as well as product. Here, Heginbotham gives us insight into some of his anticipations and what he’s already begun.

John Heginbotham. Photo by Amber Star Merkens.

John Heginbotham. Photo by Amber Star Merkens.

Three years could end up feeling really long or really short! Have you previously thought about or actually taken three years to develop a process or project? 

“I took three years to develop a work I created in collaboration with the artist and author Maira Kalman. That work, The Principles of Uncertainty, is an evening-length dance theater piece which premiered at Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival in August of 2017. It was a joy to make that piece, and over the three years of studio time, tech and creative residency periods, conversations, long breaks, daydreaming, worrying, laughing, procrastinating, making it happen, the perception of time was sometimes long and questioning, and sometimes perfect, and sometimes rushed. We ended up making at least four complete versions of this work before settling on the one which exists now. I’m pleased with the time and with what we made.”

Is a three-year residency a luxury, a challenge or both?

“I would have to say a total luxury. More time, in this case, is very, very welcome. It means there is a real opportunity to explore, and there is not the pressure of output. I’m thrilled and grateful to have this time with NCCAkron.”

John Heginbotham. Photo by Janelle Jones.

John Heginbotham. Photo by Janelle Jones.

One of the center’s goals is to reorient the process of dance-making to not exclusively concern itself with the final product. How are you focusing on process?

“Going with the flow. I walked in with some ideas, and some lovely support and suggestions about how I might go about exploring, gaining knowledge and experience to inform future work from Christy Bolingbroke, who is the executive and artistic director at NCCAkron. Already with one residency period complete, I’m headed in a different direction than I thought before I arrived in Ohio; I seem to be exploring current 3D video technology, motion capture, VR and mushrooms. That is not what I thought would happen – and that’s valuable, and for me maybe the whole point of this time – to find something new and something which is of surprise, and of authentic interest. How can I make meaningful work which incorporates these new thrilling elements in my life? That’s the fun, good question.”

Do you have a ‘final product’ goal?

“The truth is, I don’t know. It is my drive to create work, to present finished projects. I like to do that. The work I do with Christy and NCCAkron is about taking time to explore serious interests which may – or may not – be important to finished work. The exciting truth is I don’t know exactly what will happen. I know from my personal practice of making work that the information I discover during these three years will wind up somewhere in my future choreography.”

How are you working or collaborating with existing faculty at the University?

“We’ve only just begun, but I am working with some of the music faculty at the University of Akron – Robert Brownlow and James Wilding. I am interested in considering the ways contemporary music compositional elements  – particularly music which is modular or uses chance elements – may be applied to new choreography. There has been – and I hope will be – interaction with the music composition students. Perhaps in the next round, the music faculty members and I will design a choreographer/composer workshop for musicians/composers and dancers/choreographers at the university.”

John Heginbotham. Photo by Jordan Matter.

John Heginbotham. Photo by Jordan Matter.

Will you bring your company dancers out to Akron, or will you work exclusively with university students while there?

“It is possible, but we have not yet determined details.”

In 2018, you’ve been offered a Guggenheim Fellowship, the UA Residency, and you’re currently in your City Center Choreography Fellowship. This is all staggering! How does it feel to have these incredible opportunities all at this moment?

“It feels absolutely wonderful, and I feel a lovely pressure to make myself worthy of these fantastic opportunities. I’ve been given beautiful support to work – and create – harder! I love this, and I understand how rare these incredible opportunities are. I’m so grateful.”

By Leigh Schanfein of Dance Informa.

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