Helene

Boal Names Next Step Choregraphers

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From the PNB blog, Peter Boal announced the six company choreographers who will make new works on the Professional Division students for the Next Step program on 16 June 2012:

First-timers:

Chelsea Adomaitis

Kyle Davis

Eric Hipolito Jr.

Returning choreographers:

Kiyon Gaines

Sean Rollofson

Ezra Thomson

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After watching Davis' very nuanced performance in Baiser this autumn, I'll be curious to see what he comes up with here.

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It took a while to get the formula down: the original Choreographers' Workshops took place during the season using company dancers. The current, recent format is to have the company choreographers create work on the Professional Division students, giving them the experience before they become full-time members of a company, and presenting the pieces a week after the PNB season ends.

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Super! Why don't all companies do this?

You know the answer as well as any of us -- money.

The current program is descended from a much more ambitious project that the company started back under the last directors -- they had a staff person (Lila York) to run it and it had a more structured mentorship attached. It was, I believe, influenced by the Carlisle Project, where potential ballet choreographers took part in a composition class taught in much the same manner as most modern dance comp classes. They had the chance to develop material and work on structuring, getting feedback from teachers and peers thought the process. (Leigh, I know you did the Carlisle program -- if I've mis-described it, could you set us straight?) The program grew from a post-Balanchine concern that, while modern dance nurtured the next generation of choreographers, ballet didn't really have a similar mechanism.

I don't know how long the program in Carlisle lasted -- here at PNB it was only a full project for a few years. Since then they've been experimenting with other ways to give nascent choreographers the chance to develop in a mentored fashion, as Helene describes, and they arrived at the current solution about four years ago. I have a feeling that things will remain as it is, until the company finds a way to present these works in a smaller venue for a longer run.

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Mentoring.... Hmmmm.... I'm now fantasizing that a venue like The Joyce, Kennedy Center or Barushnikov Arts hosting a festival in which they invite one student piece from each company for showcase presentation, coordinate press attention, arrange for a closed door mentor critique for each of the choreographers... Would be a nice thing and interesting all around... To see what choreographic talent is brewing around the country; what the up &coming dancer generation looks like, and for the choreographers to get some serious feedback and have a nice credit of their work being presented at a significant venue in NY or DC .

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Your idea has big merit, but I think that we need something that works on a more fundamental level. Despite having danced in many works, young choreographers often do not seem to have a clear idea about how to structure a movement phrase that goes beyond a classroom sequence, how to develop an idea over time, and through a group of people, how to craft a beginning and an ending to a work (not to mention a coherent middle). And with so many young dancemakers using found scores or ambient music, they don't have a musical structure to depend on for an overall arc to the work.

These are the kinds of skills that I worked on when I was a modern dance student in college composition classes. Before I tried to make a whole dance, I made lots and lots of smaller studies, practicing the kind of skills that go into a bigger work. it's the difference between writing a two page essay, a 20 page short story, and a 200 page novel -- there are some skills that you don't notice on the two page level that you need desperately at 20, not to mention 200!

I often say that choreographers make all their mistakes in public -- there are so few places to practice craft that don't require an open showing of some kind. I know that there are many informal relationships between choreographers and other dance artists that can offer feedback -- I just wish that it happened earlier in their development.

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Yes, and it's very hard to channel ballet dancers back into college for choreography training... We are often talking about dancers still in their performing careers. I think it's easier for modern choreographers to find a "lab" to experiment in than for professional ballet dancers, and the ballet repertory suffers as a result. Advanced student showcases are an excellent lab... Yes, the mistakes are worked out in public, but it is a relatively friendly audience (friends and family of the students) and if the most promising of these experimenters were then drawn to the prestigous presenting venue for a private weeklong workshop with mentors... It wouldn't be the same as a year of composition at a good college, but it would be better than nothing. One is tempted to say the potential choreographers should just go to college, but then they would have to be willing to say goodbye to their dancing careers... And if one waits until they are at the point of retiring, then they are starting at a time when the use of their own bodies to experiment on is starting to be diminished,.. It is a real disadvantage.

August would be an excellent time for such a thing, when there is not much else being presented and students/choreographers time tends to be more free. It could work out nicely for the student dancers too, with a morning master class, then being thrown into rehearsals with a new choreographer as well as brush up rehearsals of the piece chosen for presentation. A great networking opportunity as well as a good sample of what a dancer's life in a company is like compared to life in a school.

I am not saying student performances at the regional company schools should be all new choreography; students should still ned to present the classic masterpieces, but it would be good for them to work with living developing choreographers as well.

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