How did you first get interested in dance?
My older sister, Hannah, danced at The School at Steps. As a 2 ½ year old, I remember sitting in my stroller outside Debbie Roshe’s musical theatre class every Thursday night watching her dance. I loved watching the class and knew I had to dance too. Soon after, my mom signed me up for tap, ballet, and jazz classes where I discovered dance was my passion.
How many classes a week do you take now, and what kind are they?
Right now I take twelve classes a week. In addition to the five ballet, three pointe and two Horton classes, I take jazz and musical theatre. I hope to add in hip hop and tap if I can fit them in my schedule!
What is it about dancing that you enjoy most?
I enjoy the freedom, empowerment, and positive energy I feel when I’m dancing. As I enter the studio, my mind travels to an entirely different world, where I am able to express myself in various ways. When performing on a stage, I feel empowered, as though I could do anything! No matter what, when I dance I feel as though I am pushing away any negative energy and creating something positive. I love movement – it makes me feel so alive!
What is it that you find most difficult about dance?
What I find most difficult about dance is finding the confidence to believe I can learn new steps and routines. I sometimes think to myself ‘I can’t do that’ when learning new choreography, or trying to hit that triple pirouette. But when I doubt myself, or lose my confidence, I know I need to tell myself “Just relax, you can do it. Just go for it.” And I do!
What have you learned about yourself from dance?
Before I started dancing I felt as though I knew very little about myself or what I was capable of. Now that I have been dancing for 9 ½ years at The School at Steps, I have begun to understand so much more about myself. I have learned I am strong, passionate, disciplined, and focused. I use these four assets throughout not just my dance career, but in my daily life.
What advice do you have for other dance students?
There are two things I always tell myself. The first is not to worry about anything that’s happening in studio or out of the studio. Use dance to free your mind and body, and just have fun when you dance! And the second is when you think you have given it your all, when you feel as though you are done, dig even deeper within yourself and leave it all on stage – or in the studio! You will love the feeling it gives you! Most importantly, love dance as much as dance loves you!
The School at Steps is a training ground for students, ages 2-18, who are interested in exploring various dance styles, as well as for those students already focused on a particular discipline. The school offers an Academic Year and Summer Programs, with classes in ballet, modern, tap, jazz, theater dance, hip hop, and Pilates. Students at the school are also given performance opportunities, and workshops on dance and career-related topics. Beginning with the Young Dancers Program and continuing through the most advanced pre-professional classes, The School at Steps provides children with an opportunity to explore the world of dance, to learn and experiment with technique, and to enrich their appreciation for the various forms of the art.
You are choreographing for The Dance COLEctive’s “Higher Ground”, an upcoming weekend of performances in Chicago. Can you tell readers a bit about your piece and the idea behind it?
This piece is a look at the physical and mental necessities for an individual to develop a personal philosophy. The materials available to us such as media, literature and specialized individuals give us the ingredients to formulate ourselves, but what does one ultimately need in order to create their true individuality? Experience. Only then do we choose our path and honestly become what we are meant to be.
How did you work with the dancers throughout this process? What was that like?
I provided them with composition assignments, and free-writing prompts to generate movement and text. Then, I gathered the movement information and carefully sewed the pieces together in what I thought was the best way the dance would make sense.
In terms of music, how did you go about selecting what you would use for this, and did you choose it prior to or after your choreography?
After my choreography. I focused on the mood that I wanted to portray, and went from there.
What were the biggest challenges in terms of choreographing this piece?
Putting things together in a coherent fashion. There was so much beautiful movement that the dancers created, and using it in a way that made sense and created a story was difficult.
What has been the greatest learning experience for you throughout this process?
How to be on the other side.
What do you hope that the audience will see when they view your work?
That everyone should acknowledge the ridiculous things we do to better ourselves. As long as we are aware of them and realize that we should, in the end, rely on ourselves to do the work and make the choices.
BIO: Madelyn Doyle, a fourth year member of The Dance COLEctive, graduated from Columbia College Chicago with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Dance Education and received a K-12 Certification in Dance through the University of Wisconsin in Milwaukee. She has been a part of the We Stand Sideways Dance Co., Thread Meddle Outfit, and independent productions with artist Megan Adams. In addition to establishing the Dance Department of Lindblom Math and Science Academy in Chicago, she has assisted for the presenting series of Riverside Brookfield High School’s Orchesis and choreographed for numerous musicals and high school dance companies in the Northwest Suburbs. Madelyn is a Choreographer/Teacher/Producer for the Arlington Youth Dance Ensemble in Arlington Heights, and founded her company Demi Dancers in 2013 to support creative movement and pre-ballet in local preschools and montessori schools.
by Emily Kate Long
When I landed my first job in a small professional ballet company, I had no idea what would happen. How long was it supposed to last? How long did I want it to last? I remember being acutely aware of a hierarchy in the dance world at large, and I wanted badly to get as close to the top as I could. I visualized my career as a vertical climb, and I was singularly focused on bigger things. Little did I know the challenges and satisfaction I would find by staying put. Gradually, my own career focus shifted to depth rather than height.
I hardly need to say that the perfectionist, achievement-oriented mentality is part of what makes dancers successful. It can also cloud our focus from opportunities right in front of us. The broad role of dance as an art form is to inform, inspire, and challenge our audience, and there is a real immediacy to that in dancing with a small company. It’s great fun to be a cultural pioneer in the Midwest. It’s also very fulfilling to know that the whole company dances in every single show—like many smaller companies, we’re unranked and therefore always pushing ourselves and one another to be better.
For me, the right fit has meant tons of challenging performance opportunities, plus getting close to many other aspects of being part of an arts organization. The dancers are the community outreach team, the teachers in our affiliated school, and formal and informal public ambassadors. For smaller shows, we are even our own stage crew. It makes me proud to have a wide-ranging and always-deepening skill set.
So, what size environment is the right one? Every dancer’s response to that is different, and it could take a few job changes to figure out the answer. What satisfies me about dancing for a small company is the richness of experience—in classrooms, onstage, in the community. It’s a gift to be able to open people’s eyes to dance in a place where many people don’t yet know they have a ballet company.
For more perspectives on the “What size is right for me?” question, check out these articles from Dance Magazine and Pointe Magazine. If you’re looking for the right fit, big or small, Dance/USA maintains this roster of US dance companies.
Assistant Editor Emily Kate Long began her dance education in South Bend, Indiana, with Kimmary Williams and Jacob Rice, and graduated in 2007 from Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre School’s Schenley Program. She has spent summers studying at Ballet Chicago, Pittsburgh Youth Ballet, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre School, Miami City Ballet, and Saratoga Summer Dance Intensive/Vail Valley Dance Intensive, where she served as Program Assistant. Ms Long attended Milwaukee Ballet School’s Summer Intensive on scholarship before being invited to join Milwaukee Ballet II in 2007.
Ms Long has been a member of Ballet Quad Cities since 2009. She has danced featured roles in Deanna Carter’s Ash to Glass and Dracula, participated in the company’s 2010 tour to New York City, and most recently performed principal roles in Courtney Lyon’s Sleeping Beauty, The Nutcracker, and Cinderella. She is also on the faculty of Ballet Quad Cities School of Dance, where she teaches ballet, pointe, and repertoire classes.
Manon was choreographed by Kenneth MacMillan in March of 1974, and it was danced by Antoinette Sibley and Anthony Dowell. The ballet was well-received by audiences, and it became a staple in The Royal Ballet’s repertoire.
On October 16th, viewers all across America will have the chance to see it performed in theaters throughout the nation as part of The Royal Opera House’s Live Cinema Season. This version will feature Marianela Nuñez and Federico Bonelli in the lead roles.
The tragic story of Manon is quite different from the “fairy tale” ballet story where the woman is a pure, princess-like creature to be revered and adored. In fact, the role of Manon is more of an opportunistic one than a sweetheart–though she does fall in love. However, the young lady also lusts after luxury and wealth–and the pull of both prove to be quite strong…
This ballet has both grandeur (scenes for the entire company in Paris and New Orleans) and an achingly beautiful pas de deux that takes place between Manon and her lover Des Grieux. We won’t spoil the ending here, but we will note that there’s a lot of depth to this emotional ballet, and it’s a fantastic one to see performed by such amazing dancers!
Take a look at the clip below to see more about The Royal Ballet’s Live Cinema Season offerings for 2014/15. They’ll be dancing Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Swan Lake, La Fille mal gardee and The Winter’s Tale – all live on the big screen!
Stay tuned for more information on these performances on 4dancers and Dance Advantage!
Disclosure – 4dancers receives compensation for promoting this series0
by Cara Marie Gary
July began my third season with The Joffrey Ballet.
There was no easing into rehearsals when we came back from our summer break. Role responsibility was posted and we started full force with learning Christopher Wheeldon’s Swan Lake. Répétiteur Jason Fowler and our ballet masters spent several weeks teaching us the choreography for this four-act ballet. An average day consisted of me arriving at the Joffrey Tower around 9:00am and leaving around 6:45pm.
I like to arrive early to change, fix my hair, sign up for physical therapy and stretch. When preparing for a strenuous full-length ballet, it is important to take class in order to warm up properly before rehearsal. I take class from 9:45am to 11:15am to help improve my technique and build stamina. I then readjust my pointe shoes, grab a rehearsal tutu and head back into Studio A for a three-hour Swan Lake Act II and IV rehearsal. After an hour lunch break, I come back for three more hours of Swan Lake Act I and III rehearsal. My rehearsal day ends by 6:30pm.
My favorite moment during the rehearsal process was when Mr. Wheeldon came to Chicago to work with the company for two weeks. When a choreographer is in the room it changes the dynamic of a rehearsal. They have a unique ability to disclose their artistic vision for the piece they’ve created in a way that is different from a répétiteur or ballet master. Working with a choreographer is a special time that allows dancers to gain new insight about the intentions behind certain movements. When dancers have a better understanding of the choreographer’s vision, it challenges us to strive towards achieving this goal.
Christopher Wheeldon’s visit to a Degas exhibit at the Philadelphia Art Museum inspired this version of Swan Lake. It is differs from other versions in that it is a ballet-within-a-ballet. Act I is set in a ballet studio that appears similar to Degas’ paintings. It begins with dancers entering a studio before rehearsal.0
by Rachel Malehorn
When I feel the fall’s first chilly breeze, I know that change is in the air. Nature’s cycle strips leaves from trees, puts scarves on necks, and ripens pumpkins in their patches. Fall also finds the dancers of Milwaukee Ballet back in our studio, home after a long summer lay-off to prepare for our first production, Don Quixote. The process of getting back into the rhythm of daily class and rehearsal has made me reflect on the nature of transition. Some people thrive on change while others balk. In the flow of life, change is inevitable. What interests me is how we as people, and we specifically as dancers, can take advantage of these transitions – to seize any opportunity to grow.
Student to Professional
Of the many transitions I went through moving from student to professional dancer, one of the most challenging and least anticipated was navigating my first summer lay-off. As a student, I had spent my summers attending summer intensive programs, which prepare a young dancer for a professional career. But once I had finally landed my dream job, and had just finished my first year with the Company, how should I spend the summer months?
My first lay-off was very confusing for me: on the one hand, I had freedom! I could do whatever I wanted – I was cut loose from the rigid discipline binding me during the season. But after only a few weeks of this wide-open schedule, I realized that I was basically addicted to routine, and felt disoriented, rudderless, and in need of some kind of structure. Also, 21 weeks is a long time to subsist without income, and without regular ballet classes, getting back in shape was extremely difficult. Ever since that first summer, I have dedicated myself to answering the question: what does a dancer do when she’s not dancing full time?
This can be a difficult question to answer for people who have spent the majority of their childhoods in single-minded dedication to their art form. When I made the transition from student to professional, it became apparent that only I could determine my life outside the studio. I began asking my colleagues what they did during the summer and received many different suggestions. Eventually, I was able to craft my summer into a time for college courses at a local university, summer dance projects like Terpsicorps in Asheville, North Carolina, traveling, yoga, camping, and adding to my photographic portfolio.
Recently, I asked three of my fellow dancers from Milwaukee Ballet what they did this summer, and got some great answers.3
by Katie C. Sopoci Drake
STORY/TIME is a three-part book that also serves as a companion piece to the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company’s live production of Story/Time that will appear at New York Live Arts on November 4-8, 11-15 at 7:30pm. More information: http:www.newyorklivearts.org
After the lengthy acknowledgements to many honored academics, distinguished artists, and an impressive list of foundations and trusts, the first thing to strike the reader soundly across the brain is a preface that warns you that what you are about to experience is really a structured event, “a performance yearning to be a document, a book” that serves as a “record of a needy, angry, and confused man” with a need “for a tradition, an intellectual home”. After a description of the book’s layout, a hint at how you might best take in the information (an “invitation to play” or “reorder if you will”), and properly braced with what contradictions may present themselves, you delve into the first of three sections of the book.
This first section, titled “Past Time” plunges you into Jones’ experience within the 1970‘s dance scene. You witness him meeting with the ideas of John Cage, the growing importance of his ideas on Jones’ own artistic inquiries, and are confronted with random stories and images that evoke place and history. Jones’ feelings of exclusion from the intellectual community of scholars and artists of the time surfaces within the narrative providing fire behind Jones’ evidently voracious appetite for inquiry and the contradiction within himself between “comfort” and “provocation” within his own methods of creating live performance that “reveal the most personal aspects” of himself.
The second section, “Story/Time”, “a response to John Cage’s 1958 Indeterminacy,” is laid out like a score with dashes and brackets marking the time and random order (with the help of www.random.org) of 60 one-minute stories. These nuggets of prose, with words that are nudged and pulled apart on the paper to mark the passage of time, span the range of Jones’ own history and memories. Some having to do with art, some with family, some with characters from his life, certain stories swim back to the surface after their initial appearance in the first section of the book “Past Time”. Here they are washed clean of their previous context, and elevated to the status of art.
“Story/Time” begs to be read out loud. At the end of the previous section, “Past Time”, Jones gives us hints at his approach in performance which certainly invites the reader to try one or all stories in their own tongue. 17 unsentimental performance images accompany this leg of the journey giving the viewer a setting for the stories and reminds us of Jones’ questioning of his own interpretation of Cage’s theories assigning “a higher priority to the author’s intent or choices of presentation than to the audience’s capacity to interpret that intent.”
In “With Time”, the final section of the book, you read Jones’ thoughts on the direction of dance as an art-form with the benefit of having read about both his own journey towards this end and experiencing a sample of what his deep artistic inquiry has rendered. In it, he offers yet another twist in his journey in the form of praise he received from his niece in 1999 after a performance of We Set Out Early… Visibility Was Poor. Jones reveals that at that moment, she had represented another “community I had — justifiably or not — felt estranged from.” This revelation brackets a series of “provocations” that keep circling back around within the book: detachment from emotion in art, exclusion from intellectual society, estrangement from community, the class context of searching for identity versus the search for meaning, the role of history and personal experience in experimental art.
In a final interview with Laura Kuhn, Executive Director of the John Cage Trust, John Cage, Jones’ “icon of modernism”, is partially laid bare. Kuhn relates a story of Cage being so detached from society that he didn’t realize Jesse Jackson was black. The story doesn’t seek to embarrass the man, but to reveal a consequence of a philosophy that separates the artist from society. Directly after the interview, Jones identifies his desire to reconcile the community he grew up in with the artistic community he is immersed in and the contradiction of “choosing to engage seriously with such a socially ‘unengaged’ artist who seems to hard back to an era when the only artists who mattered where male and white. And yet engage with John Cage I must.”
As a written document, this book is clearly organized, quickly read, and dense with musings that can be dissected by dancers and non-dancers alike. As a piece of art, it is both process and product in one. The engagement and participation of audience member might be enhanced if the book is read and discussed in a group setting which makes me curious to see how it will fit with the live performance and how many people will pair the two. The experiment in creation, design and performance certainly poses many questions that, identifying as a dance artist, I found myself musing in the context of own work. Likewise, as an academic, I found I was concurrently dissecting the book for use in a future class. I found the “provocation” of personal context and its link to the audience’s experience of art particularly poignant when my thoughts swung back around to a quotation of Michel Auder which was, perhaps, not so randomly selected to end “Story/Time”: “’You motherfucker! You were thinking about yourself while watching my work!’”.
STORY/TIME: The Life of an Idea
By Bill T. Jones
Performing Arts, Dance, Memoir
108 pp. Princeton University Press. $24.95
Contributor Katie C. Sopoci Drake, MFA, GL-CMA, is a Washington D.C. based professional dancer, choreographer and teacher specializing in Laban-based contemporary dance. Holding an MFA in Dance from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, a Graduate Certification in Laban Movement Analysis from Columbia College – Chicago, and a BA in Theatre/Dance with a minor in Vocal Performance from Luther College, Sopoci Drake continues to take classes in as many techniques and practices as she can handle to inform her work and life as a curious mover.
Katie has been on faculty at The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Nova Southeastern University, Miami Dade College-Wolfson, Miami Dade College-Kendall, Carthage College, and Lawrence University. She currently guest teaches and gives masterclasses around the D.C. area and wherever her travels take her.
As a performer, Sopoci is described as a “sinuous, animal presence of great power; watching her dance is a visceral experience.” (Third Coast Digest). Company credits include Mordine and Company Dance Theater of Chicago, Momentum Dance Company of Miami, Wild Space Dance Company of Milwaukee, and Rosy Simas Danse of Minneapolis. Katie has also made appearances an an independent artist with many companies including Brazz Dance, Your Mother Dances, The Florentine Opera, and The Minnesota Opera.
Katie’s choreography, described as “a beautiful marriage between choreography, music and poetry” (On Milwaukee), arises from her fascination with the idiosyncrasies of daily life, and the flights of fancy that arise from ordinary inspirations. Her work has been performed by numerous companies, colleges and studios across the country and her latest collaboration, Telephone Dance Project, will take her to states up and down the East Coast while investigating long-distance creation and connecting far-flung dance communities.0