Choreography: On Developing A Personal Philosophy


Madelyn Doyle, photo by William Frederking

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.


Finding The Right Dance Company For You

dancers arms

Emily Kate Long, photo by Kimberlyn Aust,

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.


dancer doing arabesque

Emily Kate Long, Photo by Avory Pierce

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.



The Royal Ballet’s Manon


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 royal ballet's manon

©ROH 2014. Photographed by Alice Pennefather, dancers Federico Bonelli as Des Grieux and Marianela Núñez as Manon in Manon

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…

manon by royal ballet

©ROH 2014. Photographed by Alice Pennefather, dancers Christopher Saunders as Monsieur GM, Marianela Núñez as Manon and Ricardo Cervera as Lescaut in Manon

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!

Find out where you can go see this ballet at a theater near you.

the royal ballet

©ROH 2014. Photographed by Alice Pennefather, dancers Federico Bonelli as Des Grieux and Marianela Núñez as Manon in Manon

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 series


Dancing Christopher Wheeldon’s Swan Lake

Cara Marie Gary (far left) rehearsing Swan Lake with Christopher Wheeldon. Photo by Cheryl Mann.

Joffrey’s Cara Marie Gary (far left) rehearsing Swan Lake with Choreographer Christopher Wheeldon. Photo by Cheryl Mann.

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.

Read more


Transitioning And Growing In This Dance Life

ballet dancer as swan with feathers

Nicole Teague by Rachel Malehorn

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.

dancer with blue

Susan Gartell by Rachel Malehorn

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.

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Book Review: STORY/TIME: The Life of an Idea by Bill T. Jones

by Katie C. Sopoci Drake

STORY/TIME: The Life of an IdeaSTORY/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:

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 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: The Life of an Idea 

“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. 

STORY/TIME: The Life of an Idea

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

Katie Sopoci Drake Photo by Scott Pakudaitis

Katie Sopoci Drake
Photo by Scott Pakudaitis

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.


Conducting Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake

Joffrey swan lake

Dylan Gutierrez & Jeraldine Mendoza, Photo by Cheryl Mann

Conductor Scott Speck is with us to talk about the music of one of the most famous ballets of all time–Swan Lake. He has been in rehearsal with Chicago’s Joffrey Ballet, and they will open October 15th doing Christopher Wheeldon’s version of this ballet classic. We’re excited to share a deeper look at this wonderful Tchaikovsky piece with you here…

This is one of the big story ballets. Is there more preparation involved in conducting a piece like this than in doing a mixed rep program? Why or why not?

More preparation is involved, but not because it is big. This is one of the most specific​ ballets of all time, meaning that this ballet has an inordinate number of special moments, solos, pas de deux (and trois and quatre….) that require very specific attention to what the dancers are doing onstage. In addition, each dancer has a personal mode of expression within the choreography, and my goal is to create the musical backdrop to support that expression and allow it to shine. For that reason, each moment requires several different kinds of preparation–and that makes Swan Lake one of the trickiest pieces to conduct in the whole history of ballet.

Tchaikovsky’s music is well-known and well liked. Can you talk a bit about him as a composer?

Tchaikovsky was the essence of the Russian Romantic era. He wore his heart on his sleeve, and his unforgettable melodies are full of the most honest expression. It’s like listening to an old friend pour his heart out to you. I think that’s why people love Tchaikovsky so much.

It was with pieces like Swan Lake, his first work for the Bolshoi Ballet, that Tchaikovsky burst upon the musical scene. He was very influenced by Ludwig Minkus, his extremely talented and facile (yet much less deep) predecessor at the Bolshoi. Minkus’s clever and tuneful music to La Bayadere, which the Joffrey performed last fall, had recently premiered.​ Minkus was a master of miniatures–those wonderful short characteristic movements that create a mood and atmosphere in a very short period of time–and in Swan Lake, Tchaikovsky was able to try his hand at the form. Although his “foreign”-sounding characteristic dances–Spanish, Neopolitan, Hungarian. etc.–are probably not as idiomatic as those of Minkus, Tchaikovsky allowed his true character to show in the body of the ballet.

And so, in most of Swan Lake, you hear the same personality that you can hear in the 6 symphonies, multiple operas, concertos and tone poems that Tchaikovsky is famous for. In other words–when he wasn’t trying to imitate Minkus directly, he appeared clearly as the immortal composer that he was.

Joffrey worked with choreographer Christopher Wheeldon on this version of the ballet. Is there anything different here musically?

Yes, We are still using the original Tchaikovsky, but Chris has created a more streamlined version of the ballet–it moves very excitingly from beginning to end. Some of the movements are in a different order​ than listeners may expect, but all the favorite melodies are intact, Most ballet companies do cut the music somewhat, as the full score would take about three hours to play.

Is there anything that the audience can listen for musically in terms of distinguishing Odette and Odile?

The character of Odette is presented as very elegant and poised, with great control; and Odile is very confident, with bravura technique. To a certain extent this is reflected in the music. For example, both the White Swan (Odette) and Black Swan (Odile) have a pas de deux with young Siegfried, and each pas de deux features a violin solo. In the White Swan Pas de Deux, the violin solo is extremely elegant and mingles beautifully with cello and harp. But in the Black Swan Pas de Deux, there are moments of astounding virtuosity for the violin. But other than that, I think that most of the distinguishing characteristics are visual.

What are the most challenging parts of this ballet in terms of the orchestra?

We are so lucky to have the Chicago Philharmonic, which has been called one of the nation’s finest symphonic orchestras, playing for us in the pit. These musicians can really do anything. My challenge will be the communicate the specific needs of the stage, with my baton, to musicians who cannot see the dancers. That communication will be most important in the pas de deux and solo movements, which can vary the most from show to show. These movements will require the most lightning-quick reflexes from all of us.

What do you enjoy most about conducting this ballet?

The opportunity to hear Tchaikovsky’s glorious music — ten times!​

Joffrey’s Swan Lake runs from October 15th through October 26th at Chicago’s Auditorium Theatre.

scott speck

Scott Speck

With recent performances in London, Paris, Moscow, Beijing, Chicago, San Francisco and Washington, Contributor Scott Speck has inspired international acclaim as a conductor of passion, intelligence and winning personality.

Scott Speck’s recent concerts with the Moscow RTV Symphony Orchestra in Tchaikovsky Hall garnered unanimous praise. His gala performances with Yo-Yo Ma, Itzhak Perlman, Joshua Bell, Midori, Evelyn Glennie and Olga Kern have highlighted his recent and current seasons as Music Director of the Mobile Symphony. This season he also collaborates intensively with Carnegie Hall for the seventh time as Music Director of the West Michigan Symphony. He was recently named Music Director of the Joffrey Ballet; and he was invited to the White House as Music Director of the Washington Ballet.

In recent seasons Scott Speck has conducted at London’s Royal Opera House at Covent Garden, the Paris Opera, Washington’s Kennedy Center, San Francisco’s War Memorial Opera House, and the Los Angeles Music Center. He has led numerous performances with the symphony orchestras of Baltimore, Houston, Chicago (Sinfonietta), Paris, Moscow, Shanghai, Beijing, Vancouver, Romania, Slovakia, Buffalo, Columbus (OH), Honolulu, Louisville, New Orleans, Oregon, Rochester, Florida, and Virginia, among many others.

Previously he held positions as Conductor of the San Francisco Ballet; Music Advisor and Conductor of the Honolulu Symphony; and Associate Conductor of the Los Angeles Opera. During a recent tour of Asia he was named Principal Guest Conductor of the China Film Philharmonic in Beijing.

In addition, Scott Speck is the co-author of two of the world’s best-selling books on classical music for a popular audience, Classical Music for Dummies and Opera for Dummies. These books have received stellar reviews in both the national and international press and have garnered enthusiastic endorsements from major American orchestras. They have been translated into twenty languages and are available around the world. His third book in the series, Ballet for Dummies, was released to great acclaim as well.

Scott Speck has been a regular commentator on National Public Radio, the BBC, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, and Voice of Russia, broadcast throughout the world. His writing has been featured in numerous magazines and journals.

Born in Boston, Scott Speck graduated summa cum laude from Yale University. There he founded and directed the Berkeley Chamber Orchestra, which continues to perform to this day. He was a Fulbright Scholar in Berlin, where he founded Concerto Grosso Berlin, an orchestra dedicated to the performances of Baroque and Classical music in a historically informed style. He received his Master’s Degree with highest honors from the University of Southern California, served as a Conducting Fellow at the Aspen School of Music, and studied at the Tanglewood Music Center. He is fluent in English, German and French, has a diploma in Italian, speaks Spanish and has a reading knowledge of Russian.

Scott Speck can be reached at and also at, and @ScottSpeck1 on Twitter.

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