For today’s “10 Questions With…” we have Christopher Fleming, one of two competitor evaluators for the International Ballet Competition in 2010. Competitors may take advantage of the Competitor Evaluation Program, which offers a private session with a noted dance professional to discuss jury scores and provide guidance on the dancer’s strengths and weaknesses.
1. Can you tell readers a bit about your background in dance?
I am a former dancer with The New York City Ballet. I’m now a freelance choreographer and teacher, as well as a part-time professor with the Dance Department at Goucher College.
Over the last 12 years, I have created Solos and Pas de Deux for dancers competing in competitions in New York, Paris, Havana, Tokyo, Moscow and Helsinki. Many of these dancers have won medals, critical acclaim and more importantly contracts with major companies.
As a member of the New York City Ballet, I danced solo and principal roles in works of George Balanchine, Jerome Robbins and Peter Martins. I also headed a group of solos and principals from the New York City Ballet, which toured Europe and performed my choreography as well as that of George Balanchine. With Mr. Balanchine’s encouragement I embarked on a career as a choreographer and received a fellowship from the National Choreographic Institute.
I served as the artistic director of the Compania Colombiana de Ballet at the Teatro Colon in Bogota, Colombia from 1985 to 1990 and was named artistic director of Bay Ballet Theatre in Tampa, Florida in 1993. In the mid 2000s, I was co-director of Contrast Dance Theatre based in New York City, and I have served as assistant director and resident choreographer for The Rock School for Dance Education, formerly of the Pennsylvania Ballet, for nearly ten years. I am currently undertaking a freelancing choreographic career.
I’ve choreographed a broad variety of works appearing in the repertoire of a number of different companies, and my work has won medals of accomplishment by students in such acclaimed competitions as Youth America Grand Prix, Grand Prix du Cirque, Moscow Competition, and New York International Ballet Competition.
2. How did you come to be involved with the IBC?
Four years ago, I was invited by Sue Lobrano, executive directorof the USA IBC, to be a Competitor Evaluator. I was thrilled. I still am thrilled to be involved. It is great to create works for the stage, but here I get an opportunity to help prepare the dancers and to then consult them on the experience.
3. What exactly in the Competitor Evaluation Program?
The USA IBC is committed to creating lasting educational experiences for participating dancers. Competitors may take advantage of the Competitor Evaluation Program, which offers a private session with a noted dancer professional to discuss jury scores and provide guidance on the dancers’ strengths and weaknesses.
4. How is this program helpful for dancers?
The program provides an opportunity to be seen and garner knowledge. It is really about the process. Dancers prepare 6 dances to be judged by the world—it’s hard work. There is a high turnover rate to jobs here. It’s ultimately a job fair.
5. What type of guidance do competitors get during the evaluation?
We accentuate the positives to support the efforts of their weaknesses.
6. What do you look for when evaluating the competitors?
We try to look for their strengths and weaknesses. We always present the strengths first and weaknesses second.
7. What can the jury scores tell you about a dancer?
The jury’s intention is to look for artists, not just the people who can do tricks. Their scores will reflect this.
8. This seems like a unique opportunity—how does it feel to be able to be a part of it?
I am thrilled. I choreographed solos for competitors for years, but I have never been an actual part of the USA IBC. Usually I would be sitting in the audience like everybody else, but now I actually have a part in the competition.
9. What are some of the things you might tell a dancer in terms of how to improve?
It depends on the situation—is it a job situation or a school situation? Are they working as hard as they can? Are they doing things in a smart way? Are they doing things in an educated way? One thing I love seeing about ballet in Europe is that the dancers know the history of the art that they are performing, and at times, knowing the history and meaning of what you are doing can help.
We also try to make class fun. There are lots of intense people in this competition, but if you make class fun, warm them up and increase their spirits, it makes our job easier. When the competitors get off the plane, they have to be ready to go. We can’t fix anything from this point. We just try to get them to relax.
10. What is next on the horizon for you?
I just opened the Philadelphia Ballet School. I have a revival ballet in Tampa, Florida entitled Gaspar. I am also preparing a new Edgar Allan Poe ballet in the fall.