Today we have Lizzie Leopold with us to talk about her life in dance…
1. How did you become involved in dance?
I was actually a competitive gymnast growing up and was continually injuring my knees and ankles. My body just wasn’t built for the wear and tear of tumbling, so dance was a way for me to continue to be physical with a little less risk. In the end, dance has offered my a life-long pursuit in a way that I don’t think gymnastics ever could.
2. What are you doing now in the dance world?
Right now, I am 6 months out of my Masters in Performance Studies (from NYU) and am transitioning back from classroom and computer to studio and theater. My thesis work dealt with the intersection of choreography and commerce – asking how the business of making dance affects the dance itself. I am working to bring all of the theory and scholarship of my school work back into practice and make sure that all of the words become a part of the choreography. In other words, I’m trying to connect my brain and my body – something I hope I will do for the rest of my time as a choreographer.
3. What was the best advice you ever received regarding dance?
The best advice I ever received was from Summer Lee Rhatigan, the best and most important teacher I’ve ever had. She told me simply, “The solution to any problem is to give more. And there is always a solution and it is always to give more.” This has become a mantra for my dancing and dance making in every way.
4. What would you tell a person that wanted to go into this career field?
I think the advice for an aspiring dancer is the same advice for an aspiring anything else. Work hard, do what you love and never-ever give up.
5. Can you share a high point from your career thus far?
Every new dance work I premiere seems to be a new and wonderful high point, but winning the Best Choreography for the 2008 New York International Fringe Festival was a particularly spectacular moment. It’s always nice to be recognized for good work.
6. What has been your biggest struggle in dance?
I’ve never had the ideal dancing body, so my struggle was to find my perfect place. I had to find the teachers who were willing to invest their time and energy in me, even if my feet weren’t perfect and my turn out was lacking. But like a lot of dancers in that position, my short comings have turned into the strange and wonderful quirks of my choreography. And fortunately, I have been blessed with beautiful dancers to realize my work.
7. Can you talk a little about the process of putting a dance together?
Every dance I make is a completely different process. Lately, I have been using improvised videos. I will set up a camera and improvise in front of it. Then, I will pass along these videos to my dancers to decipher. It turns into a wonderful game of choreographic telephone and gives us a ton of material to work with in a short amount of time.
8. Do you have any favorite dancers or choreographers? If so, why are they your favorites?
My list of favorite choreographers changes all the time. But I am a huge fan of William Forsythe and of the Melbourne based group Chunky Move. They are my favorite because I can remember sitting in the audience at their shows and having my whole world turned on its head and then back over again. When my understandings of dance and its possibilities have been challenged, that is my favorite.
9. What quality do you think is most important for dancers to cultivate?
I love bold, athletic movers. I like someone who has the ability to forget everything they have been taught and dance without any knowledge of fifth position and then all of a sudden create a gorgeous arabesque. In other words, I like a dancer with no default. Also, I like to move quickly so a fast learner is essential.
10. What is next for you?
Right now I am interviewing for PhD programs to keep exploring dance within the classroom. I look forward to the continued blurring of my work in the classroom and the studio. I hope in the coming years that dance gets the respect it deserves in the academic arena as a serious area of study.
BIO: Lizzie Leopold holds a BFA in dance from the University of Michigan and a Masters in Performance Studies from New York University, with thesis work in the intersection of choreography and commerce, specifically focusing on Le Sacre du Printemps and other seminal dance works. She is the founder, artistic director and sole choreographer for the Leopold Group, a modern dance company currently based in Chicago. In 2007, Leopold was awarded a residency at the Workspace for Choreographers Artists’ Retreat in the Blue Ridge Mountains. and in 2008 “Overall Excellence in Choreography” by the New York International Fringe Festival for her work in the new musical, Green Eyes. She has also worked on Broadway as producer (2008) for Glory Days, a new American musical. Her work both as choreographer and producer gives her an interesting perspective on the business of making dance.
In February 2010 the Leopold Group will premiere a new evening length work based on Carl Sagan’s 1977 NASA Voyager Golden Record. She currently serves on the University of Michigan School of Music, Theater and Dance Board of Governors, under Dean Christopher Kendall.
In addition to creating works, Leopold has performed with the Lyric Opera of Chicago.