Margi Cole reflects on her journey as a choreographer and The Dance COLEctive‘s upcoming 20th anniversary performance, Revelry/20 Years.
What continues to inspire you to choreograph after 20 years?
I am quite simply inspired by the creative process. I am still curious. I want to experiment with new ideas, new bodies, new challenges. I want to see if I can be more creative than the last time. How can I challenge the bodies in the space? How can I challenge myself? I get excited about working with the dancers, creating puzzles for them to take on, challenging their weaknesses and amplifying their strengths. I am enamored with watching the dancers tackle the material and grow from it. I am inspired by the authenticity of the experience. It is a truly intimate and satisfying privilege to be present in that creative space.
What are some of the most valuable artistic insights you’ve learned along the way?
Gosh. So many. Probably the biggest thing I would offer is that it is OK to fail. It is not fun, but there is so much to be learned from not succeeding. I can’t tell you how many times I have tried and failed and tried again. I wish I had been less worried about failing when I was younger and more of a risk taker. I find myself taking risks more now but they are calculated, less organic. Do your research. Be brave. Be humble about your failures and modest about your successes. The other thing that is just as hard is balancing your creative self, your personal self and your administrative self. Be careful that they do not become so tightly wound that you can’t separate one from the other. It means making sacrifices along the way.
What do you find most fulfilling about your work?
I feel as if I have lived a life of good fortune because I have been able to do what I love and have worked hard at it. I am so grateful for the opportunities I have had to be a student and a teacher. I am so grateful for all the amazing people I have met along the way. I can’t believe I have been able to have a life in the field of dance, a field that is long and wide and full of possibility. This work has enabled me to travel and learn about dance and culture in other parts of the world. I just keep wanting to learn more, to see more, to do more, to be more. I want that for me and I want it for the artists I get to spend time with in the studio and on the stage. All that is fulfilling and unreal somehow. Who knew that starting ballet at the age of four would find me here now? Who knew how profoundly lucky I would be to have this life and this experience?
Tell us a little about the choreography you’re presenting in Revelry/20 Years…
This time there is a real mix of work on the program. I am presenting two duets from a larger work called Reel to Real that was created in 2003. Some of the alums wanted to perform these duets, and I was happy to have them do so. Including the 20th anniversary performances, these duets have been performed by five generations of dancers. I think that is pretty neat, actually. I have also created a work called The Swell. The work started with a curiosity about bravery. What is bravery? What is courage? Are they the same or different? What is aggression? How do we perceive bravery, define it or measure it? The result is a dance that pushes the dancers to exhaustion, much like being in the heat of battle. It reflects chaos and order. I am excited about the energy in the room that this dance creates. The program also features work by current and former members of the company. I am very proud of the work they have done!
What themes, ideas and/or processes are you interested in exploring in future choreography?
I have always said I like to put my money where my mouth is. By this I mean that any expectations I have of others I also have for myself. I have a profound respect for the solo form, the creative process and any opportunity I can create for myself to be immersed in it. I am seeking opportunities to be challenged, understanding that my growth as an artist and performer furthers my craft. It remains important for me, now more than ever, to maintain a presence as a performer. It reflects my dedication to research, informing current practice, and an ongoing desire for a deeper understanding of performance itself. Right now I am working to formalize an idea for one-on-one solo swaps. I make a solo for someone, that person makes a solo for me. The first swap will be with Chicago-area performer and choreographer Onye Ozuzu this summer. Stay tuned for details on how this idea/project unfolds!!
Choreographers Discuss Their Work for Revelry/20 Years
Shadowless was crafted with the interest and curiosity of both sides. So often we are faced with choices and possess responses that are not always the norm. The question posed with this piece was whether or not to acknowledge this response or to live on within the boundaries of the traditional, ultimately realizing that one type of response cannot exist without the other. This duet represents both light and dark by using the dancers’ responses to prompts and scores that restrict their actions while unbinding them from any well-known replies.
Directing this piece was one of the most collaborative experiences I have had. My dancers’ inquisitive minds and care for the questions I posed to them was fulfilling and cultivating. Working on this show not only as a choreographer for this piece, but also as an artistic director for my students and a dancer, brought me great perspective—which reminds me of the mentorship that Margi Cole brings to her current company and past dancers, myself included. I am forever thankful for the guidance and opportunity she has presented me and look forward to future events. Happy Birthday to The Dance COLEctive; may you lead for another 20 years!
Statement from The Dance COLEctive press release:
“[My] work for Margi Cole moves through many quadrants: emotional, aesthetic and physical terrains […] During the 10-minute work, Margi thrusts herself into an investigation of self and the space(s) she inhabits. Together we have created a solo that reflects her intelligence, wild and clear dancing and kinesthetic acuity. Having known Margi for decades now and admired her work and her tenacity, I am honored to have been commissioned to generate a solo in celebration of her 20th anniversary.”
I previously created a piece for The Dance COLEctive that premiered in 2012, Their There. The subject sparked an ongoing interest in identity conflict due to homesickness and the disorientation it causes. I had had a nagging urge ever since to dive deeper into this concept. I sourced ideas from my old piece to elaborate and create a continuation called There There.
My new work, which will premiere in Revelry/20 Years, attempts to resolve the constant need to be somewhere specific by finding comfort in familiar sensations. Can familiarity fill the void of a distant home? Or do we become so separated from what was once so familiar, that it becomes unfamiliar? We used writing and conversation to draw movement inspiration. We asked ourselves personal questions about home: current homes, past homes, homes we never had, ideas of home, etc. We focused particularly on sensations that provoke nostalgia of home. The dancer relationships formed, and I decided the dance needed a “place.” I added a small, functioning set of props. The dancers were incredibly open and contributing to the process.
Choreographing for the third time under Margi’s mentorship shed a new light on my choreographic process. As a seasoned dancer of The Dance COLEctive, I have become more aware than ever of small, physical connections between the dancers, and I attempted to draw from them in material the dancers created. What became important this time was the relationship of the dancers in group work as well as their individual work. Although Margi allowed me to work independently, she was a constant source of feedback and response. Margi has a unique eye, and that’s especially valuable to me. I’m so grateful for her presence and words of wisdom throughout this whole process.
The Second Line, my second work self-produced by Margi Cole, is a celebratory manifestation inspired by New Orleans jazz funeral proceedings. An ensemble of TDC guest artists interpret how we dignify legacies, pay homage to the souls we part with and discover what we want to pass on to the world during our own lives. In a positive light, this work embodies the many reasons we honor our loved ones after they have passed.
I started this exploration with a great deal on my mind, so I asked the dancers to answer questions such as: What qualities about yourself do you value most? What expectations do you have for yourself? How would you want others to honor you after you are gone? I then used their responses as a basis for each dancer to start creating material. This specific process is one of the movement-generating tactics Margi has used in the past, which I tend to use frequently in my creative development because I consistently enjoy the outcome. Once the material was generated, comprising mostly duets, trios and quartets, I layered and connected sections of movement that were the most coherent in sequence. Once arranged, we were able to discuss intention, adding focus and performance qualities to the piece, resulting in melancholia accompanied by lighthearted and dignified sentiments.
Margi arranged a rehearsal structure allotting the choreographers a three-week block totaling about 30 hours together. During the time of my process, Margi was away in Ireland on business. We communicated by email, and, needless to say, I am very thankful for Google Drive because she was able to watch and critique my material that way. Even though we were in a crunch with not much time between rehearsals, I felt confident making the immediate decisions. Because I have had the opportunity to work with Margi for so many years, it was like she was behind my shoulder the whole time, and I knew what she would say in regard to what needed to be reworked. Although the dancers comprise past and present TDC members as well as guest artists new to Margi’s style, the dance has a definite, traditional TDC feel in that the movement is intimate and weighted. I hope Margi is proud, and I am thankful she has given me the opportunity to put this work on her 20th anniversary concert’s bill.
The Dance COLEctive and Links Hall Present: Revelry / 20 Years
March 11, 12 13 & 18, 19, 20, 2016 at 7pm
“Repertory Dance Ensemble and TDC Alums Admission General Admission $20/Students & Seniors $15”