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.


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.

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American Ballet Theatre Offers Chicago An “All American Celebration”

American Ballet Theatre dancing Bach Partita. Dancers: Polina Semionova and James Whiteside.  Photo by:  Gene Schiavone

American Ballet Theatre dancing Bach Partita. Dancers: Polina Semionova and James Whiteside. Photo by: Gene Schiavone

American Ballet Theatre is coming to Chicago for one weekend–October 3rd through the 5th. The company will be dancing Clark Tippet’s pas de deux, “Some Assembly Required,” “Fancy Free,” by Jerome Robbins and two works by Twyla Tharp’–“Back Partita” and “Sinatra Suite”. Artistic Director Kevin McKenzie put together this “All American Celebration” and it will take place at the Auditorium Theater of Roosevelt University.


Luciana Paris and Herman Cornejo in Sinatra Suite. Photo by Rosalie O’Connor

Artistic Director Kevin McKenzie

Sinatra Suite” consists of two dancers and five Sinatra songs–Strangers in the Night, All the Way, That’s Life, My Way, and One For My Baby (And One More for the Road). Misty Copeland and Marcelo Gomes along with Luciana Paris and James Whiteside will perform this work by Tharp during the Chicago engagement.

Clark Tippet‘s “Some Assembly Required” is also on the program for the evening. This pas de deux has been staged by the original cast (Amanda McKerrow and John Gardner) and is set to set to William Bolcom’s Second Sonata for violin and piano.

Another piece that will be performed is Tharp’s “Bach Partita,” which will feature live music, with violinist Charles Yang playing Bach’s Partita No. 2 in d minor for solo violin.

No “All American” program would feel complete without Jerome Robbins’ lighthearted “Fancy Free,” which was actually the first ballet he ever choreographed back in 1944. The audience tags along with three sailors on leave as they meet up with two girls in New York City. What could go wrong?

American Ballet Theatre

Herman Cornejo in Fancy Free. Photo by: Gene Schiavone

Artistic Director Kevin McKenzie
Artistic Director Kevin McKenzie
Artistic Director Kevin McKenzie”All American Celebration” will take place at the Auditorium Theater

This show is approximately 2 hours and 30 minutes long and it has two intermissions.



Jewels: A Multifaceted Ballet

Pacific Northwest Ballet

Pacific Northwest Ballet corps de ballet dancer Jessika Anspach backstage, prior to a performance of Diamonds, choreographed by George Balanchine © The George Balanchine Trust. Photo © Lindsay Thomas.

Today we are thrilled to welcome Pacific Northwest Ballet‘s Jessika Anspach McEliece to the site officially as a contributing writer. She’ll be writing about a variety of topics for us, starting with this post about George Balanchine’s “Jewels”, which the company will be performing, starting September 26th in Seattle.

by Jessika Anspach McEliece

It’s Tuesday but it feels like, um, I don’t know… not Tuesday. Coming back to work after a break always gives me that jet-lag feeling, no matter what time zone I’ve been in. PNB dancers are doing pirouettes across the grey marley floor of Studio C and between thinking about getting my foot immediately to passé and keeping my standing leg engaged, my rehearsal schedule for the day runs through the ticker tape of my brain. Confusion. Then holes. Then blanks.

I turn to the blonde girl with hyper-extension for days who’s patiently waiting her turn and ask, “Emma, do we have Rubies first or is it Emeralds?”

“I’m pretty sure we have Rubies 12-1 and Emeralds 1-2 but with the principal couple…” she replies. And yet I can tell that her ticker tape is following a similar pattern by her perplexed eyes.

“Oh yeah. That’s right… But I’m pretty sure Emeralds is only a half hour. I thought we had a break from 1:30 to 4, and finished with Diamonds. Is that just demi women or corps women too?” I reply.

“It’s demi and corps men and women. I think we’re piecing together the finale. Are you sure Emeralds is only a half hour?”

“Ha. I’m not sure of anything.”

Emeralds, Rubies and Diamonds – juggling these ballets can be a bit of a handful at first. Yes, Jewels is a full-length ballet. Yes, it has the same choreographer – the genius George Balanchine. All the costumes are designed by the same woman – the fabulous Karinska, and thankfully there’s not a single hair change during the performance… I think. But that’s about it when it comes to continuity.

No two stones are alike, and that is most definitely true of Jewels. Like any beautiful gem, we see the many facets of Mr. Balanchine’s choreographic prowess.

George Balanchine's Emeralds

Pacific Northwest Ballet company dancers in Emeralds, choreographed by George Balanchine © The George Balanchine Trust. Photo © Angela Sterling.


In Emeralds, set to the very French and very impressionistic music of Gabriel Faure, the movement is soft, yet sweeping. The curtain opens to a sea of emerald green: a principal couple dancing amid ten corps ladies who bourrée from one formation to the next, rarely coming off pointe. The effect: a floating, almost shimmering quality–like lily pads glistening on a glassy pond in one of Monet’s landscapes.

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Joffrey Ballet – Stories In Motion

Joffrey Ballet

The Joffrey in RAkU, Christine Rocas & Miguel Blanco, Photo by Cheryl Mann

This Thursday the Joffrey will be performing Stories In Motion at Chicago’s Auditorium Theatre. The program features three ballets, one of which is a Chicago premiere.

First up will be Balanchine’s Prodigal Son, which hasn’t been danced by the company since 2000. Based on a well-known biblical tale, this ballet is a visual treat to watch. Artistic Director Ashley Wheater will be performing the role of Father, and he talks about the reason these three ballets were chosen on j-Pointe, Joffrey’s blog.

The company was able to call on the considerable expertise of Edward Villella to coach the dancers during rehearsal. Take a look at some of the footage here:

Antony Tudor’s Lilac Garden is next on the program. It has been called his first “psychological ballet”, telling the story of an arranged marriage and lost love. Set in Victorian times, the music is Chausson’s Poeme for violin and orchestra and Senior Répétiteur Donald Mahler worked with the dancers to help them fine-tune this ballet.

The final offering is the Chicago premiere of Yuri Possokhov’s RAkU. The storyline of this contemporary ballet follows a Japanese emperor, his princess, and an obsessive Buddhist monk. Here’s a video of the Joffrey dancers working on the ballet in rehearsal:

Stories in Motion opens Thursday, September 15th and runs through the 21st.


Trading My Tutu For An Apron: What Waiting Tables Taught Me About Being A Performer

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Pierre Bonnard’s “The Red Checkered Tablecloth” 1910

by Emily Kate Long

Most dancers have had to take a second job to pay the bills at some point in their career. In high school I cleaned houses and babysat, but throughout my professional life I’ve been lucky enough to have dance-related second jobs: as a teacher, guest artist, and summer chaperone.

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We’re popular for afternoon ice cream stops…occasionally we even stock a flavor called “Nutcracker!”

This summer I tried my hand waiting tables at a casual mom-and-pop restaurant in my neighborhood. After one day shadowing another server, my manager threw me out on the floor still wet behind the ears. It was chaotic and overwhelming and tons of fun…and, I’ve realized, not all that different from performing. I’ll admit, though, that I’m a lot less klutzy when my workday is choreographed!

Working for a small business has the same close-knit feel of dancing in a small company. Everyone has to be really invested in the work for our service to be good so the business can grow. We do the legwork and we see the immediate payoff of a happy table or a transformative moment onstage.

The ebb and flow of serving during a rush feels like getting ready for a performance. You sweat through class every day, you rehearse all your roles, you preset costumes and shoes and headpieces for quick changes, and as soon as that music starts, you get onstage and don’t look back.

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Midwesterners love their brewed sweet tea

I can’t say brewing sixteen gallons of iced tea and rolling dozens of sets of silverware each morning is as satisfying as class and rehearsal, but I can appreciate the importance of being well equipped to confidently serve a full house, whether they’re sitting in red velvet seats or at red-checkered tables.

When I work with other servers during a rush, we divide and conquer to get all the prep work, side work, and cut work done while still making sure our guests are happy. Usually it’s as simple as checking in with one another about the status of each table and whether or not there are cups in the dishwasher. Since we share our tips, we all benefit most when everybody’s on top of things.

That teamwork mentality comes easily to dancers. We know that the show is best when each performer takes responsibility for him- or herself and takes joy in the collective effort of putting work onstage. Being accountable to a group is a really powerful motivator, and shared success is a truly special thing.

Screen shot 2014-08-28 at 2.38.39 PMOf course, bad reviews and cranky customers are both inevitable and necessary. They’re a way to either toughen up against unfounded censure or learn something valuable from constructive criticism. Some people are just impossible to please, and for those few snarky ones, it really isn’t worth trying.

Splitting up a full tip jar at the end of a shift is great—for the personal satisfaction of knowing we provided good service, and because everybody gets to go home to lights on and food in the fridge. But it doesn’t even come close to the reward of performing: that somebody in the audience might feel or see or think something new as a direct result of what happens onstage. I’d fold all the napkins in the world for that privilege!


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.