Absence Makes The Dance Grow Stronger

by Catherine L. Tully

Photo by William Frederking.

Michael Estanich and Lucy Vurusic-Riner

Mutual respect.

These are two words that form the cornerstone of any healthy long-term relationship—personal or professional. Even so, it’s often hard to check the ‘ol ego at the door for the greater good of the partnership. But take two people from the dance world that have known each other for 16 years, give them a shared vision and complementary skill sets…and wonderful things can happen.

It’s immediately obvious that there’s a deep rapport between Lucy Vurusic-Riner and Michael Estanich, and it is in every sense the foundation that their dance company is built upon. RE|Dance is a collaborative effort between these two long-time friends, and their respective titles provide all the information needed to dig a little deeper and see why they work so well together.

Vurusic-Riner is the Executive Director and handles the majority of the business aspects of RE|Dance. Estanich runs point on the creative arena as the Artistic Director. He choreographs and selects costumes. She writes grants and markets the performances.

Estanich lives in Wisconsin and teaches at University of Wisconsin/Stevens Point. Vurusic-Riner resides in Chicago and is a high school dance program instructor. They do the majority of the work for the company separately, coming together only for short spurts of time where they work together intensely, then return to their respective towns.

This makes for a challenging situation, but the two have learned to embrace it, and even thrive on it. Estanich explains saying, “Our time apart provides privacy to consider the ideas, movements, research etc., on our own (this includes the dancers too). When we are together it is RE|Dance Group nearly 24 hours a day. We are constantly together and with the company and feel a bit of pressure to generate a lot of material during those intensive rehearsals. The time apart gives me the chance to consider what the company and I have generated and see how it influences the direction of a project.”

RE|Dance, Photo by Jeff Larson

RE|Dance, Photo by Jeff Larson

Daily communication is important to this process, and Estanich believes this enriches the creative ideas that have been generated. “It is rare to have the opportunity to discuss the choreographic ideas so deeply before moving again,” he says, adding, “I think this builds indelible trust in each other, personally, creatively, administratively, and inspirationally.”

So how do the two artists make this arrangement work while teaching full time? They multi-task. Most projects begin with Estanich working with his students to create an initial jumping off point. Vurusic-Riner says, “We then take what they have put together, which is typically a smaller version of the piece, and we expand it to become an evening-length work.”

In the past this has meant learning from video, but for their upcoming project, The Long and Forgotten Winter, the pair used a different approach. “This is an idea that Michael developed for the company specifically and we have had full investment and ownership in it since day one,” says Vurusic-Riner, who took a more direct role in the movement development this time around.

The most interesting area of crossover is the company’s rehearsal time, directed, surprisingly, by Vurusic-Riner. Since home base is Chicago, she is responsible for keeping Estanich’s vision alive in the dancers and putting them through their paces. This creates unique challenges in its execution, but again, the respect for one another provides a through-line. “We trust each other to do what’s best for the company,” says Vurusic-Riner, adding, “We don’t always like the same things and our movement preferences are not always the same, but we do have the same vision when it comes to our artistic philosophy.”

Vurusic-Riner knows Estanich’s style so well that she is often able to “guesstimate” a movement pattern or linking step if it isn’t clear. But even so, the dancers must remain flexible in terms of learning the choreography as it can change in a moment once Estanich appears back on the scene.

RE|Dance has enjoyed steady growth throughout the five years it has been in existence, but The Long And Forgotten Winter is more than just another choreographic vision coming to life. It also represents how dedication, mutual respect and love for one’s art can triumph over distance and time. It may not be the easiest way to work, but for these two artists, it is the only way they can do what they love with the other person at their side.

Even if it’s only some of the time.


The Long And Forgotten Winter will be at the Ruth Page Center for the Performing Arts August 1st and 2nd at 7:30 pm and August 3rd at 3 pm. Tickets are $20.

Read more about this production on Art Intercepts.

*Lucy Vurusic-Riner is a contributing writer to 4dancers.org.





Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival 2014 – Opening Week With The Hong Kong Ballet & Carmen De Lavallade


by Christopher Duggan

It’s been a glorious first week back at Jacob’s Pillow in every way. Fantastic dance, beautiful sunshine and lots of making pictures. I wait all year for this and it’s finally here.

This year was my first time photographing the Pillow’s Gala in many years. It was fun to be a part of all the season opening festivities again.


My friend John Heginbotham received the Jacob’s Pillow Dance Award given to visionary artists for their creativity.

The amazing Carmen De Lavallade danced with the back barn doors of the Ted Shawn Theatre open, in my mind symbolizing the opening of the festival’s doors for all to come this summer.

A few of my Inside/Out images were included in the Gala’s silent auction, and though the auction is not officially over, I’m honored to say it looks like my dance photography brought in a few thousand dollars!

The Hong Kong Ballet is a stunning and exciting company. So many dancers. Impeccable technique. Really fun to photograph. The company only did one dance in costume for our photo call together, but it was plenty for me. I’m so glad these strong ballet dancers are opening the festival.


It’s hard to describe photographing Ms. De Lavallade. She has such grace and dignity. She raises the bar just by walking into the room. Her show is poignant and funny, and it’s just a treat to watch such a high level of performance coming from a woman who has more than six decades of experience onstage. She holds the distinction of the longest Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival performing career on record, and made her Pillow debut with Lester Horton Dance Theatre in 1953. Just out of this world.


Contributor Christopher Duggan is a wedding and dance photographer in New York City, the Berkshires and beyond. Duggan has been the Festival Photographer for Jacob’s Pillow Dance since 2006. In this capacity, and as a respected New York-based dance photographer, he has worked with renowned choreographers and performers of international acclaim as well as upstarts in the city’s diverse performance scene.
Christopher Duggan, Photo by Julia Newman

Christopher Duggan, Photo by Julia Newman

He photographs dancers in the studio and in performance, for promotional materials, portraits and press, and he often collaborates with his wife, Nel Shelby, and her Manhattan-based dance film and video editing company Nel Shelby Productions (nelshelby.com). Together, they have documented dance at performances from New York City to Vail International Dance Festival.

Christopher Duggan Photography also covers the finest wedding venues in the Metropolitan and Tri-State areas, in Massachusetts and the Berkshires, and frequently travels to destination weddings.

His photographs appear in The New York Times, The Huffington Post, The Knot, Destination I Do, Photo District News, Boston Globe, Financial Times, Dance Magazine, and Munaluchi Bridal, among other esteemed publications and popular dance and wedding blogs. One of his images of Bruce Springsteen was added to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and his dance photography has been exhibited at The National Museum of Dance and Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival.

His Natural Light Studio (http://www.christopherduggan.com/portfolio/natural-light-studio-jacobs-pillow-photography/) at Jacob’s Pillow is his most ambitious photography project to date – check out his blog to see more portraits of dance artists in his pop-up photo studio on the Pillow grounds.


Dancer Turned Designer – Taylor Morgan’s Story

For a long time now I’ve been thinking about what dancers do when they don’t dance anymore. Many of move on to related careers in the field, such as teaching, managing a studio or administrative positions. But those aren’t the only options available…

4dancers will be sharing some stories here on the site about people who have changed careers within–and outside of–our field. Some will be starting on a second career after a long career as a dancer. Others will find the skills they have learned in dance will open doors for them in a myriad of different ways. We’ll tell some of those stories, and we’ll also share information about organizations that exist to help dancers make these transitions.

Today we have a young lady with us who found a way to blend her two loves – dance and design. She has done both, but now intends to mix the two and use her skill set to create clothing for dancers. Here’s her story, along with a link to her Kickstarter campaign, should you feel inclined to help her out…

Stay tuned for more stories in this new series.



Hi, I am Taylor Morgan. I have lived two lives. My first life ended when I was about 20 years old, but that’s when my second life began. Am I talking about reincarnation? No, I am talking about my two greatest passions, dance and design, & they are held together by one common thread: attention to detail. Let me explain…

I am a fashion designer in New York City. I graduated from the Fashion Institute of Technology (F.I.T.), one of the most prestigious colleges for fashion design in the nation, and I now work for Tommy Hilfiger as a designer for the men’s woven division. I am not trying to brag. In fact, I am trying to give credit to where it is due… DANCE, my very first love and my “first” life!

Taylor Morgan

Taylor Morgan

You see, I grew up dancing. My little baby body literally grew in my mother’s womb as she taught dance. She owned a thriving dance studio & also started the Phoenix Suns dance team in 1990, 2 years after I was born. Growing up, I had 3 activities to choose from; 1) Dance 2) Watch a dance class 3) Sleep or eat. Lucky for me, I love dance! I trained in all styles, but lyrical emerged as my favorite.

My dream to be a professional dancer was realized shortly after high school, when I moved to L.A. Represented by MSA, I was able to make a living doing what I love for 2 years. I was in a Miley Cyrus music video, I was flown to Las Vegas to dance in Nike’s huge convention, and booked several other memorable dance gigs. It was a dream come true, but at the same time I had an itch that was growing stronger day by day.

That itch started while watching the movie Parent Trap, with Lindsay Lohan, as a 10 year old. The mother, played by Natasha Richardson, was a famous wedding dress designer in London. It looked like such a beautiful life, and from that point on I started to sketch dresses for fun, imagining I was a fashion designer. It wasn’t until I was 19 years old that I realized I truly wanted to scratch the itch for good! I enrolled into fashion school and the rest was history.

How was I able to make the transition from dancing 24/7 to designing clothes? What skills from my dance life could help me in my design life? Well I’ll tell you. Dance taught me from an early age to pay attention to the details. A ballerina can go from mush to magnificence with a few tweaks to the details. Small changes can make a huge difference. It’s not about how high you leap, but how your feet are pointed. It’s not about how fast you turn, but how your hands are positioned, even down to the smallest finger.

In the fashion world, something as small as the type of stitch used, where a seam is placed, or how far the buttons are spaced apart can make or break a design. Again, small choices can have huge effects, for good or for bad, so you must always pay attention to them closely. By paying attention to the details, you will stand out from the crowd as a dancer or anything else you might want to do.

I said earlier that my first life of dance ended when I was about 20 years old. For anyone that is a true dancer, you are probably thinking to yourself, “That is not possible!” Well you are absolutely correct! Once a dancer, always a dancer! No matter what I do, it always sucks me back in! So I am now answering its call and now that I am a fashion designer in NYC, I have decided to start a dancewear company called Cove!

Knowing the proper techniques to construct clothes and also understanding the issues dancers deal with as they dance; I wanted to create a dancewear brand that combines function, comfort, and style to help dancers reach their full potential! You can find out more about Cove and help us get started by supporting out Kickstarter campaign. You can also follow us on instagram @covewearnyc.

Remember to train hard & pay attention to the details, and you will succeed in anything you do!


If think you or someone you know should be featured in this new series, please send us an e-mail at info (at) 4dancers (dot) org.


Inside Of “In C”

Hubbard Street 2 Apprentice Adrienne Lipson reviews notes in a rehearsal at the Hubbard Street Dance Center, for collaboratively devised choreography to “In C” by composer Terry Riley. Photo by Andrea Thompson.

Hubbard Street 2 Apprentice Adrienne Lipson reviews notes in a rehearsal at the Hubbard Street Dance Center, for collaboratively devised choreography to “In C” by composer Terry Riley. Photo by Andrea Thompson.

by Andrea Thompson

On Friday, June 6, I had the unique pleasure of performing a work’s world premiere and closing show within a nine-hour span. These were vastly different experiences — and that was the point.

For the past two months, my fellow Hubbard Street 2 dancers and I had been knee-deep in creation, collaborating with the Citizen Musician Fellows of the Civic Orchestra of Chicago. The focus was “In C,” a piece by composer Terry Riley that celebrates its 50th anniversary this year. It’s an unusual work to learn, requiring both its sheet music and a set of instructions for playing — and I mean “play” quite literally. Its structure is improvisatory in nature: Each musician is allowed to play the 53 musical phrases or “cells” of “In C” as many times as he or she pleases, dropping out and reentering the score at will. Riley’s instructions contain goals and guidelines, but outside of these each musician has freedom to decide in the moment what and when to play.

In the spirit of game-playing, listening, and the ephemeral nature of performance, we created — with the help of choreographer and Hubbard Street 2 director Terence Marling — our own approach to this ever-changing music. From early on, we knew we would perform an outdoor show to a recording of “In C” prior to an evening show accompanied live by the Citizen Musician Fellows.

In other words: One show would have a predetermined length, while the other could last anywhere from 30 to 90 minutes. Gulp.

We embarked on our choreographic journey by studying the cells, picking out landmarks we could identify regardless of how the score was interpreted. Cells of whole notes became our best, most recognizable friends. After familiarizing ourselves with the score, we had to figure out what the nature of our choreographic content would be. Games and improvisation seemed a natural fit given the structure of this music, so we set to work brainstorming new and favorite improv tasks, sharing visual images we wanted to achieve, and developing movement phrases inspired by the music.

Notes for choreography

Scan of notes made by Hubbard Street 2 Dancers and Director Terrence Marling, for their collaboratively devised choreography to “In C” by composer Terry Riley. Courtesy of Hubbard Street Dance Chicago.

Sequencing all that material was like putting a puzzle together. Certain ideas fell naturally in line with specific cells and became markers — assuming we’d be able to hear them in live performance — and then it was a matter of filling in the blanks with tasks that linked together logically. Like the musicians, we could stretch ideas out longer to challenge each other, or speed through them when it felt right. We developed a long string of cues and signals to indicate to each other when it was time to progress. We ended up with around 43 tasks, which spanned Riley’s 53 cells as a kind of roadmap. Our director Terry used a giant chronometer to denote each change of cell he heard in the music, so we would always know approximately where we were.

Of course, with our piece tied to spontaneity, every time we practiced our structure we landed somewhat differently on the recorded music. Terry rehearsed us to several different recordings of the piece in the week leading up to our shows, so that we wouldn’t be thrown off by unpredictable variations in the live music. And although we rehearsed a few times at Symphony Center’s Buntrock Hall with the musicians as well as every day in our West Loop studios, taking our piece outside meant encountering a whole new set of elements we could do nothing to prepare for indoors.

Our debut of “In C” kicked off the inaugural Living Loop Festival (produced by Chicago Loop Alliance and High Concept Laboratories). It was a gorgeous morning downtown when we arrived, with blue skies and warm temperatures. Our stage was in the shade at first, but by noon the sun was beaming down, warming our bodies and our marley as we adjusted to all the sights and sounds around Federal Plaza. Some people sat with their lunches just a few feet away from us, while others stayed further back and watched from a distance. Many stopped to catch just a few minutes of the piece; I even saw people across the street stopping to take in the scene.

Hubbard Street 2 performing outdoors

Hubbard Street 2 Dancers perform to “In C” by Terry Riley in Federal Plaza, to open The Living Loop’s inaugural, summer-long performance festival. From left: Adrienne Lipson, Katie Kozul and Andrea Thompson. Photo by Todd Rosenberg.

All the outdoor elements lent themselves beautifully to the nature of the music and the choreographic structure we created to it. “In C” is about paying attention to your surroundings, and deciding to either counter them or let them inform you. Each spectator of our performance became a part of “In C” as they strolled by. The dancers tuned into each other, the music, the clock — and simultaneously took cues from passersby, the Alexander Calder sculpture sharing our plaza, buildings, and the perfectly blue sky above. All told, the performance was an exhilarating experience I won’t soon forget.

The evening performance was an equally memorable, though entirely different occasion. Buntrock Hall was set with a marley in the center of the space, while audience seating and musicians surrounded it on all sides. The piece began with a xylophone — the only constant element involved — setting the tempo, after which the musicians walked to their places and one by one, began playing the first cell. A few seconds later we followed to the edges of the space to enter one at a time as well.

Hubbard Street 2 performing

Hubbard Street 2 Dancers perform “In C” by Terry Riley with the Citizen Musician Fellows of the Civic Orchestra of Chicago, June 6, 2014 in Buntrock Hall at Symphony Center. Center: Hubbard Street 2 Dancer Andrea Thompson, with, from left: Lissa Smith, Jules Joseph, Richard Walters and Odbayar Batsuuri. Photo by Todd Rosenberg.

Musician and dancer alike shared a palpable sense of anticipation. Everyone was open to informing and being informed by what we heard and saw — the backbone and the beauty of our collaboration — and I could sense that cooperative atmosphere as soon as I entered the room. Though we’d rehearsed together before, I was never more cognizant of the musicians’ eyes than during the show. In performance I was acutely aware that how I danced could have an impact on the upright bass, or the trumpet, or the viola — which could in turn affect how other musicians made their sounds. The unpredictable nature of “In C” became even more exciting knowing that I was part dancer, part listener and part co-conductor. Performing the piece with brilliant, enthusiastic live musicians brought it to life in a way completely different from performing outside earlier that day, yet equally fascinating.

It’s hard to believe the project we spent nearly two months on is now over, but the experience has certainly impacted me for the long term. Every member of HS2 contributed to the creation of our structure in a significant way, and I think we all came to realize the value of “just throwing ideas out there.” As a group, we tried every single proposal and held each other to refining what was unclear. We tried to create a work true to Terry Riley’s musical guidelines and appropriate to the playful, unpredictable nature of his piece. I think we not only succeeded in that, but also succeeded in opening ourselves up to new possibilities of how to choreograph, how to work together and how to collaborate with artists of other genres. Our “In C” may be over, but it has left an eternal eighth note–playing xylophone in my head and with it, an eagerness to enter the next cell.

Andrea Thompson enters her second year with Hubbard Street 2 at the start of the company’s 2014–15 season. During Hubbard Street’s satellite Summer Intensive Program at the University of Iowa, Thompson will teach ballet technique and HS2 repertoire to pre-professional dancers ages 14–17 from across the country. For a complete HS2 touring schedule, artist profiles and more, visit hubbardstreetdance.com.


Andrea Thompson photo by Quinn WhartonContributor Andrea Thompson (Maplewood, NJ) trained at the New Jersey School of Ballet, American Ballet Theatre’s Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School and the Ailey School in New York City. Thompson has also studied at the Juilliard School, Northwest Professional Dance Project, Springboard Danse Montréal, Nederlands Dans Theater and Batsheva Dance Company, which brought opportunities to perform choreography by Gregory Dolbashian, William Forsythe, Natalia Horecna, Jessica Lang, Marina Mascarell, Idan Sharabi, Robyn Mineko Williams, Paul Lightfoot and Sol León. At the San Francisco Conservatory of Dance, under the direction of Summer Lee Rhatigan, she trained with and performed works by Christian Burns, Alex Ketley, Thomas McManus, Robert Moses, Ohad Naharin, Alessio Silvestrin and Bobbi Jene Smith. Thompson joined Hubbard Street 2 in August 2013, following work in San Francisco and New York with Zhukov Dance Theatre, Chang Yong Sung, LoudHoundMovement, Backwoods Dance Project and the Foundry.



Help! My Choreography Doesn’t Fit The Dancers!

Photo by Katie Sopoci Drake

Photo by Katie Sopoci Drake

by Katie Sopoci Drake

Oh!  What to do when you’ve been hired to set a piece on a company, school, department, etc. and when you show up, BAM!  It hits you like a ton of bricks.  You realize, “These dancers are going to F. A. I. L. if I proceed as planned with my choreography.” Whatever the reason (too little technique, the wrong technique, stubborn, etc.) you cannot allow this to happen because it is your job as choreographer to…

  1. Make your dancers look good.  Which will, in turn…
  2. Make your choreography look good. Which will ensure that you…
  3. Make your self look good by making the whole process a success. Because you want to be called again to set more work.  Perhaps this time for a piece that is more appropriate for the dancers.

It’s a sticky situation that is mostly avoided by directors doing their homework about a choreographer and choreographers doing their homework about companies/schools/etc.  But let’s be real; sometimes directors just need someone to fill the spot and sometimes you just need to get a choreography gig.  I know all of this too well because, baby, sometimes Momma just needs a new pair of shoes… or to pay the utility bill.   How do we turn this around?  Here are a couple of lessons I’ve learned from all sorts of gooey, hot, messes:

It’s time to Pivot when: the dancers are trained in a completely different technique from yours and there is no time to teach them enough of the one you’re using in your piece Yes, “Pivot” is horrible business jargon, but it’s also a fabulous dance move that we all can relate to.  To pivot is to efficiently turn in a new direction, which is what you’re going to have to do, and quick, if you’re going to finish the dance in the limited number of rehearsals given.  Think, “Is there a way to use their technique to accomplish my dance?”, “Is there another piece in my repertory that might suit them better?”, or, “Is there a more suitable piece in my repertory that I can pull material from to patch rough spots in this one?”.  You’ll have to have a conversation with the director about what you’re seeing in the studio and how to proceed.

Going back to the origin of the movement is essential if you decide to forge ahead with the current piece.  You’re going to need to adapt it to the dancers in front of you and reacquainting yourself with the roots of your dance is going to help you do it.  If your piece has long lines, but the dancers do not, think about why you put those long lines there in the first place.  Was it an architectural choice?  Was it an emotional choice? Was it about the strengths of the original dancers?  Work from the origins of the movement to find an adaptation that will be successful on the dancers you have in front of you.

When I recently reset a piece on a new dancer, I went back to the root of why the phrase/gesture/movement showed up in the first place.  One of the repeating motifs was a twisted and tilted arabesque that elongated to create tension, but I knew that wouldn’t work for this soloist.  I told the dancer that I needed something that stretched from two ends until it about snapped.  Then I sat back and watched her work it out on her body until the new movement jumped out at me within a minute.  I said, “that’s it!” and we were free to move on to the next puzzle. No muss, no fuss.  Dancers are quick thinkers when you give them freedom to work it out on their own bodies. The part looks completely different now, but as long as the dancer is accomplishing the goal of the movement, that is a sign of success in my book.

Get Help! If the current piece is unsalvageable, you have the time to build something new, but are hitting a wall with the dancers, then in the words of Doris Humphrey, “Listen to qualified advice; don’t be arrogant.”  Pull in the director and peers to look at the stages of the dance.  Work that hasn’t had time to be performance-tested needs another eye and the dancers are often more willing to try something new if they know the director is involved in the process.

Lastly, Work with what you’re given.  Trust in your own ability to create a compelling structure, and only build phrases with material that looks strong on the dancers.  Whether you’re someone who has the dancers create the phrases, or if you create each phrase and feed it to the dancers, trust your instincts.  You will see what is working and what is not.  Be honest with yourself and cut out what is not being accomplished to your highest standards and, above all, “kill your darlings”.  Just because you loved it in your previous pieces doesn’t mean it works this time. In the end, this usually means that you are working with less material, but there are plenty of masterworks in every genre that are startling arrangements of simple movements.  Repetition will be your friend here.

Now, get out there and make those dancers look fabulous!

Photo by Katie Sopoci Drake

Photo by Katie Sopoci Drake

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 Sopoci Drake Photo by Scott Pakudaitis

Katie Sopoci Drake
Photo by Scott Pakudaitis

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.