As we continue our series on choreographers we are pleased to welcome Val Caniparoli – Resident Choreographer for San Francisco Ballet…
You have had a long and varied career as a choreographer. Can you describe a few of the highlights?
It’s difficult to describe highlights in the years since my first creation in 1979. Many highlights for me are when a dancer that I have chosen gets promoted or gets more attention after they have performed my work. I love to give underdogs a chance in major roles.
The response from the World Premiere of Lambarena from the audience opening night with San Francisco Ballet in 1995 was huge.
Creating two successfully different Nutcrackers for two different Company’s (Louisville Ballet and Cincinnati Ballet) is a highlight.
I guess highlights for me are when I create works that audiences love to watch and dancers love and want to be in them. Also when the work exceeded my expectations and the concept, choreography, design and dancers all synch together perfectly. Ibsen’s House and Incantations are examples.
What comes first for you in the process of choreographing a new dance? How do you begin?
When creating a new work inspiration from the music that I came across is the easiest and the best way to begin. When I am commissioned I first need to know what is on the program with me if it’s not a full length work I’m creating. Does the director want an abstract or a story? How many dancers does he or she want me to use?
Some other questions I ask are: Does it need to fit in the beginning, middle or end of the program? What is the budget? How long is my creation process? Can I pick my own designers? Can I have a set or decor? How long are the stage and tech times before the opening? Can the project fit into both my and the company’s existing schedule?
These (and many more) questions need to be resolved before I can even begin working on the artistic side of the new creation.
What is your process like when you are making dances?
The response above answers the first part. The next part is to solidify the music choice, pick the design team and get to work. I collaborate with all the designers from the very beginning on concepts and vision. I’m not one to create the work and then paste on the designs.
We all start work on each project at least a year in advance. Many meetings and telephone calls. Now we have the advantage of Skype. I try to include the Artistic Director in my progress as much as possible.
What role does the music play for you?
Ladies and gentlemen…join me in welcoming back the marvelous Margi Cole. For those of you who don’t know her, Margi is a choreographer in the Chicago area and is the Founder/Director of The Dance COLEctive.
I had the good fortune to finally meet her last year at an event and found her thoughtful, interesting–and extremely nice. We are pleased to share this interview with her here so you can get a glimpse of what it is like to work as a choreographer in Chicago…as well as what it is like to be a dance maker–from her point of view…
You have been choreographing for a long time. How has your view about making dances changed over the years?
When I started making dances for me, it was all about making the steps. It has evolved over a long period of time into me creating puzzles my dancers must navigate to invent movement vocabulary. I come in with an idea, share it with them, put mechanisms in place for them to begin to investigate and let them have at it. I then become an editor, director, shaper – the girls call it adding the “Margi Spice”. I identify places in the material that are of interest or that don’t seem to work just right, and we explore them and edit it them. Sometimes that even means me inserting myself physically into the moment so that I can help make choices. It also means that lots of material “ends up on the cutting room floor.” I truly enjoy this process, especially watching the dancers engage with each other. I am always working to find new ways to challenge them and myself.
How important do you feel the music is to the dance-making process?
For me, the music always comes later in the process. I always want it to inform/rub against the material so it can be pushed further rather than be consumed by it. I want the movement itself to be interesting enough to exist on its own, then I seek out its partner. The music for me is sometimes a last step. Fortunately, for the last couple of works I created, I had the luxury of working with someone to create a sound score. In some ways that has proven more satisfying than trying to find existing music.
If a dancer came to you and asked how they should pursue a career in choreography, what would your advice be?
Make lots of dances, see lots of dances, listen, have verbal discourse, be a risk taker, ask more of yourself every time and don’t work in a vacuum. Sometimes the answers to things can be found in the strangest places, not necessarily in the studio or during the process. If you have the good fortune of establishing a relationship with a mentor along the way treat it with respect and care. It is so rare to have someone with an outside eye and ear who can support and challenge you like no other. Treat your collaborators the way you would want to be treated. Allow yourself to fail. Sometimes the trip/journey ends up being the most important part of the work and not the work itself.
Do I sometimes hit a wall and not know which direction to turn? Yes! And I have found that it is really much simpler to be honest and say, “Hey, I really need to think about this some more. I don’t know what to do next.” Yes! Inevitably I have to walk away from the material for a bit and then come back to it in order to see it differently. It is like being stuck on a move in Words with Friends. You can’t think of anything and then you go back later and you can’t believe you didn’t see this great move sooner. Throughout the years, I have also given myself permission to turn a corner from my original ideas. I call it listening to the material and letting myself see where it takes me/us.
You are a Chicago-based choreographer. How do you feel about the state of dance in the area?
I feel like dance here in Chicago has a strong prescence on numerous levels. There are many unique voices. It has been wonderful to see the dance community grow and the work become more sophisticated over the years. I think Chicago is more recognized as a city for dance, and I am proud of to that and feel good about my involvement in helping that to happen. I am seeing more people work collaboratively across disciplines. Our emerging and mid-career artists are both working hard seeking out new models for ourselves to ensure more thriving and less surviving. Our biggest struggle is that we are all scrambling for the same resources, but that is true of the dance community at large, not just in Chicago. With all that in mind, I would say there is a lot of innovation and enthusiasm around creating a sustained presence here and beyond.
If you had to do your career as a choreographer all over again—what would you change?
I would be less judgmental and more open. Less fearful and more risky. Less conservative and more bold. Less know-it-all and more curious. I would see challenges as opportunities. In short, I would have given myself permission to fail. But, that is just one of those things that it takes time to figure out.
What have you been working on lately?
Right now the company is working on three duets. They are sourced from the same initial topic and movement vocabulary but are developing into three very different studies. It is fun to watch how they are evolving so differently. I also have a deep curiosity for site specific work and an interest in finding new ways to engage the audience. I am trying to wrap my brain around how I can do both those things in a different way. We will see what happens.
Bio: Margi Cole is Founder and Artistic Director of The Dance COLEctive. She graduated from the Alabama School of Fine Arts, received a Bachelor of Arts in Dance from Columbia College Chicago and a Masters of Fine Arts in Dance from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. As a teacher and guest lecturer, she has taught for numerous educational and professional organizations such as the Alabama Ballet, the American College Dance Festival, Ballet Tennessee, Northwestern University, Columbia College Chicago, Lou Conte Dance Studio, the Joffrey Academy of Dance, the American Dance Festival, and various other institutions throughout Illinois, the Midwest, and the Southeast. As a choreographer, Margi has been commissioned by The Alabama Ballet, Springfield Ballet Company, Sanspointe Dance Company, the Birmingham Museum of Art, Girl’s Preparatory School of Tennessee, Beloit College and Columbia College Chicago.
As a performer, Margi has danced with well-known choreographers and companies, including Ralph Lemon, Joe Goode Performance Group, Liz Burritt, Stephen Koplowitz, Ann Boyd, David Rousseve, Bill Young, Douglas Nielsen, Peter Carpenter, Timothy O’Slynne, Paula Frasz, Colleen Halloran, Molly Shanahan/Mad Shak, Mordine & Company Dance Theatre, Renee Wadleigh, and Ellie Klopp. In August 2011, Cole traveled to Findhorn Scotland to join 19 international performers to participate in the Deborah Hay Solo Commissioning Project.
Awards and acknowledgements of Margi’s accomplishments include making the list of “Teachers Rated Excellent by their Students” four consecutive semesters while on faculty at the University of Illinois, receiving two Dance Center of Columbia College Choreographic Mentoring Scholarships, two Illinois Arts Council Individual Artist Fellowships, a 2005 Chicago Dancemakers Forum grant, a American Marshall Memorial Fellowship, and winning a Panoply Festival Choreography Award for Contemporary Dance in Huntsville, AL.
Margi is active in the Chicago dance community, serving on grant panels and in public forums as an arts administrator, dancer and choreographer. In 2011, she was integral in organizing both the Dance/USA and Marshall Forum annual conferences in Chicago. Cole is currently a Chicago Dancemakers Forum Consortium Member and was a part of the Marshall Memorial Fellowship Selection Committee. She is currently on faculty at Columbia College Chicago, where she has served as a Lecturer and Associate Chair. In 2012 she was named one of The Players in New City”s “Fifty People Who Really Perform in Chicago” List.
by Maria Hanley
I wholeheartedly believe in creative movement for young children. It’s about educating the whole child, giving them the power of choice, boosting confidence–I could go on and on. I teach children 6 and under and this is what I love to do. Do they need to know the positions, sure! Do they need to know how to build a dance, yes! Give them variety, and you will produce well rounded little people!
A few years ago, I wanted to challenge myself to put on a performance for my young students–but not in the traditional way. I was confused in my beliefs that teaching 3 year olds to stand in a line and follow my movement was not what I wanted to do in my class. But after a while, I could see the value in learning a song, and repeating choreography week after week and then performing it on stage for everyone to see.
So I created a way to do both, choreography and creative movement in the same dance. Standing in a line, plus having the freedom to move around the stage. Here are some tips that I have learned over the years that help me put on a show for the 6 and under crowd!0
Next in line for our series on choreographers is Winifred Haun–a Chicago-area dance maker who has been around a long time…
How did you wind up as a choreographer?
I started choreographing when I was about 7 years old. My 3 year old sister and I made up dances to my parents Beatles albums. Since I was the older one, I mostly told my sister what to do (in the dance and in life) and we made up a series of what we thought were cool moves and called it a dance. Once we had enough dances, we would put on “shows” for family and friends. A lot of people do this type of thing when they’re young, but most grow out of it. I guess I never did.
Choreographers really create something out of nothing. We use the bare minimum of resources; we really only need a body and space to generate art. For me, this is one of the things that makes dance so universal and so accessible. And there are many things that I love about choreographing. I love finding out what’s possible with movement or movement phrases. I love seeing what happens to a whole dance when you make small changes to parts of it. I love being in the studio with dancers. I love learning more about my dancers through the process of making dances with them. I love working with lighting and costume designers. And I love sitting in the audience watching a dance that started out as nothing and has become meaningful to others.
What is your process like for creating a dance?
The inspiration for my dances come from many places: books, visual art, architecture, random movements people make, current events and sometimes music. My process usually starts when an idea, an image, or a movement resonates with me. I’ll get a rush or a feeling that there’s something needs to be expressed. (and this might sound odd, but it always feels to me like the idea comes from outside of me…) The image or idea or movement will swirl around in my head for a while (sometimes for six months or so, one time it was about 3 years). I’ll start some basic research into the idea or create some movement phrases and if the idea keeps presenting itself to me or won’t leave me alone, then I know I have to create a dance.
After that, it becomes about finding the right dancers to work with and developing my ideas in the studio.
How involved do you get the dancers? Do you let them participate in the process or do you prefer to teach the dance and have them perform it? Or somewhere in-between?
Somewhere in between. When I was younger, I used to walk into the first rehearsal for a new dance with the music completely mapped out and all of my ideas in place for how the dance was going to be made and how it would look in the end. Nothing is more terrifying than standing in a studio with one or more dancers looking at you expectantly. So, I felt I had to be choreographically “ready.”
As I matured, I found that some of the best ideas came from the dancers or from things that couldn’t be found or developed outside the studio. (Improvisations in the studio can be extremely productive.) Now when I begin rehearsals, I have a few plans and ideas and 1 or 2 movement phrases but, I let the process unfold more intuitively. The dancers I work with are intelligent, creative, and talented individuals who contribute enormously to the process of making a new dance. I love who my dancers are as people and I love to let their humanity and their individuality show.
How do you select the music you will use?
I like a huge range of different music styles and artists. And I enjoy putting seemingly disparate music choices into one sound design. I also like working with composers and commissioning original sound designs for my dances. (I’d do it all the time, if I could afford it!)
As I mentioned above, when I first began choreographing, the music always came first. The music was my frame and often my inspiration for a dance. In my 20’s, I began to see the work of many different choreographers, and I read essays and books by choreographers like Merce Cunningham, William Forsythe and others. Their intellectual ideas for how to make a dance intrigued and inspired me and I began to realize how limiting it can be to let the music decide how long your dance will be, when breaks in the movement should come, etc.
Now, when I make a work, I begin with the theme or idea or movement and I develop movement phrases, then I’ll structure it, and frame it and then finally I’ll look for music (or a composer) that will express the dance, rather than the other way around.
You mean besides having enough money and time?
The biggest challenge for me is to not rush through the process of creating a dance. I could probably create enough movement for an entire 50 minute dance in about a week. But, to make something that’s significant and worth people’s time and money, its important for me to really fully explore my movement choices and themes and ideas. And its impossible for me to do that honestly in only a week.
What have you been working on lately?
I just finished Vision, Faith, & Desire II: Dancemakers Inspired by Martha Graham, February 6 thru 8 at the Pritzker Pavilion (on the stage, indoors). Audiences got the chance to see artists who’ve been influenced the choreography and technique developed by the 20th century’s most iconic dancemaker. It included an excerpt from my first full length dance, Promise, which has a cast of 18 (9 professional dancers and 9 community dancers of all ages). The opening of the dance includes a series of walks, inspired by Graham walks and the idea of 19th century community.
If you missed it–Vision, Faith, & Desire III: Dancemakers Inspired by Martha Graham will be shown again in Oak Park, IL on Saturday, April 12 at 7:30pm and Sunday, April 13 at 4:30pm.
Brock Clawson is an interesting mix–both a choreographer and a landscape designer. His work with dancers can be seen in the Joffrey’s upcoming Contemporary Choreographers series, running February 12th-February 23 at Chicago’s Auditorium Theater. We asked Brock some questions about his process and his current work, which we’re pleased to share with you today…
What is your background in dance?
I started my dance training when I was about 12. I am trained in ballet, modern, and jazz. I moved to Chicago immediately after graduating high school and continued studying dance at Columbia College Chicago as well as taking classes with various studios like Lou Conte, Ruth Page and through the scholarship program at Giordano Dance Chicago.
How did you wind up choreographing?
I was dancing with Thodos Dance Chicago and began choreographing through their New Dances program which provides company members with a budget and gives them the opportunity to create their own works on professional dancers. It really made sense to me and I saw a level of dedication and passion in myself that had been lacking in performing. The company recognized my talents and began providing me with regular choreography opportunities as well as a promotion in the company to become their Artistic Associate. It all sort of snow balled from there and bigger and better jobs started coming my way.
What is your process like when you make a dance?
When I am working on a new creation, I generally come up with a concept first, and then start the difficult task of finding music that I want to create to. That generally leads to me moving around a lot at home (in my kitchen) to come up with some thematic movement that I can take to the dancers. I tend to draw out a lot of patterns and have partnering ideas and movement phrases all put together before I even start working with the dancers. I like to be as prepared as possible in order to keep things interesting and moving once I am in rehearsal.
Joffrey is performing one of your pieces, Crossing Ashland, as part of their Contemporary Choreographers series this month. Can you describe how the idea for this piece came about?
This isn’t a short and easy answer, but I will do my best. It’s more of a series of events that lead into the idea.
I recently finished a 3 year program at the Regenstein School of the Chicago Botanic Gardens studying Landscape Design and horticulture. I wanted to study another form of design that would further my choreography. In horticulture school there is a common phrase that you hear all the time, “Right Plant, Right Place” – which basically means that a plant can survive in it’s non ideal environment but it will never really be at its best unless it is given the proper elements it requires to help it truly thrive.
I started to relate it to humans and began thinking about how many of us go through our lives in either the wrong relationship, job, location, etc., and what happens if we actually challenge ourselves to find our “right place”.
My partner and I live in a neighborhood that is split by Ashland Avenue. While walking our dogs we would often say to one another, “Do you want to cross Ashland?” Most of the time we would choose not to, but every once in a while, when we were up for something different and feeling like going somewhere new and unfamiliar we would cross. It sort of became a metaphor for change.
How did you select the music for Crossing Ashland?
I listened to so much music that I thought I was going to go crazy. I knew that I wanted to be able to have multiple pieces of music that would help the piece move but they all needed to fit together in order to create a through line for the work. It’s not easy to do if you aren’t going with classical music which I knew I didn’t want to do.
What is a typical day like when you are working on teaching the choreography to the dancers?
I tend to work pretty quickly because I always have this terrifying fear that I am going to not finish something. It has never actually happened but I always want to make sure that I have more time at the end of a process than at the beginning.
Generally the first week is just teaching the dancers the movement and working on the style. It’s different than what a lot of them are used to but because they are such gifted athletes and dancers they have been welcoming the challenge and doing a fantastic job adapting. What’s the day really like? Move, move, move! Go, go, go!
It barely stops until you go home.
How long will it take to set Crossing Ashland on the company from start to finish?
Well, that’s the magic question.
I am only one week into the process and I have 2 more to go. I am hoping that It will be completely finished at the end of week two so that my final week can be all about really digging in to the cleaning and the style and talking about the emotion behind the piece. I love coaching dancers through the emotional ride that works should carry from section to section. That’s where it gets really fun for me.
What do you enjoy most about the process of making dances?
I love being in a room with talented people that share the same passion. I love relaying my vision to the dancers and feeding off of the energies of the dancers in the room that are really clicking with me and that are on board with what I am doing.
The creative process is always full of ups and downs for me…that’s just how it has always been. I have my great days and I have my days where I wonder why I am even doing this…but it is always incredibly rewarding in the end. Nothing else in life challenges me to grow as much as choreography has.
Do you have any advice for aspiring choreographers?
This is always a difficult question for me to answer, but ultimately I would say…make yourself vulnerable, and never lose sight of the fact that you are creating for a paying audience.
What is coming up next for you?
Hawaii to relax for two weeks after the Joffrey ends. My favorite place on earth. After that…more choreography and landscape design jobs.2