5 Questions with Still Inspired(?) Executive Director Laura Thurston: Collaboration and the Circle of Inspiration
Some of the best pieces of dance choreography are those that successfully use movement to paint a living visualization of the accompanying sound design. The nature of these choreographic works highlight the sound in a way that can allow an audience to experience a familiar piece of music with fresh ears. Now, imagine having the same relationship between a dance work and a painting, where each reveals something new about the other. For Still Inspired(?) Executive Director Laura Thurston, imagining is not necessary – she’s already curated and staged four seasons of Still Inspired(?), which pairs a Chicago-based visual artist with up-and-coming choreographers from the community. In the process, she’s discovered something more about the best pieces of dance choreography: that they have the power to transcend the language of dance into other art mediums and beyond.
DancerMusic’s Kristi Licera caught up with Laura while she prepares for Still Inspired(?): Live Creations, which features live drawing inspired by live music and dance improvisation. Read on to see how the collaborative efforts of Still Inspired(?) have created a circle of inspiration, as well as what Laura is up to to expand it:
Kristi: Art is inherently collaborative. We constantly pull inspiration from life experience, as well as the work of our peers. What is unique about the collaborative nature of Still Inspired(?), and what is its significance to both the public and the arts community here in Chicago and beyond?
Featuring a single visual artist in a production offers Still Inspired(?) audiences a cohesive thread throughout an evening-length performance that showcases four, entirely different creative-minded choreographers’ works.
Laura: The Still Inspired(?) dance production is unique in the fact that our central focus is on presenting one local visual artist’s work. Through artist/choreographer discussion and research, each of the four presenting choreographers select one piece created by our season’s featured artist. The four visual works are then individually turned into a dance pieces through the creative process of each presenting choreographer.
Featuring a single visual artist in a production offers Still Inspired(?) audiences a cohesive thread throughout an evening-length performance that showcases four, entirely different creative-minded choreographers’ works. The visual artist is significantly impacted by Still Inspired(?) in our local community through their exposure to a dance audience. The audience also gains new appreciation for different art forms and learns about the creative processes of both the visual artist and the choreographers through audience interaction and discussion.
As you’d mentioned, we pull inspiration from our lives. Our annual performance offers a unique experience that leaves our choreographers, dancers, visual artist, and audience refreshed and interested in the artistic world that surrounds us. While Still Inspired(?) is a local production with a focus on presenting the artists in our community, I believe the impact and inspiration from the performance can be taken anywhere.
Kristi: In some of our earlier conversations, you talked about a ‘circle of inspiration’. Can you elaborate on what this is, and how the collaborative process has affected both the visual and dance artists?
We’ve often had visual artists say that they felt compelled to take new inspirations back to their studio and create original work, inspired by the performance. It’s visual art, inspiring dance, inspiring visual art.
Yes! This is an interesting phenomenon I hadn’t anticipated. We’ve often had visual artists say that they felt compelled to take new inspirations back to their studio and create original work, inspired by the performance. It’s visual art, inspiring dance, inspiring visual art. For example, our latest season with visual artist Sergio Gomez did just that. Gomez just completed a new painting titled “Distant Poetry” inspired by my work in the latest Still Inspired(?): Connections titled, “Debate.” Gomez will be taking this painting to Romania for his latest exhibition. I never imagined that Still Inspired(?) would have this ‘circle of inspiration,’ giving artists more opportunity to continue to invent! I see myself as a new choreographer, still exploring and inventing my own voice and movement style. To say I am flattered that Gomez created a new work based off of my choreography is an understatement!
Having the opportunity to collaborate with visual artists has opened my mind to new perspectives, ideas, and feelings of my own, adding another layer to the ‘circle of inspiration.’
Much of my dance career was spent training, performing, teaching, and administering dance arts. It was not until Still Inspired(?) that I started setting my own full works on professional dancers. Still Inspired(?) has certainly been inspirational as I continue to explore this new realm of dance creation. Having the opportunity to collaborate with visual artists has opened my mind to new perspectives, ideas, and feelings of my own, adding another layer to the ‘circle of inspiration.’ Lately, I’ve felt more willing to share my personal stories with my casts and audience through dance, and I attribute our visual artists for my personal growth. I have observed each of our visual artists exhibit complete freedom of expression. It’s inspiring to actually feel like being an artist is limitless! Whether you create on personal experience or choose to tell another story… letting go of your own judgement is both therapeutic AND exciting!
Kristi: It is often challenging to build an audience for art. Can you tell us how your collaborative efforts to pair visual art and dance have given audiences a new perspective on each of these art forms?
Collaborating dance and visual art to present Still Inspired(?) brought together a larger audience than I’d anticipated. While collaboration is certainly nothing new, I believe this collaboration brought together two “crowds” (a dance crowd and a visual arts crowd) to see the outcome of dance creation based on a certain artists’ work. We typically bring together around 250 audience members in a single-weekend. To me, this is a wonderful accomplishment for a newer production.
I’ve found that our audience appreciates the discussions we have during the run of the performance. These discussions include: a reveal of the visual work that inspired the choreographer, an artist/choreographer discussion on their inspirations with our audience (as much or as little as they’d like to share), and lastly the final inspiration, the dance. We also offer a post-show Q&A with our audience. We find that this open-discussion format is helpful to our dance crowd and visual arts crowd. The artists, choreographers, and dancers really enjoy hearing our audience interpretations, too.
By breaking up our dance performance with visual art and discussion, our audience experiences a relaxed environment to appreciate and learn about both the still art and dance creations.
Dance is often a quiet journey for an audience member through the run of a performance. Standard audience etiquette doesn’t allow for discussion with other patrons, at least until intermission or post-show. By breaking up our dance performance with visual art and discussion, our audience experiences a relaxed environment to appreciate and learn about both the still art and dance creations. Audiences are free to discuss and ask questions. We present art as an outlet for communication and education. I believe it to be a vital part of being human.
By discussing and sharing the ideas of our artists, the audience gains a deeper understanding and therefore, deeper appreciation of the work we do. I am hopeful that this can translate into our audience members building an appreciation for what other artists are doing in the Chicago visual and performing arts community and beyond.
Kristi: Aside from the main production, what else does Still Inspired(?) offer, and how are you continuing to foster a community of collaborative art making in Chicago?
Still Inspired(?): Future Artists is an extension of Still Inspired(?), giving young, budding choreographers the opportunity to create and present their own work inspired by a painting of their choosing.
Laura: Much of my career prior to Still Inspired(?) did not offer a lot of opportunity to find my own creativity in dance as a choreographer. Dance training and performance takes precedence in dance schools and professional productions. It is still difficult to find opportunities to explore choreography, especially as a young dancer in high school or in the early stages of college. So, Still Inspired(?): Future Artists was born, offering a new, unique opportunity for choreography with an emphasis on collaboration to young dance artists ages 14 to 22. Still Inspired(?): Future Artists is an extension of Still Inspired(?), giving young, budding choreographers the opportunity to create and present their own work inspired by a painting of their choosing.
Finding studio space and working with dancers is entirely up to the young choreographer to administer, which gives our Future Artists insight on administering their own works in the future.
Young creators of Still Inspired(?): Future Artists learn to collaborate with visual arts and are highly recommended to work with a teacher who will mentor their process. Finding studio space and working with dancers is entirely up to the young choreographer to administer, which gives our Future Artists insight on administering their own works in the future. During their performance, Future Artists are guided through a short discussion with their audience, curated by a Still Inspired(?) Director. This experience helps young choreographers become comfortable with speaking about their work and sharing it with an audience. Still Inspired(?): Future Artists takes place on the Sunday following the annual professional installment of Still Inspired(?). Future Artists are welcome to attend our professional show on Friday or Saturday at no cost.
If a young visual artist is able to create work, why can’t a young choreographer have opportunity to create through dance movement and present to an audience? The answer to that question is… Dance is expensive!
If a young visual artist is able to create work, why can’t a young choreographer have opportunity to create through dance movement and present to an audience? The answer to that question is… Dance is expensive! Rehearsal space, performance space, lighting technician, marketing, costumes, paying performers, and the list goes on. It is daunting and prohibits young voices from coming out and sharing their ideas through dance. Still Inspired(?) provides the performance venue, lighting technician, marketing, and administers the event so it is more accessible.
We also offer summer and fall workshops to Chicago land dance schools. Our Still Inspired(?) professional dancers offer everything from classical to contemporary technique styles, repertory, discussions on arts collaboration, and improvisation/choreography classes. Workshops are hosted at the presenting studio’s school, and since each dance school is different in their season calendar and class offerings, we offer flexibility to studios in choosing a day/time, as well as what classes are appropriate and necessary for their dancers.
Kristi: What does the future look like for Still.Inspired?
This is a great question that I often ponder myself. I feel it is important for this project to keep growing in our Chicago community. I’d like to continue to expose more visual artists and choreographers to our expanding audience. With a diverse range of talent to choose from and a production format that has worked in this collaborative venture, I feel like there is a duty to expose new art each season.
With a diverse range of talent to choose from and a production format that has worked in this collaborative venture, I feel like there is a duty to expose new art each season.
Still Inspired(?) has an underlying theme of female choreographers that I’d like to stay true to in future seasons. Dance communities are saturated with female dancers and voices. I believe this makes it difficult for a woman to gain experience and recognition as a dance artist. I’d like to continue offering choreographic opportunities to our local feminine voices in hopes that more women can be lifted in the Chicago dance community and recognized as dance artists.
We also have brand-new event coming up called Still Inspired(?): Live Creations on April 21st. Live Creations is an integral art experience that includes live drawing inspired by dance improvisation and live music. Following the performance, attendees will be invited to participate in a raffle (which includes tickets to local dance performances, classes to local dance schools, and signed prints by Sergio Gomez) and a silent auction of the live drawing. We will have hors d’oeuvres and desserts, as well as alcoholic refreshments for donation. A small entry fee of $20 will be charged at the door, cash and credit accepted. The evening features live drawing by artist Sergio Gomez, dance improvisation by Sabriah Floberg, and live music by Rhys Bakulinski.
Still Inspired(?): Live Creations takes place on Saturday, April 21, 7:30-9:30pm at 33 Contemporary Gallery at the Zhou B Arts Center. To learn more and purchase tickets, visit stillinspireddance.com/events.
For dance schools interested in Still Inspired(?) workshops, learn more by sending an email to email@example.com.
Young choreographers interested in Still Inspired(?): Future Artists are invited to apply through their dance school Directors. Applications are sent to studios and colleges in our local community in late-summer/early-fall. Applications will also be made available on our website at: www.stillinspireddance.com/futureartists.
PHOTO CREDITS: Feature Image: Endurance by Sergio Gomez, mixed media on paper • Image 2: Distant Poetry by Sergio Gomez, charcoal and acrylic on paper • all other photographs by Dan Pacurar