Artists need a diverse set of tools to be successful in the studio, on stage, and in life …
If you’ve ever been an artist, known an artist, or just wanted to be an artist, you have to love this sentence: “DanceWorks Chicago is committed to building a foundation for the individual artistic growth of dancers and choreographers.” It’s from the home page of DanceWorks Chicago’s site, but it’s at the bottom of the page. That’s because at the top of the page is a banner carousel that features each of the DanceWorks dancers and one of their favorite quotes. You can visit a lot of dance websites without seeing another where the individual dancers are featured at the top of the home page, but that’s just one example of the innovative and important ways that DanceWorks values people — dancers, choreographers, audience and everybody in between.
Actually, that wasn’t even the entire sentence. Here’s the rest of it: “… providing a laboratory from which early career artists propel themselves and the art form to a new level through training, collaboration, mentorship, and performance.” All of this is true; this is what DanceWorks Chicago does, over and over again. But to see it for yourself, you really have to see it in motion.
A very good chance to do that comes on Saturday, August 17th at 1pm, at DanceWorks’ home, The Ruth Page Center for the Arts. That’s when DanceWorks presents ChoreoLab, an informal performance of the works that three guest choreographers have created as the culmination of DanceWorks Chicago’s Dance360, their rich program of summer offerings. “Artists need a diverse set of tools to be successful in the studio, on stage, and in life,” they explain. “Dance360 helps identify, develop, and utilize these tools on the journey through dance.”
ChoreoLab is the culminating event of these programs, a one-week residency in which three choreographers are invited to create a new work with the dancers of the Dance360 program. We reached out to DanceWorks Chicago co-founder and Artistic Director Julie Nakagawa to ask her more about this unique process. True to the spirit in which everything at DanceWorks happens, Julie also brought in choreographers Hanna Brictson, Joshua L. Peugh, and Caili Quan, along with dancers Kyle Halford, Lizzie Kanning, Sarah Gowdy, Paige Geissler, Eyllah Babbitt, Kristin Hanson, Abby Schafer, and Haley Tarling to give us all an even better look inside ChoreoLab. Here’s what they told us:
Part of Dance360 culture is to encourage a multi-faceted approach to the journey, one which incorporates body, mind, and spirit.
Johnny Nevin: This year’s culminating event of Dance360, the ChoreoLab Showcase, will feature works by Hanna Brictson (Chicago), Joshua L. Peugh (Dallas), and Caili Quan (Philadelphia) in a showing in the theater of The Ruth Page Center for the Arts on Saturday, August 17 (1pm-2pm). Can you tell us a little about how the week-long process of ChoreoLab explores the art of choreography, and how these choreographers were chosen for the project?
Julie Nakagawa: Choreographers are chosen by special invitation with an interest in bringing a diverse group of makers together from different dance backgrounds, perspectives, and geographic areas. Networking for all artists is an important part of the week together. Dancers are hand-selected by a ChoreoLab dancemaker to participate in the creative process which mirrors company life at DanceWorks Chicago. Days start with a morning technique class followed by rehearsal, coaching, and sharing. Part of Dance360 culture is to encourage a multi-faceted approach to the journey, one which incorporates body, mind, and spirit. ChoreoLab is the finale to the Dance360 summer experience and an opportunity to synthesize ideas presented throughout the summer.
Dance360 Dancer Kyle Halford (rising junior, University of Arizona): ChoreoLab is integral to my development because of the focus on process. It is so easy for me to get caught up and focus on the end result, but it is extremely important to ground myself and be present in the creative process to gain as much as possible from the experience. After a couple weeks of training with Dance360, this is the perfect ending to the program because we are able to use the skills we have learned and take part in something so new and personalized.
ChoreoLab provides the choreographer with thoughtful, hungry artists who have open minds and open hearts.
Johnny: ChoreoLab is a great name, it really captures the heart of the idea that exploring process is a key to making great dance. Audiences may think that they see a final product, but in many ways, they see the results of a complex and rich process. What about this process do you think is so valuable to the Dance360 participants, and to the choreographers themselves?
Dancer Lizzie Kanning (incoming company member Ballet Tucson): I came to Dance360 to expose myself to a variety of styles and choreographers so I could keep refining my technique and expand my movement vocabulary. ChoreoLab offers the chance to put that new information into motion in a setting that is more professional than academic.
I love “passing the torch” to a dancer. I give my heart, you give me yours, together we make magic.
ChoreoLab Maker Hanna Brictson: During a choreographic process, I like to start with a clear focus of intention. I am a particular choreographer, where my vision through the movement really speaks to the exact story or emotion I have. After I start sharing choreography with dancers, my favorite moment is seeing the personality of each person in the room inflate my thoughts. Every human contains such different emotion, angles, focus, and feeling through their body. I love “passing the torch” to a dancer. I give my heart, you give me yours, together we make magic. The ChoreoLab week is 5 days filled with this beautiful process!
ChoreoLab Maker Joshua L. Peugh: I love making things with other people; that is when I’m happiest. ChoreoLab provides the choreographer with thoughtful, hungry artists who have open minds and open hearts. For me creating a new work is like making a collage; I collect stories and curiosities from the dancers I am working with and mix them with my own questions and experiences to create a fantasy world that is truthful and authentic to all of us; something that will hopefully be entertaining and compelling for the audience to experience. The artists I’m sharing my process with directly impact the question we excavate and ultimately the kind of work I create.
Dancer Sarah Gowdy (rising junior, George Mason University): Dance and choreography are innately human: you experiment, create, and innovate. In ChoreoLab you are given the chance to satisfy internal and primitive yearnings by creating art with equally hungry humans and artists. Day to day you are reminded of how important being a human is to dance; getting the chance to work alongside amazing relevant and inspiring choreographers is a plus.
Showing humanity in all its messiness and ambiguity is critical to creating compelling work that speaks to as many people as possible.
Joshua L. Peugh: The ChoreoLab process allows makers to create something without parameters. It’s important to me when I’m creating, that I allow space and time for things to reveal themselves (I pray for patience and curiosity before every single rehearsal). ChoreoLab provides the space and time to try things with low stakes. It gives the maker time to discover the particular questions that are challenging him/her at the moment and playfully manipulate them in a setting where possibilities are essentially endless. Showing humanity in all its messiness and ambiguity is critical to creating compelling work that speaks to as many people as possible. ChoreoLab provides the freedom and the tools to make work that does that.
Dancer Paige Geissler (rising senior, California State University, Long Beach): Each choreographic process enhances my creativity as an artist and challenges me to push outside of my comfort zone by exploring new ways to connect my mind, body, and soul. Receiving opportunities to collaborate with different choreographers and dancers opens my eyes to endless possibilities to create work in the dance community.
Dancer Eyllah Babbitt (rising junior, New Trier High School): The most valuable thing about choreographing is the different perspectives a choreographer uses throughout the process. Sometimes I get very one-dimensional, and I only look at part of the picture when I’m dancing. But a choreographer has to look at the whole picture and not get stuck on a little detail, utilizing the space in a creative and dynamic way to fully understand the piece.
It’s fantastic to watch a choreographer throw an idea at a dancer and see how the dancer interprets and processes that idea.
ChoreoLab Maker Caili Quan: The process is the most important part of creating a new work. We get a finite amount of time to get to know the dancers and make a piece. It is very exciting to work with a dancer for the first time. Every person is unique. Each one processes information differently. And every single dancer has a special way of moving and responding to music. I think the most valuable part of the process is developing trust and respect. I try to build trust and communicate intention, so we have a clear understanding of the work we develop together.
It’s fantastic to watch a choreographer throw an idea at a dancer and see how the dancer interprets and processes that idea. There are so many factors that can affect this process. People are emotional, so how you are feeling that day can affect the work. We are human, so we also make mistakes. I’ve seen so many human errors that turn into new ideas during a process and end up in the final product. It’s exciting to witness the living and reactive creation of work. The relationship between the dancer and choreographer directly affects what the audience experiences while watching the “final product”. Even if the audience doesn’t know what the process was like, they can feel when the dancers take all that information in a creative process, understand the intention, and run with it.
I’m a dancer with BalletX and I’m going into my eighth season with the company. We make a lot of new work and I’ve been a part of many creations. I started choreographing a few years ago, so now I get the incredible opportunity to experience both sides of the studio during a creation.
After I start sharing choreography with dancers, my favorite moment is seeing the personality of each person in the room inflate my thoughts.
Dancer Kristin Hanson (rising sophomore, University of Michigan): ChoreoLab offers the chance to get an inside look into the creative process of a working artist. As I grow into my own creativity and develop my own process, I’m particularly interested in looking through different lenses at projects that I’m involved with.
Dancer Abby Schafer (rising sophomore, Sam Houston State University): I appreciate how the creative process behind choreography allows me to explore and refine my own quality of movement. In the ongoing exploration of my individual artistic voice, producing work with others is a catalyst for my development.
Dancer Haley Tarling (rising senior, Point Park University): The process of creating art with others is unique and beautiful in a way that feels larger than the room. Every person is different, and every process is different, so resultantly every piece of art is uniquely special. An audience sees a dynamic product, a collection of the nuances of the journey that built the moment of witnessing.
DanceWorks Chicago presents ChoreoLab at The Ruth Page Center for the Performing Arts (1016 North Dearborn, Chicago, IL 60610) on Saturday, August 17, 2019 from 1pm to 2pm. Tickets are $10 and are available online from DanceWorks Chicago.
Here’s a look back at the first-ever ChoreoLab, featuring dancemakers Christian Denice, Joshua Manculich, and Oscar Ramos: