INSIDE: Matter Dance Company’s “Once Upon” with Josh Fletcher
When a large group of collaborators comes together to create something unified and seamless, something magical truly happens. There is a certain energy manifested by the power of working towards a common goal, multiplied by the group’s ability to achieve success. This can be at an everyday workplace, a family working on a huge reunion or even a celebratory event like a wedding. But what is much less common is for a group of fourteen choreographers to create individual works that can be woven together to create a single, whimsical production. That is what Matter Dance Company has created in Once Upon, which is set to premiere Thursday, April 25, 2019 at The Den Theatre in Chicago.
In addition to managing the company’s schedule, communications, press and so much more, Josh Fletcher also choreographed two pieces in Once Upon.
The production draws inspiration from classic fairy tales, fables and tales of beloved adventures, woven together through characterized movement motifs and carefully constructed voice overs. And while fourteen choreographic works may seem overwhelming, MDC Directors Carisa Barreca, Gail Adduci Gogliotti, and Niki Wilk Mahon have helped guide the voices of their creative team to produce an evening of seamless storytelling magic. The company also prides itself in having a body of dancers whose technical skills are just as diverse as they are, allowing Once Upon to incorporate a variety of dance styles to keep the audience on their toes. What’s more, it’s these very dancers who worked to create the choreography for the production.
We had to learn more about how all of the pieces to this mystical puzzle came together, so DancerMusic Dance Editor Kristi Licera caught up with MDC Company Manager Josh Fletcher to get a deeper look inside. In addition to managing the company’s schedule, communications, press and so much more, Josh also choreographed two pieces in Once Upon (did I mention he is also performing in the show?!). The knowledge he possesses of the company’s inner administrative workings paired with his creative experience made Josh the ideal person to ask our big questions about this even bigger production. Here’s what he told us:
After the show theme has been decided, a call to our company members for choreography proposals takes place. In our call for proposals, we are specific about how we are hoping the piece will tie into the theme…
Kristi Licera: Many evening-length dance productions feature the work of one or two choreographers, often with the input of other artists who provide source material (or base movement that the main dance makers can manipulate and reconfigure). On the other side of the concert dance world are showcases that feature the work of a handful of choreographers; often the works do not share a common theme and the artist can create freely. Matter Dance Company’s Once Upon brings the best of both concert types together by commissioning several of the company’s dancers to create works for the production. This is an incredible opportunity for the dancers to flex their choreographic muscle, but with so many artistic voices in the mix, there are bound to be challenges in stitching the works together to create one cohesive show. Can you tell us more about MDC’s process of selecting choreographers and the pros and cons associated with it?
Josh Fletcher: Matter Dance Company prides itself on sharing our greatest asset, our Company! Before each show, the Matter Dance Company creative team brainstorms and selects a show theme. After the show theme has been decided, a call to our company members for choreography proposals takes place. In our call for proposals, we are specific about how we are hoping the piece will tie into the theme, as well as any extras we are looking for in that specific season (e.g., this season our choreographers were asked to utilize a new and exciting stage!). Throughout the season (i.e., January through May), the Directors and Company Manager provide additional support in music selection, costuming and story line development.
The executive team relies heavily on the choreographers to help achieve a story line that can be manipulated and molded to one incredible product.
There are 14 pieces in Once Upon plus a finale. The choreographers for the show are Ali Keirn, Carisa Barreca, Deirdre Dillon, Gail Adduci Gogliotti, Josh Fletcher, Kristi Rice, Lauren Nolan, Mandy Work Wetzel, Michael Nolan, Michelle Chorski, Mike Ford, Niki Wilk Mahon, Patrick Justin, and Taran O’Reilly. The executive team relies heavily on the choreographers to help achieve a story line that can be manipulated and molded into one incredible product. To help achieve this year’s magical story, esteemed actor Andy Grotelueschen of Broadway’s Tootsie provided voice narration to lead our audience from classic fairy tales to epic adventures to fanciful fables — some with a twist. One of our creative geniuses and Director, Carisa Barreca, crafted a script to help lead the audiences from one piece to the next. As an accomplished writer and actress, Barecca understands dance and performance from a variety of angles. She is poised in her ability to captivate audiences and leave them excited for what they are about to see!
…in our twist of Little Red Riding Hood, one side of the audience may feel more connected to one of our leads while the other side may experience more of a connection to our villain!
Kristi: Once Upon draws inspiration from the magic of story, referencing classic fairy tales, adventures and fables. The production also features unique seating for the audience. This atypical viewing perspective is refreshing and exciting, but also poses certain challenges for both choreographers and dancers. Can you tell us more about how the inspiration translated to movement and how the structure of audience seating impacted the creative process and final product?
Josh: Unlike traditional seating, Once Upon will provide audiences with a new perspective on dance. Instead of seeing a front or side view only, audiences will feel more connected to dancers and the dualism that is any story! Our seating faces the stage from two sides.
As a choreographer, I was thrilled for the challenge of “double” views with no true front. Instead of creating the same piece on two sides, I attempted to provide pictures, angles, and movements that each side will experience together, while also having a unique view to themselves. One of my favorite visual styles in choreography is layering and group work. The double view seating challenged me to create pictures from various vantage points that complemented dancers and kept audiences engaged.
Matter Dance Company believes dance should be created for the audience as well as the dancers. Our performances are accessible to all viewers.
MDC is extremely proud in our ability to showcase a variety of styles and dance disciplines. Our show includes jazz, contemporary, tap and character pieces. With such a versatile cast, we wanted choreographers to not feel like they needed to choreograph in one direction. We encouraged choreographers to think about creative storytelling using our double view as a reference point. For example, in our twist of Little Red Riding Hood, one side of the audience may feel more connected to one of our leads while the other side may experience more of a connection to our villain! This is only one example of how our unique stage will provide a viewing experience unlike anything else!
Matter Dance Company believes dance should be created for the audience as well as the dancers. Our performances are accessible to all viewers. Unlike some dance shows that at times feel like you need a dance theory course to digest the material, our shows provide a refreshing perspective on concert dance. Our performances draw people together with laughter, emotions and joy.
Matter Dance Company presents Once Upon at the Den Theatre (1333 N Milwaukee Ave, Chicago 60622), April 25th-27th & May 2-4th, Thursday and Fridays at 8pm, Saturdays at 3pm & 8pm. Tickets are available online through The Den’s ticket portal or in person at the Box Office.