Interview Leftovers No. 2: NCI

One more post about National Choreographers Initiative (NCI). I attended the NCI workshop performance Saturday night (July 28), and as usual, each new ballet was quite distinct. In addition to Melissa Barak, this year’s participating choreographers were Thang Dao, Darrell Grand Moultrie and Wendy Seyb. Critics don’t review this show because the pieces are considered works-in-progress; choreographers are not done with them. The point of NCI is to provide a place where choreographers can work without outside pressures. It’s a place for experimentation. Artistic director Molly Lynch offers the performance — an informal showing, really — so that  (1) the choreographers can see what their pieces look like onstage and (2) to give the community an inside look at part of the creative process.

Two more points.

Before the show began, Molly introduced her all-female advisory board to the audience and I want to mention them here: Anne B. Nutt, Bobbi Cox, Sophie Cripe, Diane Diefenderfer, Joanne Keith, Lynch, Lois Osborne, Barbara Roberts, Sally Anne Sheridan, Jenny Szabo and Barbara Tingley. NCI is the only dance organization I know of with an all-female governing structure. (For the record, Molly has important partnerships with the Irvine Barclay Theatre and UCI’s Claire Trevor School of the Arts and receives help from key members of their staffs, as well.) When Molly resigned as artistic director of Ballet Pacifica in October 2003, a small group of female donors (not the exact same group listed above) approached her with a plan to save the Pacifica Choreographic Project, a similar program that Molly had started in the early ’90s. These women suspected that the program would not survive without Molly in charge at Ballet Pacifica. These donors suggested to her that it be separated from Ballet Pacifica and turned into an independent entity. The Ballet Pacifica board of directors agreed to give up the program and it was retooled and renamed the National Choreographers Initiative, with Lynch as director. Ballet Pacifica went out of business a few years later, but the choreographic project survives. I continue to be impressed by the determination and foresight of NCI’s female founders and the current group that oversees it.

And I also want to give a shout out to the 16 professional dancers and two advanced UCI students who also participated in NCI. They came to Irvine from regional companies throughout the United States, and in three weeks turned into a sharp and cohesive ensemble. I interviewed two dancers on the program’s second day for an LA Times story, but unfortunately there wasn’t enough space for their comments. Here’s a little bit of what they had to say:

Nadia Iozzo is with Kansas City Ballet and was at NCI for the second time.

Speaking of her experience last year, Nadia said: “I was so inspired and motivated and really raring and ready to go when the three weeks were over and I went back to Kansas City Ballet. I was just ready for the season to start. It was a great experience with the two choreographers I worked with. Amongst the group of dancers, it was just a very positive environment.  The classes were so good. I was very, very happy in my experience here last summer.  And right away I couldn’t help but think about wanting to return the following summer.  Luckily, here I am.

“It feels like summer camp for adults a little bit. You all meet on day one and by the end of the first week you’re so close and have learned so much about one another. Not only do we work together all day, but we sort of pair off in little groupings, and we go out for dinner and ice cream and go to the movies. So, it’s really nice to build new friendships and make new connections all over the country. There’s a handful of the dancers from last year that I stay in touch with and have visited or they have come through Kansas City.  That’s always an added bonus. It’s nice to build those friendships.”

Orlando Canova grew up in Orange County and studied with Larry and Sarma Rosenberg; he recalled attending  the workshop performances when they were still part of Ballet Pacifica. Orlando studied at the School of American Ballet in New York and danced with the Joffrey Ballet of Chicago before joining Ballet Austin, where he’s been for seven years. It’s important for him to be with a company run by a choreographer (Stephen Mills), he said.

“It’s so great to have a dance set on you.  If a dancer has never had the opportunity, it’s so sad because it’s so exciting.  The process is so interesting to me. It’s probably my favorite part of dancing, the choreographic aspect and being involved with that.”

“I think that if we continue to just show the classics, ballet will die. We need to evolve and bring in new things and show different sides of ballet; you know, athleticism and grace and intelligence, instead of just a story and pretty fairies.  To me that makes ballet stale.  It needs to keep evolving so we can survive.”

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