Interview Leftovers

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.”


Kingsley Irons in performance. Photo by Jorge Vismara

It’s not unusual for me to do long interviews for a story, and then not have enough space for all the great material from the conversation.

That’s where “interview leftovers” comes in. The blog is a good place to run, in a fuller form, excerpts from past interviews.  Today, I’m posting parts from an interview I did with Los Angeles choreographer and filmmaker Kingsley Irons, the co-founder of Dances Made to Order, which is a subscriber-based, online dance-film festival. (My stories about Dances Made to Order ran in the LA Weekly and the Boston Globe.) This season, Kingsley is featuring 33 films from teams of choreographers and filmmakers in 11 different cities. Three movies go up on the site each month. It’s interactive, too. Subscribers to Dances Made to Order get to vote each month on the subjects and themes for the films.

It’s a good time to revisit my conversation with Kingsley because one of the films commissioned by Dances Made to Order will be screened at the Topanga Film Festival Dance Film Showcase. It takes place this Friday, July 27 at 8:30 p.m. I went last year and it was a great evening.

In this excerpt, Kingsley talks how she came to Los Angeles, and some thoughts about dance and screendance:

Laura: The dance film or screendance genre is so diverse. Some of the dance films on the site don’t contain conventional dance steps at all. So what makes a work a “dance film”?

Kingsley: I think that goes back to, well, what is dance, and I have a pretty expansive definition of what dance is. I think it can include a range a styles, but also gestural work. I really don’t want to limit what the definition of dance is and I don’t want to limit the idea of what a dance film can be . I feel like if it’s involving a choreographer and they’re obviously doing body-based work, then that for me is a dance film. I think physicality, big or small, is dance, and I would never want to limit something or keep someone from exploring, or going beyond even what I think it would be.

Tell me about your background, where you grew up and how you got into dance.

I was born in the Philippines, but I grew up in New York mostly. I started dancing very accidentally. I started out as a salsa dancer, but then moved into more traditional Afro-Caribbean — Afro-Cuban and Afro-Haitian — and have been performing that kind of work for a while. But I studied art history and creative writing as an undergrad, so I was mostly working in museums. I went to Hunter College in New York. I realized I was just sort of at a point where I wanted to do something different with my choreography, but I didn’t know what I wanted to do with it and I needed time and a place to think about that. And that’s when I decide to apply to graduate school at UCLA. That’s about six years ago now. [She got an MFA from UCLA.]

Which professors were a particular inspiration to you?

David Roussève and Susan Foster are probably two of the most artistic influences on me since I’ve come  came to L.A.  And I think had I not met them, my work would be very different.  So I’m eternally grateful to have had them in my life.

What was it like moving to Los Angeles?

It was hard and it’s still hard, I think. At the core of it, I think I’m always going to be a New Yorker. I’ve lived in other countries and other cities and I’ve never had culture shock the way I had culture shock moving from New York to Los Angeles. I cried a lot my first year. It was just a really hard transition for me. I have a very intense love-hate relationship with L.A. There are so many things I miss about NY. But also, NY is so over-saturated it might be hard to find yourself in all the noise.

I think being in an uncomfortable place and feeling really challenged, really  pushed me to create something, create work and create the series [Dances Made to Order]. Because  I really needed to feel attached to something. And I wasn’t feeling attached to L.A.

…When I got my acceptance letter  to UCLA, [I said,] ‘Oh, my god! I should learn how to drive.’ I was 27 years old. The first time I was on a freeway, it was here. I was surprised to make it home alive.

What do you like about working in the screendance medium versus choreographing for the stage?

I don’t think I like one better than the other. I think they can serve your artistic intentions in different ways; I think they can serve the audience in different ways. Live performance will always be important. As a choreographer it’s the heart of where I’m coming from.

The internet is a venue and it hasn’t been fully explored by dance or dance film in a way that I feel like it’s really presenting dance you want to see. When you search dance on YouTube you get all this crap. When you search it on Vimeo, most of the time, you still get crap. So [for us] it’s about presenting dance in a curated way. And also being able to reach more people. … Like Lillian Ransijn [the Atlanta choreographer-director who made the short film “To Have and to Hold” on Dances Made to Order]. I am so happy to have been able to produce her work in this way. I may not have had the funds to bring her company here. But we were still able to be connected. To not be limited by geography in creating a working relationship with an artist, feels really great to me now.