We interviewed you back in 2015 when you were part of 24Hr ChoreoFest. What sort of amazing things have happened in your life since then?
I am grateful ChoreoFest sparked the re-birth of Freedom Dances in the Northeast, following my return to Rhode Island from North Carolina. Since then, I have created many new works, co-produced a concert at AS220 with Heather Brown Dance in January 2016, produced “Verge” at the Providence Fringe Festival (FringePVD), and collaborated with composers Kirsten Volness, Dan VanHassel, and Verdant Vibes. Freedom Dances has also performed new work in a number of shared dance events including José Mateo’s Dance for World Community, AS220’s Dance Works in Process, The Dance Complex’s Friends and Faculty Showcase, Tiny and Short, Festival of Us, You, We and Them, and NACHMO 2017. In fall of 2016, as one of the guest choreographers for the Providence College Dance Company, I created “Silver Threads Among the Ashes”, inspired by the 15th anniversary of 9/11. I have joined the dance faculty at AS220 and am completing my 2nd year of the Boston Feldenkrais Training Program.
Freedom Dances’ mission is about creating works that explore individual, social, and cultural identities. This last year has been a doozy in dealing with those departments. How has the climate of the country impacted your work of late?
Last year’s NACHMO piece was very much a reflection of the results of the 2016 Presidential election, set to Kirsten Volness’ composition, “Complacency Will Kill You – (Contentment Is a Choice)”. There are so many incredulous and baffling things happening in our country and world recently, it is hard to grasp onto one strand before the next thing happens that leaves me with my mouth agape. There are a multitude of topics which infuriate me and pull on my heart strings promulgating a call to action. However, amidst the chaos, and changes in my personal life, I find myself logistically and emotionally much closer to my family. In troubling times, I find it important to remember that when push comes to shove, what is most important are the connections with those we love, those we can help in our day-to-day lives, and those who bolster us in times of need.
Who are some of your favorite choreographers?
Christopher Wheeldon, Alvin Ailey, Dwight Rhoden, George Balanchine
What changes in your process to build a piece in such a short time span (one month)? How long do you usually take to create work?
I find every process creates itself out of necessity of the parameters surrounding it. As dancemakers, we never have the luxury of time or money to pay for a lot of space, dancers, etc. so in that way, all processes are restricted by time. Of course, when in university, we are afforded free dancers and space, and a semester to make a piece or maybe two. In the past couple of years, most of my dances are created in less than 15 hours, unless the work is one of my longer multi-media productions. In that way, this process isn’t much different in total hours, but shorter in overall duration. We had our first rehearsal on January 15th! My dancers are great – they love dancing and being in the studio, so they are super generous, amazingly talented, and a joy to work with! We have been meeting twice a week, a total 4 hours per week, plus company class.
1. Being in the work prevented me from seeing the overall piece, its structure, spatial
design, cohesiveness….and also from being able to give dancers prompts / feedback for nuanced performance.
2. I sadly realized that although I had a powerful performance presence, my little body had
too many anatomical limitations to achieve the look I wanted. I would focus so hard on
extensions and pointed feet, thinking I had really done well, and then I would see myself
on video and cringe. This is still emotional and deeply personal for me to discuss; in fact, I’m not sure I should be disclosing this fact as I don’t want it plastered all over the web. I
chose to work with dancers who had the technical capacity and performance aesthetic
that I wanted for my works.
NH: What are you most nervous about regarding ChoreoFest?
NL: Well, I suppose keeping tensions down as we all become more sleep deprived, especially since I am working with some of my dancers for the first time, and this group is definitely working together for the first time. So I am unfamiliar with their personal triggers and preferred learning styles. Working with new people in a new group is always challenging for optimal
communication, and this setting adds much deeper challenges due to its nature. Keeping calm
and gentle communication open is key to a successful and enjoyable experience for all.
On a humorous but very real note: I am concerned about bringing too much stuff and the horrors
of trying to get all the stuff from my little Mazda into The Dance Complex on a traffic filled
Friday evening. I’m one of those people who thinks it best to bring something “just in case”
rather than to be caught without.
NH: Since this is a very controlled creative space (in terms of time and topic) where do
you see yourself starting when you get in the space?
NL: I will most likely start with some guided improvisation to help all of us get more comfortable
with each other. Depending on the topic, I may ask the dancers to engage in a written
exploration as a means of movement generation. Writing or no writing, unless I have an extremely strong personal connection to the theme, I would like the initial movement generation
to come from each of the dancers. We tend to better remember and most fully execute that
movement which naturally emanates from within our own bodies.
NH: In creating a new work, what is the relationship between you and your dancers? Do
they participate in the creative process? If so, how?
NL: Please refer to the information provided in response to the previous question. Additionally, I like to verbally engage with the dancers as to their thoughts and valuable insights about the creation of meaning in the work. Often I will ask the dancers what feels most comfortable or natural when finessing the details of the movement.
NH: Knowing that Karen Krolak will be on hand as "choreographic guru", what things do
you hope she can help with in the overnight process?
NL: Probably technological assistance with computer audio editing. I have a new laptop that I really don’t know how to use with its Windows 8 platform (grrr), and an old laptop that (at best)
functions at the speed of a snail trying to get up a molasses covered hill in winter.
NH: Who are some of your favorite choreographers?
NL: Oh boy…Alvin Ailey, George Balanchine, Mark Morris, Alonzo King, Jill Bahr, Dwight
Rhoden, Desmond Richardson, Bill T. Jones, Ulysses S. Dove… is that enough?
NH: Who are your mentors? How are you paying forward the things your mentor gave you?
NL: Oh my god, I could go on forever here…but first and foremost I must honor the memory of my recently departed mentor and colleague, Dr. Jan Van Dyke of Greensboro, NC. I can’t believe she is gone. She is being honored with a memorial this coming Sunday August 22nd, held at the UNCG Dance Theatre and livestreamed on the web. I can’t say enough about or adequately summarize how much I learned from Jan as a teacher, choreographer, administrator, and woman of dignity in the arts and academe.
Last week I was teaching young student choreographers during an intensive at The Dance
Academy in Fall River. I gave them the same first day lesson that Jan used in Choreography II,
The Craft at UNCG, for which I was twice her TA. We wrote rhythms on the board and
discussed time values of different musical notes, and how many beats per measure, and how to vary rhythm and apply it to movement to create new and interesting variations. It’s actually a
very difficult concept to grasp for most of us, but invariably successful in the end. The school
director was impressed when she saw the material and commented that they were learning so
much from me. I told her that it was all Jan, or JVD as we lovingly called her.
N: What is your favorite memory from last year's festival?
NL: The Ah-Ha moment of using old TV show themes, namely Peanuts and Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood...and having them work when we tried them with the movement!
N: What have you been up to in the last year?
NL: I have been deeply blessed. The Choreofest kicked off an unprecedented string of opportunities for Freedom Dances that truly re-birthed the company here in RI / Boston. For one, I met a fabulous dancer, the incomparable Whitney Cover, in the mandatory workshop with Peter DiMuro. Not only did she perform with me for the 24 Hour Choreofest, but I have been lucky enough to continue working with her, and to have her dance the lead role in a very emotional and challenging work - in 2 different sets of performances. The work would not be the same without her!
We did the Dance Works in Process at AS220 in October 2015.
In January 2016, Freedom Dances and Heather Brown Dance co-produced a 3-show concert as part of a Production Residency at AS220 in Providence.
In February, 2 of my works were performed in the Boston Regional Youth America Grand Prix.
In June we performed "Ruffled" at Dance For World Community in Harvard Square and the Festival of Us, You, We, and Them at the Dance Complex.
July was spent re-staging "Verge - Part 1 - Greatness", and "Verge - Part 2 - Despair" for the Providence Fringe Festival in which we performed 2 evenings.
I am starting my certification training in the Feldenkrais Method in Newton onAugust 19th - something I have wanted to do for years!
N: Where can people see you/your work these days? Any upcoming performances?
NL: Adrienne Hawkins invited us to dance in the upcoming Friends and Family shows at the Dance Complex. We will be presenting "Ruffled" on August 19th and 20th. I am honored by the invitation!