by Nicole Harris
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Nicole Harris: This is your first time choreographing for NACHMO. (WELCOME!) What are you most nervous and most excited about the experience of creating work in a month?
Katrina Conte: I have been wanting to create a piece based off the Dr. Seuss book Green Eggs and Ham for awhile now and I’m excited to explore some abstract funky movement to match his whimsical book. I'm nervous about completing a piece in a month that I feel is complete, but I am trying to think of this show as a test run before it's shown again in our ALIVE show in April.
N: You are choreographing this year as part of Alive Dance Collective and your piece will be inspired by their season theme of books. Can you tell us about what book you’re using and how you’re planning to use it? What first drew you to the book?
KC: I was first drawn to this book when I went to see How the Grinch stole Christmas the Musical touring at my university a few years ago. There was a fun fact page about Dr. Suess in the program and it mentioned he only uses a total of 50 words rearranged to create the story of Green Eggs and Ham. This sparked an idea! I will be generating a move for each word in the story and choreographing it in the structure of the book. I am also having my musician be inspired by a similar idea.
N: In addition to dancing for Alive you have worked with The Click and Kim Holman in the last year. All of those choreographers have very different practices. What have you learned about your own choreographic process and how has it changed through 2022?
KC: I have also danced with Kairos Dance Theatre within the last year! My choreographic process has become a lot more collaborative with the dancers I'm working with. I have also learned it's okay to not know where you're going and trial and error leaves room for exploration and new ideas. I have noticed recently that I am very inspired by literature and using it to explore words and phrases in movement to create my works.
N: Monkeyhouse and NACHMO Boston believe that we wouldn’t be here without the support of our community. Who is one of your favorite local choreographers and why?
KC: I am still new to this city and would say I haven't seen enough work from different choreographers to have a favorite. But two Choroeghers whose work I admire are Shen Wei (NYC Based) and Rosie Herrera (Miami Based).
N: You have been working not only on creating a budget but on developing a 5 year budget plan. Can you talk a little about what you’ve learned about Alive and the company’s values through that process? What was something surprising that came out of planning and dreaming years in advance?
BB: Breaking down the budget and looking ahead has really solidified the community connections we want to have. Whether that’s our internal community of members, our connection with other area artists, or our partnerships with local nonprofits and organizations, our budget reflects a desire to honor the work of those we’re connected to currently and hope to connect with in the future. This is an important value for Alive and one that our budget clearly celebrates.
One of the priorities in the 5 year plan is putting money back into the hands of our own artists. While Alive is a “passion project”, it still requires a lot of time and energy from those involved, and that work deserves to be compensated. Paying the administrative team for their hard work and removing the out-of-pocket fees for members to pay for rehearsal space are big priorities in our new budget, and when broken down over five years, are achievable goals (which was surprising!). Rather than starting with what we ideally want to see these individuals paid, we’re building in stipends over time to gradually increase the pay until, in five years, it’s where we want. The Monkeyhouse Spring Fling Fundraiser is allowing us to get this process started and we’re beyond grateful!
N: Through the Vault grant you are receiving mentoring from Monkeyhouse. Can you talk about something you were nervous about going into that process? What have you learned so far? What are you still hoping to dig into?
BB: Luckily for me, I know and love the Monkeyhouse team, so I didn’t feel any nervousness going into the process-only excitement! I know that karen and Nicole value meeting people where they are and helping people and organizations reach their goals as opposed to forcing ideas upon them, so I felt eager to explore! I’ve been most interested in the conversations around how to build community, as that’s something that’s very important to me. There’s always more to explore there and I can’t wait to keep talking about that!
N: Why is mentoring important to you? Think a bit about the mentoring you have received in your life and where it has come from. Think especially about unexpected relationships or mentoring that has come from completely outside of your field. Can you tell us a bit about one specific mentoring experience and the impact it has had on you?
BB: Mentoring is important to me for many reasons. Talking about dance strengthens the work, resulting in more accessible, interesting, and engaging choreographies. While formal mentorship has been an important part of developing pieces, I have particularly enjoyed the more “casual” peer-to-peer mentorship I’ve received throughout my dance career. These moments happen often; in rehearsals, over text, on car rides, etc. I love sharing my work with Alive members and other dancers I know well and discussing what’s happening. Having these conversations with those close to me allow me to think deeply about my work and what I’m presenting. I also often am able to get feedback from close friends who aren’t dancers, which is also immensely valuable. Alive strives to have work accessible to all, so hearing from a non-dancer what they’re taking away from choreography helps to shape the work.
N: Who is your community? Why does community matter? What makes you feel part of the community? What do you want to see to make the community feel more connected?
BB: Alive’s current community consists of our members, our audiences, the artists we work with in the area, and the local organizations we partner with. Community is important because connection is innately human and life works best when we come together. Existing in a vacuum does not result in satisfaction or larger success; community is needed to make that happen. For me, feeling like part of the community comes from connections that feel safe and working towards common goals. I hope that over time the community Alive is creating becomes more integrated. For example, this past season our workshops at The Somerville Community Growing Center were attended by the Growing Center’s community, whereas Alive’s performance was attended by our community. In the future, I hope that both communities (and more!) attend all events and create one large community to learn, grow, and connect with. Alive plans for sustained partnerships with local organizations to allow this to happen.
N: Land acknowledgements are often given for the spot you are on in the moment, but we’ve all occupied land for our entire lives. Where are you from? Where are you living now? Where does the majority of your work take place? Whose land is it? How does the land you are on impact you as a human and as an artist? How has place shaped the work you are making?
BB: I grew up mostly on Wabanki land, but now live on the land of Massachuset and Pawtucket people, which is also where the majority of Alive’s work takes place. Place has definitely shaped work we’ve made, particularly in our recent show Bloom. In that production, all of our work related to nature; Audrey choreographed a piece inspired by hiking the White Mountains, Tova’s piece pulled from her explorations around her neighborhood to watch the summer sunsets, I choreographed a piece filmed on Nahant beach, and Lila filmed her piece in the Somerville Community Growing Center. Land is something to which we all have connection, so creating work inspired by it allows for choreography that is accessible to our audiences.
By Nicole Harris
You can see Tova’s work at Arts at the Armory on Saturday, February 26th a 8pm! Tickets are by donation (pay what you can) and available RIGHT NOW! Get yours today!
Nicole Harris: This is your first time choreographing for NACHMO Boston. What are you most excited about? What makes you the most nervous?
Tova Teperow: I am excited to challenge myself to choreograph to house music. In the past I always selected music that told its own story through lyrics or big sweeping changes in the music, but choreographing to a steady house beat with little variation requires the choreography to do more of that work. I am nervous to challenge myself to make a piece so quickly!
N: You work as a pediatric occupational therapist for students with visual impairments and disabilities. How has your dance training helped you better communicate and connect as an OT? How have your students/patients informed you as a dancer and dance maker?
TT: I definitely think that being a dancer has helped me be a better occupational therapist. My dance training has given me a high level of body awareness (my dance teacher growing up used to say that you should dance all the way through to your pinky finger) and an ability to easily break down movements into smaller pieces. These are both critical skills for occupational therapy. Also, working with kids who are blind has taught me to be even more specific in my communication when teaching motor patterns for tasks, and I think this has translated to better communication with dancers when in rehearsal.
N: You have been with Alive Dance Collective since its inception. In what ways has the collective helped you grow? What makes the collective unique?
TT: Being with Alive for this many years and being able to see it grow has been such an amazing and moving experience. I think that one way Alive has helped me grow is in being a better collaborator with other dancers to create movement. What makes Alive so special is that there has always been a very high level of emotional trust and vulnerability in our group. When a member wants to choreograph a piece that is very personal, everybody immediately rallies around that person and is ready to help them tell their story.
N: I hear your piece for NACHMO is inspired by sunsets. Can you tell us a little about what you’re making and how it came about?
TT: My piece is inspired by sunsets. The last few summers I have been particularly enamored with them and have gone out of my way multiple nights a week to go to a special spot where I can watch the sun go down and take a million pictures throughout. The cyclical nature of the sun setting and then rising and setting again but never the same way twice, the way a sunset seemingly starts small and then fills up the whole sky, and the bittersweet feeling of it finally becoming dark, are some aspects that have inspired my movement.
Learn more about Brenna here. Learn more about NACHMO, take the #MonkeyhouseNACHMOChallenge, and learn about where you can see these artists’ work by following NACHMO Boston and Monkeyhouse on social media!
Nicole Harris: NACHMO Boston has stretched itself in a whole lot of ways in the last few years. After needing to switch to creating dance films last year there are now three different tracks available for choreographers this year and choreographers are coming to NACHMO Boston from all over New England! What are you most excited about with all of this growth and change? What roles are you hoping NACHMO can play for the artists in our community?
Brenna Banister: I love that NACHMO Boston has grown and adapted over the years that I've run it. It feels like every year we're able to offer something more that benefits the choreographers we work with. For me, the excitement is in hearing how NACHMO Boston has impacted people in their choreographic journeys. We hear time and time again about how mentorship has offered so much to people, how they've met and deepened connections with other artists through NACHMO, and how this is an important time they take to set aside and create. Mostly, I hope that NACHMO creates community within Boston. I hope for artists to find people they can connect with and who enhance their artistic exploration. Whether that's someone they talk to about dance frequently, artists they collaborate with, or someone they just check in with now and again. All forms of connection are valid and offer us as artists a chance to deepen our work and practice. It's my opinion that often artists get lost in a small bubble or their own internal space, and growth and expansion happen when we connect with those around us
Where do you find the creative energy with everything else you do to keep NACHMO Boston up and running during the month of January? Where do you turn when that creative energy is running low?
BB: It feels really ambitious to create while running NACHMO Boston! For the first few years I ran NACHMO I absolutely refused to also choreograph. However, I think due to my injury (mentioned later) and so much time of inactivity, I'm itching to do something creative right now. I also always find that NACHMO inspires me. The mentorship sessions keep my spirits and creativity up. Even the sessions where I don't show my own work offer me so much inspiration and motivation. Additionally, using the Creation track this year takes some of the burden off. I can create as much as works for me, and not feel pressure to come up with something that feels very "complete" and ready to present. Finally, working collaboratively with my dancers helps to keep ideas flowing and sharing the process with them allows for me to have rehearsals where I come in less prepared and see where the movement takes us!
N: You have been dealing with an injury for the last few months. How do you plan to tackle choreographing alongside this new obstacle? What are you most excited about for this new approach? What are you most nervous about?
BB: Yes; in October I ruptured my Achilles tendon. I 10/10 would not recommend! I still won't be able to move much in January- walking is my expected limit. I plan to build my piece very collaboratively, which is an approach I've grown to love. However, this time I won't really be able to contribute my own movement. I'm excited to see what the dancers develop and watch them create instead of creating alongside. It will be fun to see their movement develop! As for nerves, I don't have many! I feel pretty connected to the dancers I'm working with so I feel confident that they'll be able to interpret my ideas without me being able to move and that they'll offer many of their own wonderful ideas!
BB: It's been so great to rotate Alive Dance Collective choreographers for the past few NACHMOs! I think it gives a chance for our group to get that kick in the pants and start the year off with someone different each year. Additionally, I'm so excited for added mentorship requirements. I hope that mentorship helps members of Alive find their voices and bolsters their confidence, while also connecting individual members of our collective with more members of the Boston dance community.
N: Last year you shared your love for Evolve Dynamicz, Ruth Benson Levin & Lynn Modell, Kristin Wagner, Monkeyhouse, Sasso and Co, Public Displays of Motion, and Ryan P. Casey. Who are some local artists you specifically met through NACHMO that you love? And why?
BB: I meet so many people through NACHMO! Jessica Roseman is someone who I got to know much better through Mental Health Happy Hours last year. She's a lovely person and I love how she works to make movement accessible to broader communities. I was able to attend one of her Nourish days at LexFarm and was so inspired! Also, Anne Goldberg-Baldwin is a NACHMO connection for me and I'm so fascinated with how her film last year combined her background in figure skating and dance. It was so beautiful!
By Nicole Harris
January is National Choreography Month. We are working with NACHMO Boston again this year. I can’t wait to introduce you to all these incredible artists! First up is Alexandria Nunweiler from Alive Dance Collective. Follow NACHMO and Monkeyhouse on Instagram to learn more about this month’s events and participate in the #MonkeyhouseNACHMOChallenge!
N: Your work is described as being “rooted in community, history, and daily life.” What does that mean for you? How do you involve those things in your process?
AN: As the Alive Dance Collective we create dance for the human experience. We use that art to process and connect with others to better understand each other and grow as a community. Connecting that overarching theme to me and my process, I root my work in relatability and storytelling. Whether that be something as universal as your arm falling asleep, or the life of Henri Matisse, or the lore surrounding the Loch Ness monster I seek to surprise and connect with my audience on every level.
N: I understand you grew up in a dance family. What was it like to be part of a studio owned by your mother? How did she impact the dancer you became?
AN: Great question! I see my mom as the center pillar in my dance training and a wonderful mentor to how I create and teach today. I always refer to myself as a "studio brat" because I did my real growing up in a studio... and when I say "growing up" I mean from the womb until high school graduation-- my mom was still rolling around on the floor teaching Graham technique 9 months pregnant with me! My mom put a strong emphasis on education as well which pushed me to pursue my college degree in dance. I regularly return to Dance Theatre of Greenville to set work for my mom's students, teach master classes and attend performances. She runs a truly special program in the upstate of South Carolina and many (including me!) have benefitted from her education, approach and experience.
N: This year’s NACHMO is different than anything we’ve done in the past, holding all events entirely virtually. How will you change your process to deal with the obstacles 2020 brings us? What is the first thing you will do when the month begins?
N: Alive has been part of NACHMO for many years, and you performed in 2020, but this is your first time choreographing for NACHMO. What are you most excited about in this process? What are you most nervous about?
AN: I am most excited to take on the challenge of a new work in one month. I love the open-endedness of NACHMO and that as long as you're creating you're right. Additionally, being a somewhat new member of the Alive Collective, I'm nervous/excited to work in the group as a choreographer for the first time and make something new with them.
N: Who are your mentors? What makes those relationships special to you? What are you doing to pay forward the gifts they have given you?
AN: I lean a lot on my mom as a mentor and I will be paying that one forward for the rest of my life. Outside of that relationship, I rely on a lot of peer-mentors. One person in particular is my collaborator Ashlea Sovetts who I am currently working with on a research project. She is the ultimate sounding board and creative yin to my yang. I'm able to pay this forward by participating in things like NACHMO where peer-mentorship is encouraged and growing the tightness of the dance community is a must.
N: It is important to us that we continue to lift up other artists in our community. Who are some of your favorite local choreographers? Why?
AN: Kristin Wagner has been a real inspiration to me personally. Her work is always so truthfully raw and I'm constantly reminded to dig deeper while working with and watching her. I'm also very inspired by Brian Feigenbaum. He really gave me my dance family in Boston when I first moved here and started showing up to his classes. He is so gifted in a way that transcends words and makes movement the only language that matters.
N: You have recently taken over NACHMO Boston. How did that come about?
B: NACHMO Boston has been something I’ve enjoyed doing since its conception here in Boston. I have danced with Jess Muise, the former organizer, in a number of different settings. She approached me last year to let me know that she would likely be moving on and asked if I would be interested. I told her that with the support of Alive, I would be so excited to host such a wonderful dance opportunity in Boston! Alive looks forward to NACHMO every year and we’re thrilled we get to share that in a new way this year.
N: What are you most excited about for this year’s National Choreography Month?
B: I’m always excited to see what everyone else brings to the table and the work that’s created. The connections made are always fun, and it will be so exciting to experience all of it from the driver’s seat.
N: You come from a traditional jazz, tap, ballet, modern background. How does that range of styles impact the work you’re building today?
B: I think having a wide knowledge base allows me to pull from many different areas and helps me to not feel boxed in. Although I don’t perform Tap very often, it is one of my heart’s biggest pleasures, and I find that my Tap training comes out in my Contemporary choreography, particularly with how I hear and interpret music.
N: 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?
B: Creating work really varies for me. The piece that I started on Alive in July 2014 (“Shallows” or “The Pit”) took over two years (off and on) to complete. However, it is not uncommon for me to create something in a month if there’s an impending deadline. When I have to create work quickly, I usually start with an idea that is more fleshed out or less abstract. That way I either have already done some of the journey involving the concept of the piece, or there’s less of a complicated journey to take when thinking about the work. Then, I will usually create the choreography and teach it to the dancers. I usually incorporate less improv or collaborative building when there’s such a tight deadline, but I constantly talk to my dancers and other friends about the piece to gain ideas and inspiration. And sometimes, with a deadline, I just have to make a decision and can’t wait for the decision to come to me. One of my mottos is: “we can always change it later,” and I find myself reminding myself of that regularly during NACHMO. Nothing is set in stone, and sometimes making a decision actually gets you closer to what you want than sitting around waiting for the right answer to appear out of thin air.
N: Who are some of your favorite choreographers?
B: I’m a big Kate Jablonski fan. I love her combination of technique and artistry and unique athleticism. I also love Emma Portner and Michelle Dorrance. In addition, I’ve loved Wayne McGregor’s work that I’ve seen, and I adored Yury Yanowsky’s “Smoke and Mirrors” and hope to see more of his work. Plus, he and Kathleen Breen Combs have the cutest baby!