N: A lot happens during NACHMO Boston, this year more than most. In what ways did and didn’t your piece become the thing you thought it would at the start of the month?
CC: I could not possibly have anticipated what developed from the unique circumstances of this year’s choreography challenge. My original intention was to set a work that was completelychoreographed, solid and repeatable, mainly because most of my work over the last few years has been largely improvisation-based. I also intended it to be filmed entirely outdoors.
However, one thing I could not have anticipated was that I would end up being exposed to and contracting coronavirus very early on in the endeavor. That completely derailed the process but led me to examine how to conserve energy and work efficiently with the circumstances I was given. It forced me to be creative in ways that I would otherwise have resisted. It required me to set aside expectation entirely and strive for what made sense in the moment rather than trying to force something into existence.
That’s where the idea of using a guided mediation came about. In the piece When We’re Stuck Inside, I was literally stuck inside, unable to go anywhere and frankly too exhausted to have gone anywhere anyway. But I am an energy healer and guided meditation plays a major role in my healing work. I decided to create a meditation as the soundtrack in an effort to suggest that one way to find joy is to find or create it in the mind. When I was able to film outside again, I used it as an opportunity to explore the relationship between inside and out that could signify finding the sense of joy as in a dream. It seems to have worked better than I intended because a number of people who saw the work in progress told me that, rather than feeling the piece as a suggestion, they went on the journey through the meditation as it was happening, feeling relaxed and happier afterward.
The most unexpected part is that this led to an expanded project around this idea that is now in the first stages of production! I can’t say too much yet but I’m bursting with excitement over the possibilities of the first iteration and many more to follow!!! Now I definitely didn’t think my piece for NACHMO 2021 would become that, but here it is and I am so grateful!
For the Malden Dance Mile, I entirely re-filmed the piece but spent a great deal of time planning and implementing the production. Having the opportunity to hone the piece after the first showing was such an incredible learning experience. It’s still not perfect, (when will it ever be really) but I took to heart the suggestions given in the workshops and mentorship opportunities that NACHMO Boston provided this year which I feel elevated the piece in ways I had never considered before. And let me pause here to say how grateful I am for the grace and skill with which NACHMO Boston handled the challenges of this format.
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?
CC: I am lucky to have had some wonderful teachers and mentors in my life as a dancer. I went to Bard College as an undergraduate to major in dance. I met some wonderful teachers there, two of whom I would like to mention in particular because they are no longer with us and I often think of them when I dance: Lenore Latimer and Aileen Passloff. Both of those wonderful women inspired me to dance with authenticity and honesty to who I am as a human being. I can never thank them enough for what they taught me in the short time I knew them.
The rest of my professors in the dance department at Bard College all had a hand in making me the dancer and choreographer I am today. Peggy Florin, Jean Churchill, Maria Simpson, Leah Cox, Stuart Singer, Marjorie Folkman…each of these wonderful teachers and more all gave me something important. They inspired me, challenged old thought patterns, supported me while I learned to dance on pointe (even if they weren’t thrilled about it at times), and pushed me to discover what my way of dancing through the world is.
In a completely different way, my Master’s Tutor at the Glasgow School of Art, Michelle Hannah, challenged me as an artist. Without that challenge, I might never have thought to push beyond what I thought of as dance performance, stretching into the world of fine art performance as well. Her support was invaluable in that process.
And then there’s Dance Prism Ballet Company. Dance Prism, and its Artistic Director Mary Demaso, have become like an extended family to me. Though I have come and gone back and forth over the years that I have been dancing with the company, every time I walk through that studio door it feels like coming home. I am so lucky to call Mary and the wonderful group of dancers at Dance Prism my friends.
Truth be told, I don’t know that I can ever do enough to pay forward what these wonderful dancers and teachers have given me over the years. The best I can do today is to keep making work and bringing dance into the world. Hopefully, someday I can inspire someone the way they did for me.
That being said, I have had some incredible experiences over the years with organizations like The Dance Complex, Dancing Queerly, Luminarium Dance Company, and of course Monkeyhouse. The works I have seen, classes I’ve attended, workshops I’ve taken and auditions I’ve been to have all been integral to the process of understanding who I am as a choreographer and dancer.
N: What are you most excited about for this year’s National Choreography Month?
C: This is the first National Choreography Month that I’ve participated in so I’m excited for the experience and to see what kind of work the choreographers come up with. I’m really excited to be getting my work out there in a public setting. Since I graduated from Bard College about five years ago I’ve been dancing as a company member in Dance Prism, a small ballet company in West Concord, MA. It’s a wonderful company and community but with a degree in modern choreography I only really get to showcase any of my own work during our summer studio performance. Most of my solo work is done on pointe so I’m also interested to see what the general reaction is to my kind of work with a man dancing on pointe, being that it’s my first time putting it in front of a wider audience.
N: Who are some of your favorite choreographers?
C: My favorite choreographer is Antony Tudor. I love his understated style of ballet. It is so smooth and yet says so much. I often show clips of his Jardin aux Lilas and The Leaves are Fading to my dancers when I start a new piece, to give them a sense of the subtle arms and understated emotional cues that I love to see. I also love a lot of Twyla Tharp’s work because of her use of pointe shoes in a more modern setting. I love to see subtlety in a choreographer’s work. My “wow” moments happen most often when a choreographer hits all the right notes, in movement design, music choice, and their ability to elicit just the right response from a dancer. When a choreographer is able to make all the pieces fall together, it is just magical.
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?
C: Honestly, I am fairly well used to creating work in less than a month. For the summer performance that I mentioned earlier I am usually working on up to four of my own pieces while learning other choreographer’s pieces as well in an equally short time. I’ve been doing this for five years now so I am no stranger to this process. I do like to have time to go back and modify the work if the piece needs it. Having more time allows for more precision but the shorter rehearsal period, as I said before, has forced me to let go of my perfectionism. It has actually allowed me to produce a piece to which I feel surprisingly connected thus far because I don’t have time to obsess over the details. I’m also working on a piece now that won’t be performed until the summer and I am setting it on two dancers from Dance Prism which means that I am experiencing two very different kinds of process at the same time. It has certainly been an interesting experience to hold back to back rehearsals, one in which I can take all the time in the world to communicate the piece to my dancers, and one in which I struggle over trying to let go of detail enough to fall in love with my own movement in a very short period. It has been a very enlightening month of choreography and art.