By Nicole Harris
Next up on the NACHMO Boston interview list is the one and only Evolve Dynamicz. I am so excited to be working with them not only as choreographers but as co-hosts of our Mental Health Happy Hours! You can join us any Tuesday or Friday in January at 7:30pm EST! You can always find the link to Happy Hour on the front page of our site.
To learn more about Evolve, Collective Moments, NACHMO Boston, and to follow the #MonkeyhouseNACHMOChallenge, follow us on Instagram!
N: Evolve Dynamicz is co-hosting Mental Health Happy Hours as part of NACHMO Boston this year. Why are these mental health breaks so valuable to you?
Evolve: We believe taking the time to focus on something that sparks joy (like dancing!) is important for our sanity, especially during this pandemic. We put on a production in October 2019 called LUCIDITY that Monkeyhouse was also involved in! The production was a series of vignettes about people’s experiences with mental health and illness: written, danced, choreographed, and spoken. We also partnered with a national non-profit called, This is My Brave, whose tagline is “storytelling saves lives” and we’ve really adapted that mindset as well. Normalizing conversations of mental health is essential to making it out of this pandemic on the other side. We are not only losing lives to COVID-19, we are also losing lives to the effects of social isolation on top of the preexisting systemic issues which add to the burden of mental illnesses. And we believe that community support is one of the best ways to combat this by enhancing mental health and wellness. And so, we are excited for others to join us and take a moment to take care of our mental health together, as a community.
N: Kaylee, what made you decide to start your own company?
Kaylee: I could write you a novel on why I decided to start my own dance company simply because I could talk forever and ever about dance. Instead I’ll give the short answer. I decided to start my own dance company because there is nothing more interesting and exciting for me than choreographing and getting to work with people. It has always been a dream of mine to create my own dance company! So, I decided to just go for it and here we are! Why wait to chase your dreams, life is too short to not wake up and do what you love to do everyday!!!!
N: This year’s NACHMO is different from anything we’ve done in the past, with all events entirely virtual. How will you change your process to deal with the obstacles 2021 brings us? What is the first thing you will do when the month begins?
Evolve: We shifted to Zoom rehearsals at the beginning of the pandemic and have been working that way since. So we’ve had some time to work out the kinks of virtual rehearsals. We’ve also put together a few films already, but not yet in one month’s time! We hope that by providing Kaylee with our pre-established virtual rehearsal structure, she will have more space to focus on creating and teaching her choreography!
Kaylee: This first thing I am doing is having a (Virtual) meeting with everyone in the piece, sort of as a check in to see where we are all at! We all have different living circumstances etc, which is something important to be mindful of. I am doing this piece completely stationary which I am excited to play with. In having that challenge, I hope it helps alleviate some of the potential pressure/ anxious feeling of wanting to be able to dance but not having the proper space. Again, for me as a choreographer and individual it is important for me to be aware of everyone as individuals and try to keep in mind the dancers needs and/ or challenges!!!!
N: Evolve Dynamicz has participated in NACHMO Boston several times in the past. This year you are collaborating with Kaylee Mahan’s new company, Collective Moments Dance Company, which is a new way to tackle the month long challenge. What are you most excited about in this process? What are you most nervous about?
Evolve: We are so excited to mentor Kaylee and support her through this process.
Lisa: After knowing Kaylee since she was 7, it has been inspiring to watch her through high school, college (as an Evolve apprentice, too!), and now launching her own company.
Nicole: I have not had the pleasure of knowing Kaylee as long as Lisa has, but she has been with us as an apprentice since our first production as a company SPACES in 2017 and it has been a pleasure having her on this journey with us! (She is now a full member since graduating college in May.) I remember in SPACES we did an improvised piece and I was injured at the time, so I was improvising while sitting on a prop we had built for the show. She came over to me during the performance, danced with me while I was seated, and the piece ended with us hugging. I knew in that moment that our souls connected on a deeper level and that our dance careers would be intertwined for years to come. We are very excited to both be a part of her new company and watch her grow as a leader and artist. The only thing that we are nervous about this month is hitting ceiling fans as we are dancing in our homes!
Kaylee: Nicole that moment will stay with me forever. I truly cannot begin to come close to expressing my gratitude and love for these two people! They truly are an inspiration to me everyday and I cannot thank them enough for sharing their dance journey with me! I still cannot believe I have been with Evolve since basically the beginning and I had never gotten the chance to be a part of this event! I am very excited! I think I am most excited to honestly start the new year off creating a new work! I can have quite the difficulty in trying to make decisions/ be decisive, but, I feel with the prompt of having a month to do it will help push me to make decisions and be decisive. And I think that is also what I am most nervous about.
Luminarium - we really look up to Luminarium as a company doing things that we hope to be doing in the next 5 years. A lot of the decisions we have made in growing our company have been inspired by Luminarium!
Ellen Oliver - Nicole had the pleasure of participating in The Dance Complex’s aMaSSit residency and was inspired by her thoughtful and carefully curated body of work. Lisa got to meet her this past October when we were performing at the Starlight stage and we were both mesmerized by her choreography and movement involving tinfoil! She is such an elegant mover, choreographer, and filmmaker! She is also producing a film festival this winter that everyone should check out!
Nicole Harris: What will you be doing for Uplift?
Lisa & Nicole: We will be performing a piece called “Purlieus.” It’s funny because we choreographed the piece before Nozama even announced the theme of their show this year and it is actually about how we support one another as a group of women!
N: We have been thrilled to hear about your recent focus on mental health. Can you tell us about LUCIDITY and why the topic is so important to you?
L&N: LUCIDITY is our upcoming production, premiering this fall! As artists, we’ve recently been focused a lot on who we are and what we want to say with our dancing and choreography. We believe mental health (not just illness!) is something that is not discussed enough in our day to day lives. We believe that taking care of your mental health should be just as important as taking care of your physical health… you workout to keep your body healthy, so why shouldn’t we discuss what’s going on with our mental states on a daily basis? There is so much stigma surrounding mental health and talking about emotions, and we want to end that! We all have emotions— happiness, sadness, anxiety, grief, excitement… the list could go on forever, but we want to bring those emotions to the surface and explore them without stigma. LUCIDITY is a compilation of the emotional experiences of us and our dancers and topics range from eating disorders to anxiety to injury induced depression, as well as community mentality, support systems, and authenticity. We are also partnering with a non-profit called “This is My Brave” (look them up if you don’t yet know them) and we will have a few of their speakers as a part of our show too! We are so excited to be part of UPLIFT because we think it is a great compliment to our show! Nozama works hard to empower women and in doing that they are also ending the stigma surrounding women’s emotions. And we think that is great!
N: Who are your mentors past and present?
Nicole: A past mentor of mine was my college dance professor, Missy Pfohl Smith. She shaped my choreographic mind before I even really understood what choreography was. Missy was the one who helped me bring my academic background of physics into my artistic and creative work and I am forever thankful for her continued presence in my life.
A current mentor of mine would be a current grad school professor, Mary Hale. I am pursuing a Masters in Architecture and Mary is a practicing architect with her own creative firm that works specifically with dancers in the performance realm! Mary has taught me so much so far and I am excited to keep learning from her in the next two years of my degree program.
Lisa: My biggest mentors are my former dance teachers, Karen White and Terry Paretti. They taught me every style of dance and instilled a pure love for the art form that dance can be. They also supported and encouraged me to pursue my dream of having a career in dance once I graduated from high school! A current mentor of mine is a former coworker and good friend of mine, Melenie Diarbekarian. Although we aren’t far apart in age, I am constantly blown away by her hard work and dedication. She is a part of some of my favorite local dance companies and is a bright light in everything she does. Not to mention someone I can count on to be my barre buddy in ballet class! Through our time in knowing each other, she has shown me how to make things work and keep the flame of passion burning inside no matter how crazy life gets.
Nicole Harris: Can you tell me about the work you’ll be performing as part of the OnStage Summer Performance Series?
Lisa Costello & Nicole Zizzi: The work we are showcasing will be performed to the composer Roberto Cacciapaglia’s album titled Quarto Tempo. We are experimenting with how to bring visual diversity to a set of music that is more or less similar and coherent. We are also hoping to engage in a storytelling through movement by means of contemporary dance that is not literal in its purpose. We love to experiment with ambiguity in our movement vocabulary and choreography so that the audience can interpret our choreography in their own ways. We want each of the audience members to be able to connect to our work in their own ways so we don’t like to be too obvious in our intentions and meanings. However, we obviously pull our inspiration from very specific places, so it is always interesting to see how the audience interpretations align with our own inspirations. So we are very excited for the informal nature of the show and the ability to interact with the audience afterwords! The OnStage Summer Performance Series is a good place for us to experiment with our newest ideas and get feedback from a diverse audience.
L&N: Since January, we have both choreographed each of our own separate pieces and we think they have both been successful in their own ways! Our individual movement styles are very similar but it has been interesting to see how our choreography can be different. We both have similar choreographic processes in the way we use notebooks and notations, but the way they come out on the dancers bodies really show our individual personalities and that has been really cool to see! We compliment each other in our differences, which is why we ultimately decided to work together when we first founded Evolve. So it has always been something we knew, but it has been so fun to see how that has manifested itself physically! We’ve decided to highlight our differences by inviting additional guest choreographers to set pieces on us for this show. We are really testing the waters on our different movement and choreography styles have be brought together in a cohesive way. It’s almost like our differences are exactly what has inspired the whole concept of this show.
N: Nicole, you had just recovered from hip reconstruction surgery in time to perform for NACHMO Boston. As dancers we are always hesitant to talk about injuries and setbacks, however, we all face them. What were the challenges you faced in getting yourself back on stage, especially after the prescribed “recovery time” was over? What did you learn from the time you were out of commission? What recommendations do you have for other dancers facing physical setbacks?
Nicole: The prescribed recovery time technically wasn’t even over until mid-June, so I would say the biggest challenge was the time it took to recover. I had about a year and a half period of pain before the doctor’s could actually diagnose me with Hip Dysplasia. I won’t go into that story but if anyone is interested I have been keeping a recovery blog! https://www.nicolezizzi.com/never-give-up I think the biggest thing I learned from the whole 2 year process from pre-diagnosis to surgery and recovery was that you should never doubt yourself. If you feel like you’re in pain, listen to your body and, even more so, advocate for yourself! If the doctor’s aren’t listening, find doctors who will listen. I ended up with the most amazing support team from the doctors and nurses at Boston Children’s (who treat the Boston Ballet dancers!) to my physical therapy team at Girl Fit in Newton and finally my “mental skills coach” Kelsey Griffith out of the Micheli Center for Injury prevention at Boston Children’s. Each and every one of my care team members were fully invested in my recovery. I also had the most amazing friend by my side the entire time and that, of course, was Lisa. :) She came to visit me while I was in the hospital and danced for me when I couldn’t express my emotions through dance. I was fortunate enough to never have to leave the dance world because she helped me stay involved in every possible way I could. I unfortunately did have to give up a dance teaching job due to the injury, but Lisa and the rest of Evolve really made sure I was still involved in the dance community. I choreographed and improvised and even taught chair choreography while I was still on crutches. My biggest recommendation to any dancers facing any kind of physical set back is to surround yourself with people who support and care about you, who are able to listen to you when it feels like the world is caving in, and most importantly who are able to remind you that there ARE ways to keep dancing even if not the way you had before.
N: What are three amazing things that have happened since NACHMO Boston?
L&N: Since participating in NACHMO Boston, we have had some amazing advances through Evolve. After applying for the past three years, we were accepted to the Boston Contemporary Festival for the first time! A very big accomplishment for us as directors and as dancers. We have also hit double digits with our number of dancers. We now have 10 dancers and we feel very proud to know that two short years ago we were only a company of 2. Lastly, we are so happy to announce our first out of state collaboration with fellow company, The D’Amby Project, in New York. Keep your eyes peeled for the final product!
N: Monkeyhouse believes in the importance of both giving back and paying forward. Who are some of your mentors? How are you paying forward what was given to you?
Nicole: My biggest mentor was my dance professor in college Missy Pfohl-Smith. My university unfortunately did not have a dance major, so of course it made sense for me to study physics….(makes a lot of sense, right?) …. Anyways, Missy really encouraged me to bring in my interest of physics into my dance studies. She always encouraged me to be genuine and authentic in my artistic endeavors and that has been one of the most important life lessons I have ever learned. I ultimately decided to stray from the field of physics, but recently started my Masters in Architecture and I plan to one day own my own design firm in conjunction with Evolve. :) I am always striving to stay true to myself no matter how out of the ordinary that may be!
Lisa: My biggest mentor is my former dance teachers, Karen White and Terry Paretti. They taught me every style of dance and instilled a pure love for the artform that dance can be. They also supported and encouraged me to pursue my dream of having a career in dance once I graduated from high school. I learned so much from them, I take the joy and love for dance that they taught me and pass it on to my youngest students at age 2 all the way up through my adult company members each day. I cannot thank them enough for shaping me through my early years into the dancer I am today.
Want to be part of National Choreography Month? Take the #MonkeyhouseNACHMOChallege. Every day we will be posting a new prompt on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Follow along on social media to get the prompts and see some incredible dances! Share your own videos (no previous choreographic experience required!) using the #MonkeyhouseNACHMOChallenge hashtag in order to be featured!
N: Can you talk a bit about how Evolve Dynamicz came about? How would you describe your work?
L&N: In the summer of 2015, Lisa Costello and Nicole Zizzi met by chance through a project put together by a local Boston choreographer. In October of 2015, Evolve Dynamicz was established, with the hope of creating a repertoire to share the mutual passions for life and movement. In September of 2016, Evolve brought on their first set of new members and has continued to grow into what they are now. Evolve Dynamicz has become an oasis for this unique group of strong willed people— as they each face their own individual life challenges, they support each other and find common ground through the arts of dance, choreography, and movement.
As artists, we seek to confront the challenges of a millennial life with a sense of openness and vulnerability. Our work embraces these challenges with curiosity, intimacy, playfulness, and a deep- seated passion for movement. Our interests in improvisational composition, site specific choreography, and collaboration with our dancers are brought forth in our choreographic processes. With this, we aspire to continually experiment with new vocabularies, ideas, collaborators, and mediums of expression— we are committed to sharing our passion of dance with audiences in all spaces, of all types.
N: How do you and Nicole divide responsibilities within the company? Do you generally choreograph together?
L&N: Together we make the decisions and final choreographic choices. We meet weekly to make sure we are on track administratively as well as in the studio. Our choreographic process varies with each piece we do! For our last show SPACES, we did each piece collaboratively, but recently we decided to explore choreographing separately and seeing how our work compliments each other. We’re still a fairly young company, so we are doing a lot of experimentation. :)
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?
L&N: With a short time span, we need to streamline things a bit, so we will do less of our improv work that would normally help us build a piece and we will focus more on our choreographic notation. The notation helps us sort out choreographic ideas on paper outside of the studio. It is a way for us to step back from getting overwhelmed with movement possibilities and look at things with a more abstract eye.
N: Who are some of your favorite choreographers?
L&N: William Forsythe, Andrew Winghart and Justin Peck