Dance at the Odyssey which runs through July 16, 2022, is Produced and Curated by Barbara Mueller-Wittmann who has worked as production manager and producer for various theater festivals, the Citytheater Freiburg (Germany), the Living Theatre, New York and the Left Bank Theatre Group, Tel Aviv. The Associate Artistic Director for the series is Beth Hogan who also functions as a producer on many Odyssey shows and is a founding member of the Odyssey’s in-house process-oriented resident acting ensemble, KOAN. One of the dance artists that Mueller-Wittmann recruited for the 2022 Dance at the Odyssey series is choreographer Hannah Millar whose company Imprints will present the premiere of her first full-evening work Let Us Bleed, Then Heal July 8 – 10, 2022 (Friday & Saturday at 8PM, Sunday at 2PM). Tickets are on sale now.
Millar is a California native, growing up in Coarsegold located between Fresno and Yosemite. After graduating from high school, she attended Brigham Young University (BYU) in Utah and received a degree in Athletic Training. She then moved to Fresno before residing in Los Angeles for almost two years. It was during this time in LA that Millar formed Imprints. During the pandemic, she returned to Coarsegold and bought a tiny home to live on her family’s ranch. Now Millar enjoys moving back and forth between the city’s fast pace and the more serene atmosphere of her home in Coarsegold.
I interviewed Millar on Zoom to find out more about her, Imprints, and their upcoming performance at The Odyssey Theatre.
Millar began her training in Coarsegold at the age of 8. She traveled to Fresno to study dance during high school but decided not to major in dance at BYU. “I wanted to do something that would give me a good background that I could use with dance,” she said. Millar began teaching and choreographing for herself at the young age of 14. “My town was so small that I didn’t even know choreography was a job. I thought that it was something your teachers always did for you,” she continued.
It turned out that she was good at it and people began asking Millar to choreograph for them during her time in college. Her choreography has won many top awards with competition circuits around the country, she won the Gold Medal at the International Cheer Union (ICU) World’s Competition recognized by the Olympics (Co-Choreographed with Karl Mundt), received the top prize at the Kidz Carnival Choreographer Ball, was a finalist in New Century Dance Project’s Festival, and she participated in the Young Tanzsommer Austria Tour.
Because she gravitated towards choreography when she did, Millar has not felt the urge to perform with someone else’s company. “I’ve always taken class. I still take class,” she said, “but I’ve never wanted to be the dancer. I’ve always wanted to be the choreographer and teacher.”
Millar creates works for pre-professional studios as well as for college dance teams, and I was curious as to what led her to forming Imprints. She explained how the work that she was doing with dance studios, dance teams and in the commercial industry involved traveling almost every weekend which led her to begin feeling burned out. “I was doing a lot of choreography, but I knew that I needed to take a different direction,” she said. “I really wanted an opportunity to do concert work.”
Over the years, Millar has become deeply involved with meditation and In 2019, attended a silent retreat where she received very clear guidance on what she wanted to do with a group of people. It was not yet clear to her that she would form a company but what she did realize was that she needed to work consistently with a group of people. “I wanted to teach them things that were important to me so that the choreography felt different,” Millar stated. She realized that it is difficult for dancers to perform her work without training with her.
That same year she submitted a duet to an annual International Women’s Day concert produced by the LA based MashUp Contemporary Dance Company. The work was accepted and performed in February or March of 2020, right at the beginning of the Covid pandemic shut down. It was this duet, Let Us Bleed, Not Heal, that set in motion Mueller-Wittmann reaching out to Millar via email.
“She (Mueller-Wittmann) said that she would love it if I turned that duet into a full-evening show. I know that there’s more behind that story. And there is… a lot!” Millar said.
The name of her company, Imprints, originated from Millar’s connection with mediation and from her need to find a deeper connection with oneself and through that process, finding a love for dance. It is something that she also teaches during her classes. “Number one, I want the dancers to imprint on the people who are watching, I want them to have an experience, and I want them to have this sense that they can do and feel that too – this sense of healing and this love within them,” she said. “I wanted the dancers that I’m working with to feel this as well. I wanted the company to imprint the dancers.” While physically teaching, Millar said that she uses the word imprint a lot: imprinting onto other people through partner work and into the ground with the spine. It made sense, therefore, that Imprint was the right title for her company. Having made this decision, Millar reached out to colleagues Rebecca Lemme, Peter Chu, and others who have dance companies for advice on how to accomplish what she was seeking to do.
While attending BYU, Millar realized that she was gay. As with most people, it was an extremely difficult reality to accept and then even harder to come out to her family; a family who was very religious and deeply involved with their church. Because she knew her sexual orientation would not be accepted, Millar ceased to attend.
Let Us Bleed, Then Heal was inspired by the hard personal work that Millar has done following the death of her mother in 2014. Her relationship with her mother was good, but she felt that there were conditions she had to meet in order for it to remain so. Approximately six months after Millar told her mother that she was gay and that she had stopped going to church, her mother was diagnosed with lung cancer. The last two years was very difficult for everyone, and Millar’s mother had specific ideas that she felt her daughter should do with her life, and the path that Millar was on was not meeting those goals.
“I wasn’t happy,” Millar agreed. “I was going through a lot and in my 20s, I had gone through some very difficult things. When she died, it was the lowest point I could hit. It was the catalyst for me to start healing and to start change. “Our connection was always deep but challenging, but what the last 7 and a half years gave me was the time to heal the hurt and pain I felt growing up. Our connection is still deep but now our relationship is as though our humanness doesn’t get in the way, it’s pure love and openness like I always wanted it to be,” Millar said.
Let Us Bleed, Then Heal is very story driven and very literal. Millar feels that there is room for interpretation but believes that it will be clear to audiences what the work is about. The story begins with her relationship with her mother before she died and moves from there, to her death, through the healing process, and up until how close to her mother she feels now. The healing is also for her mother to be free. “I know that she didn’t feel that here,” Millar said. “The show starts with her, ends with her and in the middle, I have some of the things that I went through during this time of figuring everything out.”
In her press release, Millar wrote that she has a “certification in Yoga, Barre and Pilates [which] enables her to synthesize a love and passion for anatomy, physiology, and kinesiology into an original, holistic approach to education and choreography.” I asked her to briefly explain how she uses this during the creative process.
“There are lots of hard parts that I have to play in it,” She began. “The hardest part for me is making sure that I am present and that I am in a space for it.” This is not easy when working with very young dancers who have perhaps not gone through a lot of difficult times, or they are not in a place where they are really ready to heal. “I knew working with this age group that I was getting them at this point where they were still figuring out who they were,” she continued. “I had created this workshop called Soul Self where I did a lot of holistic stuff and so created a free workshop for dancers.”
Millar’s goal was that they not only went through the training, but that once they completed the workshop, they wanted to learn more. The dancers in her company, Millar said, are all fantastic, but what is most important to her is that they are open enough to do this work. When she first began creating Let Us Bleed, The Heal, the group had intensive meetings utilizing her technique. As the concert grew closer, they have been doing less of it.
“I am very open with them,” Millar stated. “And clear communication is very important to me. When you’ve put people in the place to learn the present outside of the choreography, they already know what that’s like; we’ve already created it together – the most important part is the story. It isn’t just about the hard things that have happened to me in my life, but it is about how to take those hard times and how to heal from it. We all go through hard things, but it is what we do with them.”
The text that is used as voice overs and spoken live by the dancers, come from entries Millar made in her journals. For those with hearing disabilities, there will be an American Sign Language (ASL) interpreter at all the performances. The cast of Let Us Bleed, The Heal include Halie Donabedian, Julia Gonzalez, Bailey Holladay, Nao Aizawa, and Jordyn Maxfield. The ASL interpreter is Jill Nolen and the dancers who learned to sign for this work.
I asked what she wanted audiences to go home with after viewing Let Us Bleed, Then Heal, and after a thoughtful pause Millar answered, “What I hope the audience will go away with is this feeling of empowerment.” Everyone goes through hard times, and Millar is positive that people will be able to connect with this work in some way. “I want people to know that they can change and that they can heal. If you can get past ego and get past fear, there is a lot of beauty beyond that.”
Millar will also be holding an intensive workshop for ages 17 and up called FILLING THE GAP July 22-25, 2022 from noon to 5 PM at Stomping Ground LA. The fee is $250.
“This Movement Intensive will give you tools to weave together the many layers of your body. Learning this helps to fill a gap in ourselves and our awareness – physically, mentally, emotionally, energetically, and spiritually.” Millar wrote.
WHAT: Imprints performs “Let Us Bleed, Then Heal”
WHERE: The Odyssey Theatre
WHEN: July 8 – 10, 2022. (July 8 & 9 at 8PM – July 10 at 2PM) A Q&A will follow Sunday’s performance.
TICKETS: $25 – To purchase tickets online, please click HERE.
To learn more about Hannah Millar, Imprints and FILLING THE GAP, please visit their website.
Written by Jeff Slayton for LA Dance Chronicle.
Featured image: Imprints in rehearsal for Let Us Bleed, The Heal choreography by Hannah Millar – Photo by Terra Friedman.