Following an intensive three week choreographic laboratory experience, the 18th annual National Choreographers Initiative (NCI) will present its performance on Saturday, July 30, 2022, at the Irvine Barclay Theatre located on the University of California, Irvine campus. Featuring 16 dancers performing works by choreographers Emily Adams, Leiland Charles, Jennifer Hart, and Gina Patterson, audiences may choose to join live for the in-person showing at the Barclay or opt to attend virtually by purchasing the livestream option for viewing. Tickets are now on sale.
Molly Lynch, an award-winning choreographer and NCI founder, was the Artistic Director of one of Southern California’s leading dance companies, Ballet Pacifica, from 1988 to 2003. In addition to creating her own ballets, Lynch restaged some of America’s most beloved classics by George Balanchine, Antony Tudor and Choo San Goh. Among her many accolades, in 2007, Lynch received the Outstanding Arts Organization Award for her National Choreographers Initiative from Arts Orange County; in 2008, she was honored with the Irvine Barclay Theatre’s prestigious Jade Award for her extraordinary leadership and creativity; in October 2017, she was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award for Arts Visionary by Arts Orange County.
Lynch ran a program similar to NCI while directing Ballet Pacifica but it was originally inspired by South Coast Repertory’s NewSCRipts Reading Series which provided playwrights a laboratory environment to create and perform a play and then later continue to work on and improve it. She knew that there were choreography classes for dancers in college and university dance programs, but when it came to summer intensives, modern dance led the field. Lynch used this NewSCRipts Reading process to create what has become a nationally recognized choreographic development laboratory, and one that Lynch no longer has to advertise. Dancers and choreographers who have seen or participated in NCI have spread the word throughout the ballet world. To apply, choreographers must submit a video of their work.
This past weekend I was able to connect with Lynch and the four choreographers for an interview on Zoom to learn more about what their creative ideas were for this project. Due to their varying rehearsal and lunch schedules, we began with choreographers Jennifer Hart and Gina Patterson, followed later by Emily Adams and Leiland Charles, each of whom has an impressive resume.
Hart’s work has been commissioned by Ballet Austin, Ballet Austin ll, Ballet Nouveau Colorado, James Sewell Ballet, Minnesota Dance Theater, and The Walker Art Center’s Momentum Series, to name a few. Her accolades include a New York City Ballet Fellowship and third place at the Saint-Sauveur International Choreography Competition. She was chosen three times to present work at Ballet Builders, New Choreographer’s on Point in NYC. In 2014, she formed Performa/Dance with Ballet Austin dancer Edward Carr. Patterson is a 2021 Bogliasco Fellow, and has won such honors as the Choo San Goh Award, a nomination for an Isadora Duncan Award, the Hubbard Street 2 National Choreographic Competition, New Choreographers on Pointe, and the National Choreographers Initiative. Her work has been performed by companies across the US and has been presented internationally in Italy, Croatia, Germany, Slovenia, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, Cuba, and Spain.
Charles is an up-and-coming choreographer who has performed with Alberta Ballet in Calgary, Canada and joined BalletMet in 2017. He has created works including “Passages” for Alberta Ballet and most recently “Figurines” for BalletMet and “Togetherness” for BalletMet2. Some of his favorite roles/ballets with the company include “In Creases” by Justin Peck and “Cacti” by Alexander Ekman. Adams joined Ballet West II in 2005 and the main company two years later. In 2015 she was promoted to Principal Artist. Adams has created six ballets for Ballet West including The Thing with Feathers which features an original score by Sundance Institute Fellow, Katy Jarzebowski, and in 2017 was awarded the Utah Arts Festival’s Choreographic Commission.
Patterson participated in NCI as a choreographer during the summer of 2006. “It was somewhat off my radar and someone who I really respect said ‘NCI, why don’t you send some stuff’,” Patterson explained. “And I thought, yes that would be amazing to have some time and creative play and not have to worry about an outcome.” This was, obviously, earlier in her career and Patterson added, “It is interesting to be here all these years later, after my work has evolved and where I am and who I am as a person. To be in a different place in my life, it is really wonderful to be here.” With this maturity, Patterson stated that she will be able to give more to the dancers in regard to collaborating with and coaching them.
Hart said that she was living in Minnesota and dating someone in Los Angeles when she was working on a project with LA based Raiford Rogers. During that time she attended one of the NCI performances in Irvine and was truly impressed by what she saw. From there she took a full-time teaching job in Austin, Texas and because of her summer teaching schedule at Ballet Austin, was unable to apply to NCI. “But now that I’ve been there for so many years that I deserve to take a chance and to take some time off.” The timing also worked out better with what was taking place in Texas.
Adams had heard about NCI for years from dancer friends, some of whom had participated in the program. Her schedule did not permit her to apply as a dancer but finally a choreographer who had been through NCI told her that she really should apply. “I had been hearing so many good things,” she said, “that I got to a point in my career where I really want to pursue choreography. I love choreography but dancing is my priority and don’t want to cut my ballet career short.” She did apply and was accepted.
Charles heard about NCI from a colleague in BalletMet, Karen Wing who had participated one summer. “She only had good things to say about Molly and the program,” he said. He applied in 2020 but the pandemic hit and was not accepted. 2022 turned out to be his year. “Within that time, I had newer work that I had created and was doing with my own present choreographic voice.”
Patterson had a fellowship in Italy and was developing ideas and movement for a new full-evening work and thought that NCI would provide the perfect opportunity for her to experiment with how she would communicate certain aspects of the work. “How do I tell this story? How much of it is story and how much of it is abstract?” She said. Even though she has been working on this idea for five years, Patterson came to NCI with an open mind about what she will create and is working with her composer husband on an original score. She will be working with six dancers. “I didn’t want to be too solid with the angle,” She added. “I wanted a few days to see how they (the dancers) moved, and I was even wondering if an idea takes me off the body of work, that I would feel willing enough to do that as well.”
While choreographing a new work for Ballet Austin this past Spring, Hart worked with a young Italian composer, Luca D’Alberto, whose music she admires and is working with him again for this project. His work is very cinematic and Hart feels that it lends itself to dramatic ballets. Hart had been working on the idea for this work during the two years of the pandemic and the music of D’Alberto’s that she chose is very different than what she worked with in Austin. “It is forcing me to think about how I structure the piece very differently than I would structure one,” she said. Hart stated that she would work with twenty dancers if she could but is happy to have 10 (5 men and 5 women) – more than must companies have given her in the past.
“I always like to have an idea rather than not have any plan. It really stresses me out to walk into a room and not have any plan,” Adams said. “I don’t have every step planned out but I do need an outline of sorts just to guide me.” She added that if on a certain day she was not feeling creative, she had her outline to use as inspiration. She talked about working with a composer, Katy Jarzebowski, on a dance she created for Ballet West that she had fun collaborating with. “It’s so much more meaningful for me when I’m working with another person. You’re always working with the dancers but there’s something about the collaborative exchange.” Adams said that after she heard from Molly that she had been accepted into NCI she called Jarzebowski and they began conceptualizing together on a new work. Adams is working with four male and four female dancers.
“In my personal life I am not a super type A,” Charles began. “But when it comes to choreographing – I think that it’s the dancer’s mentality – just being really prepared, etc. and having an idea what you want to accomplish.” He agreed that every choreographer has their own movement quality. “I didn’t come in with any movement but I did come with inspiration.” Charles explained that he usually begins with the music first and the movement that he chose for this project is somewhat dark. Charles is also working with four men and four women, and the music is from an album called “Material” by Spanish composer Adrián Berenguer.
The first track of Berenguer’s album is called “Skin” and it reminded Charles of water and waves. “Somehow in processing his music I remember back during a time in seventh grade when I had an almost drowning scare,” he said. It caused Charles to contemplate on how water can be both calming and also be totally destructive to an entire civilization via flooding or Tsunamis. He also said that each track of the music helps him decide whether it is a group, a duet or a quartet section.
One of the unique aspects to NCI is that choreographers are in complete control of what choreographic ideas and music they bring to NCI. In fact, they do not even have to create a finished, polished work. One of the only requirements is that they must work within the ballet technique, whether that be classical or contemporary. When I asked Lynch how NCI has changed over the years. “The word has gotten out more so I get dancers applying from a lot of different companies than I did in the beginning days. Choreographers applying from different places,” She said. “Also, the dancers leave here having worked with new choreographers and they talk to their directors, and those choreographers go to work with those companies. There’s a communication and mix among choreographers also passing the words on. It’s a ball of energy that just keeps getting bigger.”
This was the first week of the three week NCI but I asked each choreographer what they wanted the audience to take away with them after viewing their work, and whether it was narrative or abstract.
Patterson agreed that it was too soon to tell and that presently she was focusing on the energy of her work which she described as a layer of abstract movement along with poetry rather than narrative. Hart echoed Patterson in that her work is not simply abstract but fused with emotions. “The music, the dance, everything will have a certain emotion to it without being narrative,” she said. She went on to quote George Balanchine “You put two people onstage and you have a plot.”
Patterson and Hart had to leave so I asked Charles and Adams if the two years of being shut in by the pandemic had affected the type of work that they will be creating on these dancers.
“I had a baby eight weeks before everything shut down,” Adams began. “So I was definitely in a dark mental place. I was ready to go out and be around other people. It was scary. I was way too much inside my head. It was a beautiful time because I had this new child, but it was also a very hard time.”
One thing that really affected Adams was as a dancer before the pandemic, she often wondered with everything going on in the world, what was she doing with her life. “There are so many important things to be done and I’m standing staring at myself in a mirror doing tendus,” she said. “What more can I bring to the world?” The pandemic helped her decide that she wanted both herself and her son to be surrounded by music, art and dance. “It brings something so beautiful and necessary to the world that it made me feel so much more purposeful.” Once her performing career slows, Adams wants to pursue choreography as a career.
“It for sure put me in a place of realizing that I need to have more perspective on life in general and to utilize and prioritize what’s important,” Charles said. He is single and living alone during the pandemic was incredibly difficult. When BalletMet returned to work Charles began developing a new work for six dancers. He described how he and the dancers talked about how it was one of the more blissful times working together because there was so much joy about being and dancing together in the same space. Although he considers himself a nice and empathetic person, the post pandemic experience with BalletMet helped him become a better person both as a dancer and a choreographer.
WHAT: 2022 National Choreographers Initiative Performance
WHEN: July 30, 2022 at 8:00 PM (PT)
WHERE: Irvine Barclay Theatre
TICKETS: Adults $45. For more information and to purchase tickets, please click HERE.
For more information about National Choreographers Initiative, please visit their WEBSITE.
For more information about the Irvine Barclay Theatre, please visit their WEBSITE.
Written by Jeff Slayton for LA Dance Chronicle.
Featured image: National Choreographers Initiative 2021 – Photo by Dave Friedman