Fall For Dance serves as an exhibition of interdisciplinary talent; featuring Pan-African, street, contemporary and technology-based movement, this celebration of dance invites the audience to consider the relationship between the diverse range of performances. The choreographers behind this project include faculty members and guest artists Teena Marie Custer and Kevin A. Ormsby. In addition, two students have also been selected to showcase their works, providing a fantastic artistic opportunity for both themselves and their peers: Rebecca Carrillo investigates social-media, capitalism and self-esteem in digital-esque and Anna Valdman explores lyricism and movement in And I Can Breathe Again. Professor Erica “EG” Gionfriddo emphasizes the importance of this inclusion, stating that: “This is a huge peer mentorship in our program as the student choreographers and many of the dancers in their pieces are actively taking choreography courses at the same time, so they’re learning and growing, supporting each other in this process.” We spoke with these two talented student choreographers to find out more about their journey so far.
Tell us a little bit about the piece you’re choreographing. Why is it important to you that it’s presented here and now?
Anna: The piece I am choreographing was inspired by the emotions that are coming up for me as a senior in college. I believe that with dance, a lot of the creative process is unconscious work, in the sense that as I create, naturally the things that I am putting out will be a representation of my feelings and emotions no matter my intentions. Having the opportunity to dive into a conversation about these feelings and seeing parallels in the stages of my dancers’ personal lives and sharing similar feelings has been a very rewarding process that has allowed for a lot of interesting realizations. I feel as though it’s important this piece gets presented here and now because it is a visual representation of all the in-depth conversations, realizations and actualities that are occurring in my life.
Rebecca: I have had a long journey of tying only one aspect to my identity as an artist, which is being a dancer/performer. Although I have received opportunities to begin choreographing during my later years of dance training, I could not feel established enough to label myself as a “choreographer.” Holding the title of being a choreographer alongside a performer felt like a heavy weight of entitlement that I did not feel deserving to have. As I encountered personal growth and reflection during my time at UT Austin, I began to crave the feeling of taking on a creator position. Inspiration would come my way more often, and I felt the ambition to chase after the visions I wanted to create. I wanted to challenge the belief that I used to hold against myself, and I wanted to prove to myself that I am capable of holding a new position of authority and executing it successfully.
The pandemic held so much uncertainty, so fast forwarding to this moment now, seeing my completed work in a physical space just makes me feel grateful to be here. It means so much to me that I was able to receive this opportunity. This is my first onstage production involving the collaboration with other disciplines of theatre. My process, my cast, my media/design/costume team, my mentor Erica “EG” Gionfriddo – all these people make up the biggest reason why this work is so important to me. I had support and guidance within the freedom of creating and being in charge of my vision, and people believed in me.
What has your choreographic process been for Fall For Dance?
Anna: My choreographic process has been a lot of journaling, conversation, music-listening and, of course, dancing. It’s not just one single thing but how each thing that happens informs what happens next. The choreographic process is figuring out where I am as the choreographer mentally, physically and emotionally, as well as where my dancers are, and then taking that into
consideration when determining how to give 100 percent of what we can.
Rebecca: My choreographic process included research within the topic of my piece and experimentation inspired by other practices that I’ve been involved in during this time. Erica “EG” Gionfriddo, faculty member and producing artistic director/choreographer in Fall For Dance, has been my mentor during this process. They had focused their past thesis/research on the same topic of my work, which I’ve titled digital-esque, so it was exciting and helpful to have discussions with EG and hear their insight – which was inspiring. Before learning physical movement, I had time planned with my dancers to discuss the topic, hear their perspectives and watch/read resources to help develop the intention and emotional arch of the piece. This gave my choreographic process much more substance, and hearing the perspectives of my dancers led me to understand how I wanted my work to further develop.
What have you learned from working with your fellow dance students?
Rebecca: One of my favorite things to have witnessed during my process is watching and internally feeling the relationship of dancer to choreographer grow. I have rarely experienced setting work on dancers in the same age range as me, and I was a little curious to see how I was going to be able to switch modes from “peer” to “choreographer.” My dancers taught me that any hard worker will be able to adapt and accomplish. I also learned from them that there is not only one way to hold authority as a choreographer. Although I have the executive power to make a decision, I valued the opinions my dancers had throughout the creation process. I would ask them “How do you think this would read instead of this option?” There was a moment where my dancers replied, “It is really what you want?” I appreciated that, but I honestly wanted their insight to influence the decision I was ultimately going to make in the end. As dancers, we are more often told what to do without the insertion of our feelings/preferences. I learned from them that although they are my cast, I could lean on them for support. The choreographer and dancer aren’t separate from one another; we are all interconnected within this experience of working together. Their insight is just as valuable.
Anna: Community, community and more community. I could not have been the choreographer I was without them and their full attention and commitment to the work. I couldn’t have created what I did without them. I couldn’t have done what needed to be done without their full support. I owe so much to my dancers and have been able to bond and build beautiful connections with each of them. I thank them endlessly for trusting me.
How has the process of working with designers helped you expand on your vision?
Anna: I’d worked with designers in the past and I’ve learned and continue to learn so much about how dancing is a big part but just a part of the entire work. Without them, there isn’t a full piece to present.
Rebecca: Although I was already excited to bring a vision to life on stage, the thought of being able to collaborate with designers for the first time sparked even more motivation for me to hopefully receive the student choreographer position. Meeting with the designers and talking about my topic/development of the piece started off slow because I was still developing my own vision and the designers were beginning to become familiar with it. Once there was more time involved, my designers communicated to me the visions they had created for costumes, lighting and on-screen projections. They expanded my vision by simply inspiring me. Their interpretations and ideas caused a spark in how I wanted the dancers to be presented on stage. They gave me more clarity towards what kind of color palette could best communicate my work. I also received clarity on how I could use design visuals to further explain what my work is about in ways that movement can’t communicate to the audience.
Having been a dancer in previous Dance Repertory Theatre productions, do you feel like you have a new perspective on Fall For Dance now as a choreographer?
Rebecca: Yes, I definitely do have a new perspective of Fall For Dance now that I have taken a choreographer position. Being a choreographer for this show has given me permission to witness spaces and conversations that dancers usually will never be involved in during the process. That is just a given. Reflecting on what goes on behind-the-scenes and having to exert a different kind of practice to ensure I am contributing my part successfully has given me new perspectives. These perspectives are now a part of my permanent experiences to take with me, which I feel so lucky to have.
Anna: Oh absolutely. I am able to be a choreographer and yet also a dancer in another piece. Being put into the shoes of a choreographer and experiencing it, I feel as though I can be a more proactive dancer. I also am understanding finally the “why” in the things choreographers ask of the dancers.
Any advice for future choreographers?
Anna: My [best] advice is to seize the opportunity and start! Starting is a big bump to get over because of the uncertainty but with anything, you won’t know until you try. So many things become apparent when work is being done. I’d say the other hardest thing I found for myself is second-guessing what I wanted to do with what I felt like I “should” do, and what I wanted was always right. So, to put it concisely, start and do it with your full chest.
Rebecca: Go for any opportunity that is presented to you. Even when there is any amount of doubt or hesitation within yourself, do not let that dictate whether you go for something that will ultimately benefit you in the end. If you have the craving…if you want it… it will happen once you decide it will happen. As an artist, you would not want to live with the thoughts of “what if I did this… where would I be?” Putting yourself in uncomfortable experiences is where the best moments of growth will end up occurring. Speaking from personal experience, this was a scary opportunity for me to face head on. I do not regret it one bit. Be your own source of confidence, inspiration and ambition!
Join Texas Theatre and Dance for Fall For Dance and see the creative vision of these talented choreographers unfold on stage.
Written by Stefan Ormsby-Peacock.