School’s out for the summer, but you’d never know it at UNC School of the Arts.
Right now, professional choreographers are wrapping up five weeks of hard, sweaty work, creating new dances with students from all over the world who are here for UNCSA’s School of Dance summer intensive.
The dance-makers are in the school’s Choreographic Development Residency, started by Dance Dean Susan Jaffe and Chancellor Lindsay Bierman in 2017. It provides space, time, resources and mentoring for emerging choreographers to create original dances in contemporary ballet and contemporary dance.
The four pieces they are finishing up — and more — will be presented in a public concert on July 19 at the Stevens Center in downtown Winston-Salem.
The choreographers-in-residence are Marika Brussel and Ja’ Malik, working in contemporary ballet, and Alexander Brady and Andrew Harper, working in contemporary dance.
“We received more than 130 applications for the four residency spots, which proves there is a need in the dance world for this type of choreography program,” Jaffe said. “We are excited to host groundbreaking choreographers ... and provide an opportunity for them to hone their craft.
“In addition to mentoring by Visiting Distinguished Artist Helen Pickett, these choreographers have five weeks of workshops and rehearsals, studio space and up to two dozen UNCSA Summer Dance dancers specially selected for their pieces.”
The choreographers were counting their blessings and working on their challenges last week.
Harper graduated from the college ballet program at UNCSA in 2013. He first came to the school as a Summer Dance Intensive student in 2009.
He said he had not dared to hope he would return one day as a choreographer where he had once been a student.
“A choreography career is tricky,” he said. “There’s no one clear path.”
With his cast of 25 dancers, Harper is working on a piece called “Model Number” to a rhythmic electronica soundscape by Cornelius. He left some spaces in the work for the dancers to do “structured improvisation, coming in and out of the poses,” he said.
“It’s important for me as a dancer to work with choreographers who give me agency within their world,” he said, and he wants to give his dancers some of that same freedom.
Harper said he usually works with groups of three to five dancers, so it’s interesting to find all the ways that 25 dancers can contribute to a piece.
“It’s both a gift and a challenge. I’m trying to take advantage of everything that comes with this residency,” he said. “When else will I have five weeks to make a piece?”
A freelance dancer and choreographer, Harper is based in New York City where studio space is expensive and time is tight. Most recently, he has choreographed for Austin Opera, the Glimmerglass Festival, Columbia Ballet Collaborative and Exit 12 Dance Company and has self-produced theatrical and film works.
His choreography has appeared at Lincoln Center, the USS Intrepid Air, Sea, and Space Museum, Green Space and Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre School and in music videos for Daniel Emond and Violet Sands.
Malik, a dancer and choreographer based in Harlem, New York, has performed with the Cleveland Ballet, Oakland Ballet, North Carolina Dance Theatre, Nathan Trice Rituals, City Dance Ensemble, Ballet Hispanico and Ballet X.
He has created works for North Carolina Dance Theater 2, Oakland Ballet and CityDance Ensemble of Washington D.C. He has also self-produced his own work in Harlem Stages E-Moves 10th anniversary season, the 2009 Reverb Choreographic Project, the Ballet Builders 20th anniversary, E-Moves 11, the 92nd Street Y Noon Dance Series and the Young Choreographers Showcase.
Malik’s work with the summer intensive students, “Love, Because,” was inspired by a Cirque de Soleil show that he saw in Las Vegas and The Beatles music that accompanied it. He had not listened to The Beatles before.
“My challenge to myself was to use pop music,” he said. “And because this music is so vibrant and iconic, the next challenge was to not let the music overwhelm the dance.”
The piece uses “Because (the World Is Round)” from “Abbey Road,” “Get Back, Jojo” from “Let It Be,” “Blackbird” from the white album; and “A Hard Day’s Night” from the album of the same name, and more. Needless to say, it’s a toe-tapper.
Brussel left the dance world for a while to write fiction, and now storytelling informs her dance-making. Her work has explored myths, plays and personal stories such as “Unraveling,” a ballet about dementia. Brussel’s ballet “From Shadows: A ballet about homelessness,” premiered in October 2017 to sold out audiences in San Francisco.
“Still Time for the Impossible,” the piece she is working on at UNCSA, was inspired by the work of Greta Thunberg, a Swedish activist who, at age 15, began protesting outside the Swedish parliament about climate change.
“It shows how one person can create a movement,” Brussel said. The music is by Ezio Bosso and Ludovico Einaudi.
Brussel has held residencies at the Dresher Ensemble, Moving Arts SF and SAFEhouse Arts. She has twice been part of ODC’s Pilot Project and was a choreographer in Doug Varone’s “Devices 5.” Her other awards include a Fleishhacker Opportunity Grant and a grant from The Classical Girl.
Brady trained at the Boston School of Ballet and the School of American Ballet before dancing professionally with the Joffrey Ballet, Miami City Ballet, Metropolitan Opera Ballet and Twyla Tharp Dance. On Broadway, he was an original cast member of “Movin’ Out,” “The Time’s They Are a-Changin” and “Come Fly Away,” all directed and choreographed by Tharp.
After three years serving as company manager for Twyla Tharp Dance, Brady now focuses on more creative pursuits. Since 2018 he has choreographed “19 in 7” and “Verge” for the St. Paul’s School Ballet Company, “Shiver” for the Concord Academy Dance Project, “Tossed” for UNCSA, “Cyanlea” for the Lebanon School of Ballet, and “Coppelia” for the Harumi Hamanaka Ballet School in Tokyo.
Brady’s piece at UNCSA, “Ha I Ti,” uses two contrasting waltzes and yodeling for musical accompaniment. He moved among the dancers, coaxing them into sculpted shapes.
Then the music, including Shostakovich: Jazz Suite, Waltz No. 2, began, and it all started to look like dance.
Ashley Lindsey, the director of the summer intensive in Dance, is in charge of corralling more than 100 dancers and a couple of additional choreographers into the Summer Dance Concert. He graduated from UNCSA in 2007.
“This is the third year of the Choreographic Development Residency, and each year the program continues to expand,” he said. “This year we have added courses on the use of projections and drones in choreography in addition to workshops in music creation, costume design and lighting.”
There are also summer intensives in the schools of Drama, Design and Production, and Music.