Dance educator and choreographer Debra Danese of West Chester, Pennsylvania, is in Norway working as a guest choreographer for the 25th anniversary show for TipToe Ballett Studio in Mo i Rana, Norway.
In August Danese left for Norway, where she is setting work on students ranging from beginner to pre-professional levels in conjunction with four Scandinavian choreographers to create an evening-length performance including Act 1 of Cinderella, plus dance pieces to theme songs from popular films such as Footloose and Titanic.
More than 500 students will participate in the performances, set to run November 30 to December 5 at the Nordland Theatre.
Danese, a graduate of The University of the Arts in Philadelphia, performed professionally before focusing on teaching and choreographing. She has taught throughout the U.S. and abroad as a guest lecturer in dance. In addition, she owns and operates a entertainment company, Kdance Productions, and is a frequent contributor to Dance Studio Life.
She was first invited to Norway by Sissel Venes, artistic director of TipToe Ballett Studio, in 2002. This is Danese’s fourth visit to the region as an international guest choreographer and instructor.
Debra Danese of West Chester, Pennsylvania, has been invited to guest choreograph the 25th-anniversary show for TipToe Ballett Studio in Mo i Rana, Norway.
Danese, the director of Kdance Productions,
will join four Scandinavian choreographers to create an evening-length performance of various dance styles and will set work on students ranging from beginner to pre-professional levels.
She will depart in August for Norway, where she will have three months to work and collaborate before the show premieres in late November. The performance will run for five nights at the Nordland Theatre. This is Danese’s fourth visit to the region as an international guest choreographer and instructor.
Kdance Productions creates full-scale theatrical shows and presentations. For more information, visit www.kdanceproductions.com.
Guest choreographers can give your competition dancers a needed jolt
By Jennifer Rienert
As another competition season looms, studio owners everywhere share the same thought—how am I ever going to come up with all the creative new concepts and awe-inspiring choreography our team dancers deserve? The answer might be to get some professional help.
Guest choreographers are a great way to take some of the burden off yourself and provide a learning experience for your dancers as well. When a guest creates a competition piece for your studio, your dancers not only benefit through exposure to a new style of dance or a unique creative vision, but they learn to adapt quickly to a teaching style that might be very different from your own.
Handling all the choreography for a competition season can be exhausting. I know. For years I handled all the choreography, music choices, and concepts for up to 50 solo and group numbers at my studio, New Hampshire School of Ballet. Finally the sheer volume of it all forced me to reach out to my own staff, selecting two teachers who were former competitors and whose recital choreography showed promise. Today we share the load—40 pieces for me, and about 12 each for my two teachers.
Although I was happy with our achievements in competitions and had confidence in my staff, I continued to be intrigued by pieces that had been choreographed by guest artists for competing studios. I began to think how great would it be for my students to work with a talented outsider, so I decided to give it a try.
I started by contacting choreographers and teachers I had met as a judge on the competition circuit, asking whether they would be interested in a guest choreographer gig. Then I brought them to my studio to teach a few master classes. I particularly looked to see if my dancers connected quickly and easily to the artist and if they seemed to understand each other. If the guest artist’s teaching style didn’t work for my students, I would know it wouldn’t be a fun experience; and if the students weren’t able to handle the choreographic style, then I’d know the piece wouldn’t do well in competition. These classes also allowed the guests to get a good idea of my students’ strengths and weaknesses.
Then it was time to talk price. I realized that bringing in a guest artist would be an additional expense for my dancers but felt the experience they would gain would be worth the cost. (With my staff choreographing, students were paying minimal prices.) Obviously choreographers vary in price, but I found it ran about $100 per student, plus the cost of travel or hotel, to bring in a guest for a group piece. Solos are more expensive, costing anywhere from $400 to $700. (Sometimes you can catch choreographers when they’re in your area and eliminate the travel costs.) Most choreographers base their price on the number of students in the piece. (The more students, the less each child has to pay.)
After explaining the expense—and the opportunity—to my team parents, they agreed. So I started small, with just one lyrical piece for my advanced company, and paid for the hotel out of my own pocket. Since it was going to save me a lot of time and effort, I felt it was a fair trade.
Guest choreographers are a great way to take some of the burden off yourself and provide a learning experience for your dancers as well.
We were very pleased with the results. My students enjoyed the learning process and rehearsal, and the piece scored well. We now use guest choreographers for about three group dances a year, plus the occasional solo. I’ve had the same guest choreographer each year but have added others along the way.
I book a weekend for them, giving them three to four hours each day on Saturday and Sunday with the students. I choose the style—jazz or lyrical, for example—but they pick the music. Some choreographers want to share their ideas on costuming; others leave it up to me.
I’ve learned the hard way that it’s smart to specify in advance how much rehearsal time the choreographer will get and what will happen if the piece isn’t finished on time. Last year one of our groups ran out of rehearsal time and I wasn’t satisfied with the ending of the piece. Also, last year I started videotaping the last two run-throughs so that if questions arose later about a step or a certain count, we would have something to guide us.
Diane Kelley, owner of Diane Kelley Dance Studio in West Boylston, Massachusetts, has used guest choreographers for years as a way of keeping up-to-date on new dance styles. “Trends change a lot over the years and you have to offer your students cutting-edge choreography,” Kelley says.
Guest choreographers also give students the benefit of working with many styles of dance and introduces them to different methods of teaching and ways of interpreting music, says Kelley. “They must learn to pick up quickly and adapt to different choreographers’ specific requirements. They need to develop a work ethic that makes them desirable to teachers and choreographers. Those qualities will serve them well when they apply to college dance programs or begin auditioning.”
One of my advanced students, Dana Mazurowski, agrees on the value of such flexibility in dancers after having worked with guest choreographers for three years.
“The choreographer our team worked with had a very different way of teaching than we were used to, which I personally really enjoyed,” Mazurowski says. “When we’re in the studio we work with the same teachers and we get used to their style of teaching and choreography. Working with a guest teacher pushes a student out of that comfort zone, which can be very beneficial when working with other choreographers.”
Rather than searching for a “star power” choreographer, Kelley generally brings in talented former students and professional friends whose influence, she feels, is consistent with what she offers her students on a daily basis. The only downside is trying to maintain the choreographer’s vision of the routines after the guest has left.
That is also a concern for Amber Perkins, owner of Amber Perkins School of the Arts in Norwich and Vestal, New York. “When it comes time to clean the dances, I have found that choreographers are the only ones who really know what their vision is,” Perkins says. “If someone else cleans it when the choreographer is gone, I think sometimes things get lost.”
With a faculty of five teachers, some of whom were professional dancers, Ainsley Thompson, the co-owner of Dance Unlimited, Inc. in Mount Washington, Kentucky, doesn’t see the need to hire outside her staff. “Our studio would not be opposed to using an outside choreographer, but that is an expense we would have to pass on to our students,” she says.
There are other reasons why studio owners might be leery about hiring guest artists—they might believe it is unnecessary because of the diversity of their staff or worry their staff will look bad by comparison. Yet if the guest works well with your students and brings something new and exciting to your studio, it can be an educational and inspirational experience for all.
Movement, spoken word, and video projections will be combined in Anahid Sofian’s Passage through Light and Shadows: The Children of Ararat, from October 21 to 31 at the Theatre of St. Clements, 423 West 46th Street in New York.
Sofian, as “The Rememberer,” will join a company of 20 dancers and actors in this dance drama that pays tribute to Armenia’s ancient and rich culture through its dance, music, poetry, art, architecture, religion, and folklore.
Gagik Karapetian of the Armenian State Ensemble is a guest choreographer, and Joyce Tamesian-Shenloogian, artistic director of the Antranig Dance Ensemble, has been a consultant on this project.
Sofian, whose parents were survivors of the Armenian genocide in the early part of the last century, is a specialist in Middle Eastern dance.
8 ways to find inspiration for making dances
By Diane Gudat
Whenever I see professional dance performances, I wonder what it would be like to have the luxury of 10 or more hand-selected, well-trained dancers for 8 hours a day, 5 days each week, as well as a professional lighting designer and costumer. Most of us dance teachers have to work with young dancers—enthusiastic, yes, but limited in talent. We have a stack of costume books and a rigid budget. We use whatever theater we can manage to rent, sometimes with high school students or volunteers as crew. We often design and build our own sets. We have a 2- to 3-minute time limit per dance, and the music must be age appropriate. We pump out choreography day after day, and compromise becomes our middle name.
The amount of choreography most dance teachers face is a huge challenge. I counted the number of dances I made last year: 85, which is low compared to many of my peers. So to get you ready to create your next dozen or so dances, here are my favorite ways to get and stay inspired when creating choreography for your students.
Use a theme
A theme helps you focus your creative spirit. Many studio owners select a recital theme and base all of their choreography on that idea. This also helps with music and costume selections. Of course, with a little creativity you can make any dance match any theme. Some people select one theme for their ballet classes and a slightly looser one for the other disciplines; others choose a different theme for each section of the show. Keeping concepts simple allows you to remain flexible.
Two of my favorite themes are “Food Fabulous Food,” in which all of the dances have to do with food and the program is a full menu, and “Don’t Bug Me, I’m Dancing,” with dances that center on the world of insects and bugs. Audience favorites I know of include circus, colors, hats, and travel themes.
Go to the theater
See professional companies and performances of all kinds. Go to Broadway shows, plays, the symphony, and even operas. The talent and artistic flair of others is extremely inspiring. Being in a live audience, with its sounds, colors, and electricity, will recharge your own artistic batteries. I once acquired two great pieces of music and many good partnering ideas from an ice skating show. What a great reason to take a night off from the studio and spend time with my family! I also found unlimited inspiration in the dancers aboard a cruise ship. I highly recommend that one and plan to research that source again very soon!
Go to recitals
See what other people do at their recitals. Do not compare or judge; simply enjoy. One way to open the door to others’ recitals is to send a personal invitation and a few free tickets to your show to dance teachers in your area. Let them know they are welcome and respected. I often tell my students that dancers at other studios are like cousins in our larger dance family. Attending others’ recitals or performances, congratulating them on their accomplishments, and speaking kindly of them inside your own studio builds bridges that benefit everyone.
Surround yourself with art and color
I like to visit art museums, art shows, and fairs. I make notes about colors and shapes and let these things inspire my choreography. Allow the colors to flow over into the costuming. A favorite painting or sculpture can be a jumping-off point for an entire piece. This year I selected a painting from the Museum of Modern Art that featured bright colors and geometric shapes on a round canvas. It led me to create circular movement that I had not previously used, and its color patterns influenced the dance’s costuming. As I choreographed, I pictured the painting on the floor. I assigned each student a color, then had them move in ways that described their color’s patterns on the floor. The angles in the painting gave me new ideas for arm shapes and isolation patterns. The blending of colors led to ideas for partnering and the shading helped me include a variety of levels in my work.
Being in a live audience, with its sounds, colors, and electricity, will recharge your own artistic batteries.
Tell a story
It does not matter whether the dancers or audiences ever know what the story is; you simply draw on the characters and events in the story to generate ideas for movement. I once told the story of purchasing my Yorkshire terrier—my dancers never knew they were tracing the head, legs, and tail of my dog when they ran intricate floor patterns. Swinging arms, floor rolls, and spirited jumps all described my pet and made the process of choreographing—and the secret story behind it—fun for me. In another recent piece of mine, the dancers represented people in my life, which created an interesting motivation for dancer interaction and helped me feel closer to people I had been missing.
Read a good book! I have drawn and developed many story lines from works I’ve read, both fact and fiction, but there are also many wonderful books that can offer you guidance on choreography. Sample some that describe the lives, ideas, and works of different choreographers and the art of effectively designing movement.
Tap into your students
Draw inspiration from your students and their creative spirit by allowing them to experiment with improvisation and watching what they create. Students love to feel involved and are proud of their input.
During a choreographic workshop with my modern students, I watched a beautiful 1-minute story performed by an 8-year-old. She told about planting a seed in the fall, her disappointment when it did not grow right away, and her surprise when it sprouted in the spring. An older student imitated her Etch A Sketch, while another surprised us with a wonderful creation based on losing the electronic game Simon. Many others created captivating pieces that told complete stories they were unwilling to explain but that inspired new, heartfelt movement. Try layering their pieces together and watching the students interact. And always give appropriate credit when listing choreographers.
Select music you enjoy
Working with music you do not like can be a real chore. Go to a large music store, grab an expensive cup of coffee, and visit the listening stations to sample new music or artists. Online music stores like iTunes, Amazon, and Wal-Mart Music allow you to sample large collections of music in the comfort of your pajamas before purchasing.
Don’t forget networking—over the years I have established a circle of dance-teacher friends who regularly trade music and recital soundtracks. When we find music that “sounds like a friend,” we send it along. Never underestimate the resources found in other dance teachers.
Being able to cut, layer, and enhance music can make it more desirable to work with. Learn to use a music-editing program or find someone to do it for you.
Use guest choreographers
Sometimes guest artists who create dances for your school unearth talents or weaknesses in your students that you had overlooked. Observe their choreographic process and ask questions if possible. This will allow you to take a much-deserved break and learn something at the same time.
Also, do not forget to incorporate small sections of choreography you acquire at conventions or workshops into your dances. I do not recommend using an entire routine, but a drop of flavor from another choreographer might inspire something new in you.
Sometimes we ask too much of ourselves. We feel like we are doing “chore-eography” instead of choreography! It is very hard to feel creative and overwhelmed at the same time. Not every dance we choreograph will be a work of art, and that’s OK.
Some choreographers start by selecting music; some begin with movement; others rely on improvisation or simply connect their favorite combinations from class. Regardless of your method, know that creative blocks come and go for all artists. But a sincere love of teaching and your students will see you through dance after dance.