. Today we chat with all three choreographers about their time at the U and what you can expect going into the show next week. (All pictures provided courtesy of SSAW.
Brooklyn Draper, Nichele Van Portfleet, & Samijo Kougioulis Meier
How did each of you become involved with dance as you grew up?
I started dance classes when I was about 5 years old. At that time, the tumbling portion of the class piqued my interest more than tendus. I left ballet for gymnastics, rhythmic gymnastics and, for a short time, synchronized swimming, before returning to focus on dance at the age of 13.
I started dancing when I was 3 years old. My interest in modern dance began during my undergraduate degree. After graduating I moved to London, and my interest in choreography really began to blossom.
At 8 years old, I was invited to a "Bring A Friend To Dance Day." Soon after, I had to choose between dance, softball and soccer due to the time commitment that I recognized I wanted to devote to dance. From there on out, I've always found dance as an integral part of my life.
What eventually brought each of you to the University Of Utah?
I have always loved being in school and got a lot out of my undergraduate experience when I returned to finish my degree in my later 20s. After that, I worked for a few years professionally in San Francisco, dancing, teaching, choreographing and doing arts administration. It was amazing but so stressful working as a freelancer, and despite doing so many projects, I felt like I wasn't able to concentrate on my art with the focus that I wanted to. I am certainly at the U to earn my MFA degree, but even more so for the incubation, resources and community that the program has to offer.
I have been living in Salt Lake City for about four years now, and have fallen in love with the community and support for the arts. The Salt Lake City dance community is one of support and has lots of exciting work happening, so I didn't see myself leaving to get my MFA anywhere else. The University of Utah has such a strong program and many resources, that I wanted to be able to grow as an artist in a city I have grown to love.
I was teaching junior high school here in Utah when I realized that I needed more information to further my understanding of the field, and to gain clearer pedagogical practices for myself. I noticed my desire to continue dancing myself as well, which seemed to be cut too short for my liking. I knew that I wanted to pursue my MFA in modern dance at the University of Utah; I just didn't know when. It was clear to me that it was time for me to begin my journey last year, and I've been extremely happy that it has all come together.
What has your time at the U been like so far, and how are you enjoying the dance program?
I love my studies at the U. We are immersed in critical thinking about dance, representation, the role of dance and the choreographer in society and what it simply means to be a dancer, a maker, a teacher. The school feels connected to the larger U.S. dance community, so although I left a community that I was very close to in S.F., I still feel connected here and engaged in thinking that goes beyond the U. The rigor of the program is also fun for me—I enjoy the challenges of it.
I have loved my time there this past year. The resources and value that is put into us as students and artists are something that I really appreciate. The students, faculty and opportunities are some of the best in the country, and I feel extremely lucky to be a part of it. I encourage anyone who is looking to further their education in dance to look into the University of Utah's the modern dance program.
How did the opportunity come up to create a piece for Suite Space?
I knew that I wanted to show work this year. I came in knowing very little about what opportunities were in the community. One of the first things that I did when I got to SLC was to approach colleagues to get their take on the community and where I might be able to present work. The first-year grads put our heads together to try to start planning. Luckily Brooklyn, who had worked with Sugar Space before, knew of their residency program, and was able to act as a liaison.
I am always looking for an opportunity to show work, and really wanted to present with others in my graduate school cohort. Nichele approached us seeing if we wanted to show work, and that is when we approached Sugar Space.
What was the process like for each of you in coming up with your performance?
Inspired and motivated by the disconnection and dissension across community divides in our society, I was excited to explore competition and isolation in my new work. I felt that a cast of at least six dancers was essential to allow for the exploration that I was interested in, but somehow I ended up with only three. These dancers were so strong and committed that I didn't want to waste time hunting for a larger cast, so I scrapped the original plan and started with the people in the room. These dancers were new to me, and I wasn't sure what to work on with them, so I had them improvise and generate a lot of material so that I could just watch them and get to know them as movers. Eventually, imagery and through-lines started to emerge, and we began to sculpt a piece. Working in this way allowed for a piece to develop that is very different than what I had imagined I might make. It's exactly what I wanted to do in grad school—play with new ways and methods of creating.
I knew that I wanted to make a piece based on the ego and how we react when we are given attention that is either yearned for or unwanted. The two dancers that I am working with, Brian Gerke and Ching-I Chang, are incredibly talented and have a beautiful sense of being in the moment. Therefore, the process of putting the piece together has been through highly structured improvisational scores where we later began to structure the piece based on what they chose to do during the initial improvised scores.
I have learned a lot about everything that goes into producing your own show. I had no idea the amount of planning, prepping and communication that goes into the process. I'm excited for this new information and for what the future holds!
How has it been for you to develop your piece while seeing what the other two have going on?
We have been engaged in each other's processes in our classes, but we didn't observe one another's rehearsals until just a few weeks ago. It was very interesting to see where there was cross-over in our works—ideas manifesting sometimes in quite similar ways.
I think we timed out our showings nicely. We didn't see what each other were creating until later on in the process. As a newer choreographer, it was nice to have the time to really dive into my own process before I was given feedback and before I saw what Nichele and Brooklyn were working on. It was wonderful to see their works! It is truly going to be a remarkable night of dance.
What do you think of the musical performances happening in this show?
I love when events can support as many people's work as possible. In this way, it's almost more for
the artists than it is for the audience—sharing resources (venues, financial assistance, audiences, etc.) is so important for the development of the arts community. We are very happy to have the Will Baxter Band playing for the Saturday matinee, and Casey Van Portfleet (my husband and music collaborator) playing on Saturday evening and possibly Friday, as well.
How has it been working with The Sugar Space leading up to the show?
The Sugar Space has given us a wonderful opportunity to be able to show our new works and we are really grateful to Brittany Reese for giving us the chance to show our new works.
What are your thoughts headed into next week's performance?
I feel excited. I feel nervous that this will really be the first thing that I present to the Salt Lake City community as if it will define me in a way. But as always, I have to just push ahead. I love shows. I love the buzz and excitement of the fleeting event, the nerves. Most of all I love seeing the performers take command of the dance that we have been creating and making it their own. Although it's different with each cast exactly how this happens, there's always a sense of relief, mixed with senses of loss, exposure and awe.
What can we expect from all of you over the rest of 2017?
I am looking forward to working with Repertory Dance Theatre this July to create a new work for their 2017-2018 season. I received this opportunity by participating in their Regalia
fundraiser this last February, something that I was just honored to be a part of, let alone winning. Aside from this, I will be starting some new projects at the U, and the three of us will be showing work with our cohort members in the Graduate Salon at the end of the year.
I will be teaching workshops and choreographing throughout the summer on various ages of students. I'm excited to go back to my freelance work for the summer months and then jump back into school mode in the fall. Samijo and I will be putting on a Rooftop Concert with live music from the Will Baxter Band in August that we are both really excited about as well.
It may be the end of the performing arts season for several companies, but there are spaces where works are being produced year-round by talent you didn't even know existed in Utah. Next week on April 28 at the Sugar Space Arts Warehouse, three student choreographers from the University of Utah present a two-night performance of original works (along with music from the Will Baxter Band, Casey Van Portfleet and some surprise musical guests) in a show called