Posted // 2013-09-27 -
Last night, Ririe-Woodbury kicked off its impressive 50th season with a bang, presenting a look at all the company's prior years while looking ahead with the current talent in the company. The Start Of Something Big
highlights works from the first years of the company, with performances originally choreographed by Shirley Ririe and Joan Woodbury, as well as works gifted to the company from Murray Louis and Alwin Nikolais, all under the guided eye of the company's brand-new artistic director, Daniel Charon.
Today, I chat with Charon about his career in dance, coming to Utah and working for Ririe-Woodbury in the company's golden anniversary, and what people can see this weekend and season.
Gavin: Hey, Daniel. First thing, tell us a little bit about yourself.
Daniel: I have been a dance artist for about 20 years. I use that term because I found it best represents an umbrella around the different facets of a dance career. I was a professional dancer from 1995 - 2011, and during this time also explored my own teaching and choreography. All three facets make up my relationship to dance. I'm drawn to dance because it is physical and real. It makes us sweat, it tires us out, but it also thrills. It offers an opportunity to explore different parts of our own humanity that are difficult to express through words. It relies on trusting an emotional intuition. The act of choreography and dance technique climb an endless ladder of learning, for tiny but very meaningful discoveries. I enjoy the intense determination it takes to dance through a performance and the sense of accomplishment for making it through. I try to have fun but work hard. I've lived in Moorhead, Minn., Chicago, North Carolina, Indianapolis, New York, Los Angeles, and now Salt Lake City. I have worked as a web developer, programmer, video editor, sound editor and in many other parts of the digital realm.
Gavin: What first got you interested in dance, and what were some early influences on you?
Daniel: Poh and Iu-Hui, two close friends growing up, danced at the local studio. We used to put Flashdance music on and dance around the living room; we were fierce. They encouraged me, about to enter seventh grade, to audition for the musical Oliver. I got in and the choreographer encouraged me to take classes at the local studio. I was quickly immersed in a new dancing life and was there everyday throughout high school. My mentors there, Kathy and Eddie Gasper, instilled work ethic, technique, professionalism and artistry that is still with me today; I would never be here without them. I was also really involved in music, which I attribute to my parents. They started me with violin lessons when I was 5 and I was always in choir and orchestra. This educated me greatly and began my love for classical music. This has been incredibly useful for musicality in both my dancing and choreography.
Gavin: What was it like for you learning the craft as you were growing up and performing?
Daniel: It's hard and very satisfying work. You have to commit fully to the process. I had so much support from family and friends along the way, and I had the good fortune of finding some amazing mentors and teachers. I had some natural ability but needed a lot of attention. I'm glad the people around me pushed me to achieve more than I imagined possible.
Gavin: You received your BFA from the North Carolina School of the Arts. What made you choose its program and what was your time like there?
Daniel: I was looking for a conservatory setting because I felt as though if I wanted to do this I wanted to do it as full out as I could. I needed the practice, and taking eight technique classes a day was a really good start. I was inspired by the classical techniques that I was exposed to, like Graham, Limón, and Cunningham. I danced all the time, wore a unitard everyday and was motivated and inspired. In some ways, it was a blur of an experience, and in retrospect, I see the 20-year-old version of myself like an innocent puppy, just doing and reacting. There wasn't time for too much introspection. It is such a unique community formed by classmates as part of a conservatory program like school of the arts. We experience a culture of our own and bond alongside our blood, sweat, and tears ... literally. We achieve goals together, which is such a memorable bonding experience.
Gavin: What was it like for you breaking into the business with the Limón Dance Company and traveling around with their productions?
Daniel: As a young dance artist, fresh out of school, any job is a good job. I had the great fortune to join a world-class dance company virtually right away. Not only did I have an affinity toward Limón's philosophies and style, but I had the opportunity to dance some of the most important repertory in American modern dance. I also joined during the 50th anniversary season, so we had a lot of celebration and touring. I went all over the United States and Europe those few years, from places like Aspen to Sarajevo.
Gavin: How did you get involved with Doug Varone and Dancers, and what was it like for you running with them for over a decade?
Daniel: While I was dancing with the Limón company, Doug created a piece on the company. This was my first contact with him. I think we were both drawn to each other, and after a bit I left the Limón Company to join Doug. I was excited at the prospect of working with a living choreographer -- José Limón passed away in 1972 but his work still flourishes today -- and to be a part of a meaningful creative process. His aesthetic made sense to me. He asked us to be who we are as artists, dancers, and people and bring that uniqueness to the work. I was interested in the pedestrian quality he brought to his technically demanding work. This all made sense to me and I felt honored to be a part of everything he did for 10 years. He is a major influence on me as an artist and I would never be here without his influence and support. I think it is a rare experience to dance with one choreographer for so long --you get to know them and their work intimately well; you ride waves of ebbing and flowing in multiple aspects of the relationships; you learn to trust and believe in each other in a deeply profound way. We've been through a lot and continue a meaningful relationship today. In some ways, Doug knows me better than anyone. I chose to leave because of my own interests and other pursuits. It can also be hard to dance for 14 years straight and to live the dance-company culture for so long.
Gavin: What eventually brought you to Utah, and what made you decide to stay?
Daniel: I came to Utah because I got this amazing job with the Ririe-Woodbury Dance Company; I relocated here for this opportunity. I was in New York City a long time and the daily grind was getting more and more intense. I was open to opportunities in other cities and was more and more interested in a lifestyle change. This came at the perfect time in my life, and so far, I have been so impressed with the company, as well as the artistic scene around Salt Lake City. I am committed to this opportunity as artistic director and will stay as long as as it seems right. Right now, I remain optimistic and happy to be here.
Gavin: How did you come across Ririe-Woodbury, and how did you get involved with the company?
Daniel: Ririe-Woodbury Dance Company is an internationally renowned dance company; I can't remember not knowing of the company. I staged one of Doug Varone's works on Ririe-Woodbury about five years ago, so I spent a couple of weeks here working on that project; that was my first direct contact. They did an international search to fill this position, so I came across multiple flyers and e-mail blasts announcing this position. I applied and went through an extensive interview process before being offered the job. I think that so much of what I had done in my career has prepared me for an opportunity like this, and I am very aligned with the company's philosophies and what they stand for. They have embraced my arrival and I am grateful to have been chosen.
Gavin: How has it been for you filling the artistic director role and working with both the dancers as well as the company heads in several capacities?
Daniel: The biggest challenge has been learning to change hats from teacher to choreographer to administrator. It's important to leave mental space for the creative work and to be able to shift gears quickly. I have to communicate with people about things two weeks from now, as well as two years from now, and I must keep all of this information straight. Everyone in the organization has been very sensitive to the huge learning curve as I came in and have helped so much. I quickly became aware that this is a team effort and the delegation of responsibilities is necessary to function for any of us. This is very different from working as an independent artist, where you pretty much have to do everything yourself. I've been impressed as everyone in the organization has really embraced the change. The dancers have been terrific. I'm so glad that they are inspiring artists, fully behind me. It is a bit of an unknown when you inherit a group of dancers but this, fortunately, has been seamless. Dancers are so closely tied to achieving a choreographic vision so you want them to understand your aesthetic.
Gavin: What was it like for you as the lead choreographer to put together The Start Of Something Big?
Daniel: I had a lot of help with this one. I'm not really the lead choreographer. I do have work represented on the program, but it makes up probably one/fifth of the evening. Because this performance pays homage to the two founding artistic directors and we're performing a lot of their work, they have been in the studio working with the dancers to remount their dances. I have been observing a lot to make sure that the whole evening artistically makes sense. This has been good for me so I can have a little extra time to acclimate to other aspects of the job.
Gavin: How did you go about choosing the performances and working with the dancers during rehearsals this season?
Daniel: I, fortunately, inherited this season and so didn't make programming decisions for this year. Decisions for a dance company and the work they do happen about a year or more in advance, so I am actually currently working on putting together the 2014-15 season. I think it is a good thing that this season was already put in place by people who know the organization and also to properly pay tribute to our 50th anniversary. It makes for a good transitional year so I can see how things have worked in the past.
Gavin: For you personally, what's your favorite performance in the show, and why?
Daniel: I am invested and believe in the whole show, as I am here to represent and stand behind the company and all that we do. With that being said, I am much more emotionally invested in my own choreographic work. Art making is extremely personal and can make you feel very vulnerable. Every time I make something and premiere it, it becomes an obsession of sorts, as I am constantly thinking about it and trying to figure it out. In so many ways, it is really like a birth, with so much personal expectation within it. It is also the first artistic journey that dancers and I have been on together and so represents a lot as we begin to forge our relationships. Even though this is work, making dance is extremely personal, so the experience of the choreographer-dancer relationship rides an emotional journey only understood by those in the process.
Gavin: Is there any pressure on you having it be the season opener, or do you just view it as any other show?
Daniel: There is always pressure, but this can be such a terrific motivating factor. Each new work and performance has its own set of questions and potential problems. Also, as a choreographer, there is such an important moment of giving in to the people who actually run the piece and give it life. This includes the dancers and all the technical support, from lighting to sound. The pressure tends to come from expectation, both my own as well as the audience, but the more I can stay focused on the work, the better I can handle things; make the work the important thing, not submitting to the influence of pressure. I also feel some extra pressure being new, and I feel a lot of expectations around me; not sure if they are self-imposed or true, but they exist in some form. Again, the more I can focus on the task at hand, the better I function and the work is better anyway.
Gavin: What are your thoughts going into opening night?
Daniel: How cool is this! I get to start this ride at such an amazing time; it should be great fun and have a celebratory vibe. I think it is wonderful to work alongside Joan and Shirley, and I take great pleasure seeing them thrive and have such a good time putting their work together. It actually is the start of something big for me in my career as I am thrust into this first of, hopefully, many more performances with the company. I am nervous and excited at the same time.
Gavin: What can we expect from you over the rest of the year?
Daniel: I am overseeing much of what goes on this year with all of the new commissions the company is involved in, so I am working closely with many choreographers to help maintain their vision. I am also creating a new piece for the April concert, Accelerate. I am into transparency of process and hope to open the studio doors to the community as a way of creating deeper understanding of dance. I also would like to start a blog to inspire conversation and get everyone talking about dance.
Gavin: Aside from the obvious, is there anything you'd like to promote or plug?
Daniel: Dance in general. If you come to dance, come back and see more -- continue your own adventure. If you haven't been for a while, check it out again. If you've never been, give it a chance. Go to see what you see and feel what you feel; there is no wrong or right and there is nothing to solve. View it as an experience. We at Ririe-Woodbury strive to make dance an accessible yet evocative art form. Check it out!
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