NCDF in Greensboro: Ask the Choreographers

November 24, 2014 § Leave a comment

This year at our Greensboro concert, we gave audience members the chance to write down questions they had for the choreographers. We got some amazing questions from audience members of all ages and our choreographers rose to the challenge and gave some great and thought provoking answers! Ever wonder what goes into choreographing a song, how choreographers choose music, or even their workout routine? Now’s your chance!

I understand that choreography goes beyond dance…but what part does dance play in choreography?

Headshot-3Diego Carrasco Schoch (DCS): As a choreographer it’s important to understand that I have a specific way of moving/dancing and therefore my choreography is going to reflect those habits, tendencies, biases, preferences, etc. In order to expand my vocabulary and get away from those tendencies, I will often incorporate movement generated by the cast through improvisational structures, asking the dancers to talk about the movement material I have created, and allowing them to make adjustments and changes based on the intent of the phrase and the piece overall.

I think also that the question is asking about the definition of choreography in that choreography is not just movement/dance but an arrangement of images in time and space. The placement of the individual musicians in an orchestra and the entrance of the conductor could be considered choreography or the way drivers negotiate a four-way intersection could be choreography.  Dance/movement affects how these images are perceived and interpreted.

Lastly, A Place Apart was created on bodies other than my own, using some improvisational structures and exercises. Because of this the piece was very unfamiliar to my own body when I had to learn it in order to perform. I had to discover how to inhabit the movements in a way that felt natural to me, so the choreography changed simply because the steps look different on my body due to the differences inherent in it.

How difficult is it to create a performance that the general audience can understand?

DCS: First, it is very difficult because modern contemporary dance generally utilizes abstractions and imagery, often in juxtaposition, without the aid of text, explanation, or direct associations. We can think about those images as symbols or signs. As an example, some signs are very easy to read and pretty universal such as smiley faces made with a circle, two dots and a curved line inside it (emoticons work this way). However the more abstract a sign, the more each audience member is able to interpret or translate those signs/images in their own way based on their cultural background, education, and experiences. This is why a joke told in English may not work in Spanish or Arabic. The cultural touchstones and associations are not the same.

A Place Apart. Photo credit: Rosalie O'Connor

A Place Apart. Photo credit: Rosalie O’Connor

Sometimes it is not a choreographer’s intent or first priority to “be understood”, but instead wanting or allowing the audience to interpret the dance in their own way. Many people feel intimidated when confronting modern dance but they shouldn’t be. The place to begin is to examine one’s visceral reactions to the work.

Lastly, George Balanchine basically said it is impossible to define complicated familial relationships such as step mothers or cousins purely through dance. For universal understanding, it is best to stick with simple, universal themes.

What is the audience response most desired by you?

Kristen Jeppsen Groves 2Kristen Jeppsen Groves: I want people to recognize what dance can communicate. I really hope the audience members leave my pieces saying, “I got that, I understood that.”… I hope most of all there will be a sense of community that the audience can experience with us. That everyone leaves and they start to get a sense of what true community should be like and how we should work with one another.

I hope that everybody in the audience thinks about who they are and to recognize that sometimes we can let go of the everyday performances that we put on for people. And that we are enough as we are.

As We Are. Photo credit: Chris Walt

As We Are. Photo credit: Chris Walt

How did you find the beautiful music accompanying your choreography? (asked by a student of the Dance Project: School at City Arts)

Gaspard head shot by Robin GallantGaspard Louis: For most of my works the choreography and the music are usually created together. I have been fortunate so far to be able to collaborate with local musicians. Sometimes they would come in the studio to play as we were improvising, other times, I would listen to a piece of music and ask them to compose something similar.

DCS: I am always listening to music and I expose myself to a lot of different music. When I hear something I particularly enjoy I make a note of it and kind of put it in a catalogue that exists in the back of my brain. When I start a new project I’ll go through a lot of music to see what might work. Sometimes when I’ve begun rehearsals I haven’t yet picked the music. Other times I can’t find anything and will see if I can I get an original score composed.

Rubix. Photo credit: Warren Scott

Rubix. Photo credit: Warren Scott

What inspired you to create “Mess”?

Leah Wilks (LW): I don’t know…I’m curious about what you do when you can’t make sense of things? I like Leah Headbang-2to make sense of everything. I think a lot of artists like to make sense of things. It’s kind of why we do art, right? We take these really abstract emotions and we make meaning out of them. And for me, what this piece emerged as is what happens when you’re in those situations where you can’t make meaning? What happens when you can’t do that and how do you still move?

How long do you prefer to work on a new creation and when do you know its ready to show?

DCS: My basic equation is as follows: if a piece is 10 minutes long, I need at least 20 hours of studio rehearsal time. Basically I double the number of minutes a piece is and then call that number hours. This does not include all of the extra time spent researching and thinking about the piece, the time going over the day’s videos or notes, the production meetings, or the production rehearsals. Sometimes the gestation or preparation time for a piece can be months or years before one actually gathers a cast and steps into the studio.

I am always thinking I could have used another two weeks on a piece before it is “finished” and premiers in a theatre to audiences. I have also found that when given the chance to re-stage a piece, I re-work or tinker with it, which could imply that it was not “finished” when I first did it. 

In general, a piece is finished when it fulfills my expectations and I have addressed or completed all of the elements I was interested in or working on. In the end, I look to make the work coherent from beginning to end, that the vocabulary is consistent and meshes well, and I have edited out anything I feel is peripheral or unnecessary to the understanding of the piece.

How do your ideas evolve?

LW: I start with questions. I’m never interested in answering things for people, I don’t really want to tell a story, I don’t want to do things linearly. I like creating worlds and environments that start from a question that allows people to have their own experience inside of that. So I guess that’s sort of my choreographic device.

Mess photo by  Tim Walter-0226

Mess. Photo credit: Tim Walter

DCS: In very strange ways sometimes! I have begun a project thinking it was about one thing and as I got further into the process I realized it was about something else. Most of my work begins with a kinetic idea. As the phrases and images evolve, I try to notice and reflect on how the dancers inhabit the movement and relate to each. These cues and elements begin to shape into something that has meaning for me. Once I can see a theme or direction I begin to shape the work toward that idea.

What is your exercise routine? Yoga?

DCS: I lift weights, swim laps, and, yes, practice yoga. These days, I very rarely take a dance technique class.

How did you do those dance moves? (asked by an audience member under the age of 10)

DCS: A lot of practice!

Thanks so much to our attentive audience in Greensboro for asking such thought provoking questions, and another thank you to our choreographers for taking the time to answer these questions in such depth.

Still hoping to catch these choreographers in action? Check our schedule to see how you see us on our last stop in January!

Dance Local.

The Festival Series: American Dance Festival (1948-Present)

November 17, 2014 § Leave a comment

Last week we talked about the Bennington School of Dance. Today we’re talking about the American Dance Festival, a festival that has a history of collaboration with the NC Dance Festival and is a major force in Modern Dance here in North Carolina and nationwide.

Started in 1948 at Connecticut College and moved to Duke University in 1978, American Dance Festival has its roots at the Bennington School of Dance. After Bennington ceased to exist in 1942, one of the “Big Four”, Hanya Holm, in addition to Martha Hill, helped to start what at that time was referred to as New York University-Connecticut College School Of Dance/American Dance Festival. It had similar goals to Bennington: training dancers and providing space for modern dance to flourish.

Hanya Holm and man. Taken from ADF's archives on Facebook

Hanya Holm and Louis Horst some time between 1934-1937. Photo credit Barbara Morgan

The New York University-Connecticut College School of Dance/American Dance Festival was originally two separate parts. The first 5 weeks were dedicated to training and teaching. Both new and established artists came with their companies and taught students their techniques and repertory. The last week was dedicated solely to showcasing the artists’ work. In 1969, the name was changed to the American Dance Festival; this change marked a full integration of education and performance.

Member of Límón's company working with students

Member of Límón’s company working with students. Photo from ADF’s archives.

Many artists and their companies spent their summers in residency at ADF including Paul Taylor, Pilobolus, Martha Graham, José Limón (who spent 10+ years in residency!) and cited it as an influential time in their careers as choreographers.

ADF has grown immensely since its founding. Today over 400 students can be found each summer studying and performing at Duke University. The curriculum has grown to include all major dance techniques, dance medicine, body therapies, repertory, and choreography. There are teaching and performing workshops offered each year as well. Over 640 premieres, 340 commissions, and 50 reconstructions of classic works have occurred throughout the history of the Festival.

Since 1987 ADF has also had a humanities division which has released publications about philosophy, aesthetics, and cultures of modern dance. This division’s goals include integrating dance into the national cultural history of America. One of the largest projects completed was in 1987 when a publication called “Black Tradition in American Modern Dance” made it possible for over 20 works to be reconstructed and many others to be Labanotated.


Teresa Sneed, ADF student from 1985. Photo by Kevin Keister

In 2012, ADF opened the Samuel H. Scripps studio which was the first time the Festival offered full time, year round training at one facility. American Dance Festival continues to thrive today and is becoming a fully integrated part of the culture in Durham, North Carolina.

ADD from 2012

ADF from 2012

UP NEXT: Jacob’s Pillow. Tune in next week to learn more!

The Festival Series: Bennington School of Dance (1934-1942)

November 10, 2014 § Leave a comment

In the upcoming weeks we’ll be exploring dance festivals all throughout the United States. These are places that have historically, and for some, continue to cultivate the field of modern dance. If it wasn’t for the influence of some of these festivals, the North Carolina Dance Festival wouldn’t be what it was today. Therefore, we wanted to take the time out and recognize these important cornerstones for modern dance artists everywhere!

Bennington School of Dance (1934-1942) began in 1934 at Bennington College, a small liberal arts college for women in Vermont. Bennington’s influence on the fledgling art of modern dance in America was huge—by having it under the umbrella of an academic institution, it provided legitimacy to modern dance and became a training ground, laboratory, and production center for dance artists. The school was founded by Martha Hill, a dance professor, and Mary Josephine Shelly, a physical education teacher at Columbia University’s Teacher’s College. Martha Hill taught her students (mainly dance teachers at the beginning) how to teach dance technique and composition by encouraging them to dance and compose. She believed in “direct contact with the professional artist” (Kriegsman).



The program ran for 6 weeks and focused on honing technique and teaching composition. Classes included ballet, tap, folk dance, choreography, stage design, music for dance, dance history, criticism, and notation. While the students were encouraged to be creative, they were discouraged from vague forms of self expression disguised as art. Rigor, discipline, and form were all important prerequisites for dance composition at Bennington.

from University of Denver Libraries

from University of Denver Libraries

The Big Four, or the core faculty members of Bennington, were Martha Graham, Doris Humphrey, Charles Weidman, and Hanya Holm. They came to Bennington each summer with their companies, used the members as teaching aids, and created new works on them. Hill also brought in outside performers—Bennington sponsored the world debut of Lincoln Kirstein’s Ballet Caravan in 1936 as well as premiering ballets by Eugene Loring, Lew Christensen, and William Dollar.

Bennington trained over 1,000 students over the eight summers it was open. These students became future leaders in modern dance technique and choreographer. Merce Cunningham, Anna Halprin, Erick Hawkins, José Limón, and Alwin Nikolais were just a few of the greats that got their beginnings at Bennington.

Jose Limon on Bennington College Commons lawn with Doris Humphrey group. From Bennington College Libraries

Jose Limon on Bennington College Commons lawn with Doris Humphrey group. From Bennington College Libraries

Bennington was important in the history of Modern dance. It helped to win legitimacy to the art form as an American Art and made it seem appropriate for study in higher education. Critics began writing about the dance form more seriously, and artists were nurtured and provided with a place to work and experiment. Bennington made it possible for future training grounds for dance artists in America, and made colleges more likely to partner with dancers and choreographers. Even after the project officially ended in 1942, its legacy still lived on. The school became the American Dance Festival and it moved to Connecticut College in 1948 due to the diligence of Martha Hill and the work of other founding members.



 UP NEXT: American Dance Festival. Keep following us here on the blog to learn more!

Perform with NCDF during our 25th Anniversary Season!

November 3, 2014 § Leave a comment

The NC Dance Festival is now accepting applications for the 2015-16 NC Dance Festival tour and the 2015 American Dance Festival/NCDF “Here and Now” performance.

North Carolina dance artists may apply to perform as part of ADF or the NCDF tour or both. Submissions will be reviewed by a panel of nationally recognized choreographers and NCDF adjudicators. Artists selected to present at ADF will be offered a spot on the NCDF statewide tour, with additional NCDF touring artists chosen by NCDF adjudicators.

The NC Dance Festival goes to four communities within the state and participating artists are expected to perform the same dance at all sites. Touring artists are also asked to take part in Festival outreach programs, which involves teaching classes or performing in mini-concerts in a variety of settings in association with concert weekends. Additional pay is involved for these programs.

The ADF/NCDF “Here and Now” performance will be held in Durham, NC on June 25, 2015 in the Reynolds Industries Theater during the American Dance Festival season.


Submissions are due January 3, 2015.  

Dances must be a maximum of 15 minutes long, and must be complete (no works-in-progress).

Choreographers selected for the ADF and/or NCDF performances are expected to obtain all necessary copyright permissions for music and text.

Choreographers enrolled in degree granting programs are not eligible to apply.

Artists are not eligible to tour with the NCDF two years in a row, but may submit work to be considered for the ADF/NCDF production. Artists who have presented work in the ADF/NCDF productions during 2013 or 2014 may not apply for ADF consideration this year.

Send a DVD along with a curriculum vitae and a $20 application fee to:

NC Dance Festival
306 Aberdeen Terrace
Greensboro NC 27403

Applications must be received by January 3, 2015.

Please let us know if you have presented this work in North Carolina within the last year, or plan to present it in North Carolina within the next year.

Works are selected in a blind review process.  Please be sure that the recorded material does not have your name on it.

Questions? Contact us at

Meet the Local Artist: Amy Love Beasley

October 27, 2014 § Leave a comment


photo credit: Steve Clarke

A visual artist as well as a dancer, Amy Love Beasley will be joining the NCDF on its stop in Greensboro this year.  She currently serves on the faculty of Wake Forest University as a Teaching Fellow in Dance. Amy enjoys exploring intersections of dance with experiments in drawing, video, and animation. Her work has been presented at Elon University, UNC-Greensboro, FSC-Jacksonville, Art-o-Matic in Washington, DC, and WAXworks in Brooklyn, NY. She recently presented work at the Center for Performance Research, in Brooklyn and in Seattle, as a guest of It Must Have Been Violet. She has had the good fortune of performing for many artists who inspire her, including John Gamble, Gerri Houlihan, Niki Juralawicz, BJ Sullivan, Sean Sullivan, and Jan Van Dyke.

Amy particularly enjoys exploring the relationship between technology, the body, and dance as a catalyst for change. “…as technology leads us into new and exciting spaces, I also recognize the importance of coming back to the space that is our bodies, and I believe that dance provides us with a specific portal into transformative territory. I recognize dance as an influential medium for change, and I enter into sharing it with a great respect for the body’s intelligence, the power of movement, and the necessity of art. I feel deeply fortunate to be a participant in this field that I believe to be of growing consequence.”

On November 1 at 7:30pm in Aycock Auditorium you’ll be able to see her piece Buoyancy IV. Choreographed by her with movement contributions by the dancers, Buoyancy IV is bound to be visually stimulating and provocative. In her artist statement, Beasley shares some thoughts about Buoyancy IV:

Buoyancy IV is a dance work which shares my research into the act of mark making and movement: laying down visual evidence, transformation, transition, place, and gesture. I have created choreography based on these interests in this quartet–it reflects my interest in line and gesture in the act of dancing and our process included improvising and excavating the act of drawing to dancing. Further exploration of the piece will explore the transition from dancing to drawing.

Want to see the show? NCDF will be in Greensboro on November 1st!

Dance Local.

Meet the Artist: Leah Wilks

October 13, 2014 § Leave a comment

Leah Headbang-2

Meet Leah Wilks, a dancer based in Durham, NC who will be touring with us this season. This year she’ll be presenting a solo piece, Mess. Here’s what Leah had to say about the work: “How does the body react when the world makes no sense? Does it shut down? Does it ignore, or fight back? Does it try to control, to compartmentalize, to make meaning out of nothing? Can it ever learn to let go?” Listen to Leah talk about her creative process below:

Leah Wilks is a Durham-based dancer, teacher and choreographer. Recently, as a performer, she has worked with Renay Aumiller Dances, Gaspard&Dancers, Shaleigh Dance Works, Nicola Bullock, Anna Barker, and The Department of Improvised Dance. Leah is currently on faculty at Carolina Friends School, 9th St. Dance, Studio A DanceArts, and the American Dance Festival where she teaches everything from ballet to contact improvisation to release technique. Throughout it all, Leah has always been creating dances inspired by the questions to which she has no answer. She is the proud co-director of the multi-media dance company VECTOR, with the brilliant Jon Haas. VECTOR creates work that questions the rules and societal norms that shape our daily lives using highly physical, detail-oriented movement in combination with video, audio documentary, motion tracking, and projections to create participatory installations, evening lengthe performances, and dance films. Their recent projects include Mess (2014), Still Point (2013), and Secrets I Never Told My Mother (2012). To find out more information on their current project Habitus please visit:

Want to see the show? Check our schedule to see when the NCDF will be in your neighborhood!

Dance Local.

Meet the Artist: Diego Carrasco Schoch

October 6, 2014 § Leave a comment


Meet Diego Carrasco Schoch. He is a Durham based dancer and director of the company Diego Carrasco Dance. This year at the North Carolina Dance Festival he’ll be presenting A Place Apart. This piece began with the desire to use Beethoven’s incredibly romantic and beautiful Adagio sostenuto from the Moonlight Sonata and an interest in the representation of intimacy and an intimate space between men. What emerged was a piece about two men craving a space that is separate from the world we inhabit, a space that offers some protection and insulation from a world that is often tragic, ridiculous, trivial, and at times overwhelming. Keep reading to learn more about this week’s featured artist!

Diego Carrasco Schoch is a choreographer, performer, and educator located in Durham, NC with 25+ years of experience in the field. Performing as a soloist for North Carolina Dance Theatre (now Charlotte Ballet) and as a Principal with Milwaukee Ballet, his repertoire included leading roles in works by Alvin Ailey, Alonzo King, David Parsons, José Limón, George Balanchine, Antony Tudor, and Marius Petipa, to name just a few. As an instructor, he has been on faculty at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts, University of Louisiana at Lafayette, and the Milwaukee Ballet School. He also serves as an Assistant Repetiteur for the Salvatore Aiello Trust. He has choreographed for Milwaukee Ballet, North Carolina Dance Theatre, University of North Carolina School of the Arts, and the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee.

Drawing from his Chicano heritage, he often explores themes of duality, gender, identity, and spirituality and embeds his work with Latino imagery, rhythms, and ideas. He recently self-produced his own concert at the Carrack Modern Art, where his new company Diego Carrasco Dance debuted.


Dance Project Interviewed Diego earlier this year and this is what he had to say.

Dance Project: Your piece is called A Place Apart. How did you come up with the title?
Diego Carrasco Schoch:
The title reflects the idea that the two figures crave a space that is separate from the world we inhabit, a space that offers some protection and insulation from a world that is often tragic, ridiculous, and trivial. Secondly, because the dancers begin in the audience, the stage is literally “a place apart” from us, the audience.

DP: What came first– the text and music or the choreography?
DCS: I began the project wanting to use the Adagio sostenuto from the Moonlight Sonata, but at the beginning of rehearsals, I didn’t play it. I concentrated on the kinetic/thematic material first. Only when I had several phrases and was ready to connect them, did I begin playing the music in rehearsal and, with the dancers’ help, figuring out the phrasing and order of the phrases. I knew the duet would be longer than the music, but didn’t worry about it until about midway through the process when I could see how the dance was developing and understand what it wanted to say. Once I felt I understood the dance, I began working with a sound designer and at that point I realized I wanted to use text to help delineate the world we are in from the world the dancers eventually inhabit onstage.

DP:Where did the text come from? How did you pick it?
DCS: The text is taken directly from current ads and news items. Each time the piece is done, we re-record the text to reflect the current time.

DP: What made you cast two male dancers?
DCS: At the time of the premier, I was interested in how intimacy between men is represented and wanted to explore those possibilities without necessarily making something that was ‘romantic.’ I understand how audiences can perceive romance between the men when they see the piece, and that’s ok, but it wasn’t my focus at the time. When I look at the dancing bodies in front of me, male and female, I merely try to understand the possibilities and challenges they present and proceed from there.

DP: Because of your strong ballet training, do you look for that technique when casting your dancers?
DCS: Not really. Ballet training doesn’t necessarily equal good technique. It is merely one of many different techniques for training physical and spatial awareness. Good technique to me is a tool the dancer uses to focus the audience’s attention on specific details and engage the viewers on a visceral and kinetic level. I look for clarity, curiosity, spirit and honesty in a dancer. I also like dancers who get excited about details, particularly the ‘how’ of what they are doing as opposed to the ‘what,’ and are active participants in the rehearsal process and bring something ‘to the table’ to share. I am wholly unimpressed by tricks – distorted alignment without meaning, high jumps, high legs and extreme flexibility. That isn’t dancing, it’s affectation.

DP: What do you hope the audience will come away with?
DCS: I want the audience to follow the dancers on their journey and be transported with them, for a few moments at least, to a place where beauty, tenderness, and mutual support are the important values.

Want to see the show? Check our schedule to see when the NCDF will be in your neighborhood!

Dance Local.


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