A young, emerging ballet choreographer; a contemporary dance maker whose four-year-old company is a downtown dance sensation; and a modern-dance choreographer with an established, world-renowned troupe whose work has been seen from New York to Beijing: All will make New York City Center their home this year.
These three choreographers—Emery LeCrone, Andrea Miller (Artistic Director of Gallim Dance) and Shen Wei (Artistic Director of Shen Wei Dance Arts)— were chosen to take part in City Center’s inaugural Choreography Fellowship Program, a new initiative that was launched in conjunction with the theater’s reopening season. City Center has a long history of nurturing choreographers, from George Balanchine to Christopher Wheeldon, and the Choreography Fellowship continues that tradition.
The yearlong fellowships include a generous stipend in addition to rehearsal space in the City Center studios and a performance opportunity at City Center. Fellows also have full access to City Center’s administrative expertise in fundraising, finance, technology and marketing.
In the fall, we talked with each of the choreographers to get to know them a little better.
At the age of 24, Emery LeCrone has already created several major works, competed in numerous choreography competitions, and received substantial grants and new commissions for her choreography. Directors of prominent dance companies, dance institutions and foundations across the country, as well as major critics, have recognized her work. In the 2010-11 season alone, LeCrone premiered new ballets for Minnesota Dance Theater, North Carolina Dance Theatre, Miro Magloire’s New Chamber Ballet, The Columbia Ballet Collaborative, Hartt University of Dance, Greensboro Ballet, and Colorado Ballet as part of The Vail International Dance Festival. She also created new works for the Guggenheim Museum’s acclaimed Works & Process series and participated in the renowned New York Choreographic Institute. In addition, she serves full time as choreographer-inresidence for the New Chamber Ballet and the Columbia Ballet Collaborative. LeCrone also teaches dance regularly.
NYCC: When did you start making dances?
Emery LeCrone: I choreographed my first piece in 2006 for North Carolina Dance Theatre. I was dancing for them at the time, and part of their summer program at the Chautauqua Institute is asking people to choreograph. They asked me to choreograph something for myself and five other company members. The piece was called Pulling to Break, and . . . I sort of knew at that point that it was something that I was interested in continuing to do. We took that piece back to North Carolina Dance Theatre and performed it all year. And that ended up being the first piece I restaged here once I moved to New York.
NYCC: When was that?
EL: In the fall of 2007. I was looking for other opportunities as a dancer. I wanted to be in a place where you could take classes from lots of different choreographers, but I wasn’t dancing so much because it takes a while to get your foot in the door. In my free time I found out about a competition called Ballet Builders, and in 2008 I submitted Pulling to Break.
NYCC: You’ve gotten many wonderful reviews since then. Do you experience that as encouragement or pressure, or a bit of both?
EL: I think it’s definitely a bit of both. I was lucky enough in 2008 to have Jennifer Dunning come to the performance and give me a great review, and that helped to bring some early recognition to my work. Now it is a huge blessing because I get to keep doing what I love. But with every review there’s an added pressure and challenge. I try to take one thing at a time.
NYCC: As a freelance choreographer, you get to work with many different dancers and companies. What are the pros and cons?
EL: For where I am in my career, I think I’m really blessed to have been able to work with so many different dancers. Each time I go to a different company, it gives me a different perspective of my own work and how it’s digested by that group of dancers, and that audience, and that state even; it gives you a chance to see your work through different lenses. The hardest thing is that there are periods where I’m working for three months straight and then doing nothing for a month because everyone’s doing Nutcracker or something. [laughs]
NYCC: What are you most looking forward to in your fellowship?
EL: For me, just to have a home base and somewhere to incubate ideas and bring dancers together is huge. I’ve thought about using the space to have workshops. And having a longer rehearsal period, a more solid two-week process to create a work—if I want to rehearse five days a week, I can do that. My biggest challenge is balancing the creative work I’m doing with the marketing and the press, so I’m hoping to have some guidance at City Center on how to be a better promoter for myself.
A native of Salt Lake City, Utah, Andrea Miller graduated from the Juilliard School with a BFA in Dance before joining Ohad Naharin’s Ensemble Batsheva in Israel. In 2006 Miller returned to New York City to establish Gallim Dance, a contemporary dance company that supports the creation and performance of her choreography. A sought-after choreographer, Miller has been noteworthy for her use of extreme physicality and the ability to create an experience where the dancers appear to be at the edge of their limits. She was awarded the 2009 Princess Grace Foundation Fellowship in Choreography and was selected for Dance Magazine’s 2009 “25 to Watch.” Her work has been presented throughout the U.S., Canada and Europe. In addition, Miller is associate choreographer with Noord Nederlandse Dans. Gallim will present its first full evening at the Joyce in June 2012.
NYCC: When did you know you wanted to be a choreographer?
Andrea Miller: I think I’ve known for a very long time, since I was maybe 15 or 16, that choreography was a strong interest of mine. In college it solidified, and when I was working at Batsheva it became urgent.
NYCC: Did working with Ohad Naharin influence you?
AM: Absolutely. It was a perfect storm of being asked to be a creative artist within his choreography, and having the opportunity, as a dancer, to feel very creative and responsible for that element. I also think that observing company life and working with a living choreographer made it real for me.
NYCC: So then you moved to NYC to start a company. How did it unfold from there?
AM: I knew I wanted to start choreographing, but I didn’t know how it was going to happen. Then I met a dancer in a Doug Varone workshop and just watched her for a week; I was so taken by her physicality and her approach. By the end of the week I mentioned that I wanted to start rehearsing and asked if she wanted to start rehearsing, and she said yes. This was Francesca Romo [Gallim Dance Associate Director and company member]. Basically, I just wanted to not ever make a piece without her.
NYCC: You founded a successful company during a particularly difficult economic time. To what do you attribute your success?
AM: A lot of it happened because of the support system I found with my family and a few early supporters. The CEO of First Republic Bank, Jim Herbert, met with us after just a year of our existence on the recommendation of Linda Shelton [Executive Director of the Joyce]. That encouragement, and [Linda’s] belief in investing in a young artsy group of kids with a lot of passion, just solidified it. Also, we tried to grow organically; we weren’t pushing the company forward faster than any of us were comfortable. And I think the dancers have had a huge role in seeing the company build its success because of their commitment to seeing it grow instead of bouncing around to other companies.
NYCC: What are you most looking forward to during your fellowship?
AM: I’m really excited about the possibility of accessing the different administrative departments of City Center. We’re not even five years old, but a lot of the opportunities we get are generally offered to more senior companies, and people are expecting to deal with an administration that’s like those companies’. But we don’t have a lot of that institutional information and accountability. (Right now I’m working on finding an executive director; my mom has been my executive director.) I really need to get a crash course from a great organization like City Center in strategy and organizing the company so we can keep making art.
Shen Wei is widely recognized for his defining vision of an intercultural, interdisciplinary, original rural village in China’s Hunan Province, he danced with the Hunan State Xian Opera Company and was a founding member of the Guangdong Modern Dance Company, the first such company in China. He moved to New York City in 1995 upon receiving a scholarship from the Nikolais/Louis Dance Lab, and in July 2000 he formed Shen Wei Dance Arts, which tours extensively on five continents. Shen Wei’s works have been performed throughout the world, including in the Opening Ceremonies of the 2008 Beijing Olympics. He is the recipient of a 2007 MacArthur “Genius” Award and a United States Artists Fellow, and he has received a John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship, a New York Foundation for the Arts Fellowship, and the American Dance Festival’s Ben Sommer Fellowship, among others. His newest work, Divided Undivided, had its world premiere at the Park Avenue Armory in November.
NYCC: You were born in Hunan but have spent the last 16 years living and working in New York. How do Eastern and Western influences figure in your work?
SW: It’s hard to describe exactly which elements are solely Western or solely Eastern. In the past decade, I have created my own technique and my own vocabulary based on my experience of both traditional Chinese opera and western modern dance philosophies. That is to say East and West are in constant dialogue with each other, producing something different than their respective parts. Additionally, it is not just movement I am concerned about—I also look at movement in context. I am sensitive to the philosophies behind movement, how people use movement in various cultures and understand the body differently. Chinese traditional opera and Western modern dance are just two of the ways in which we can apprehend the human body and its place in a cultural context.
NYCC: What made you decide to become a choreographer?
SW: I am fascinated with human beings and fascinated with the beauty of human movement. There is so much unknown information, so many different kinds of emotions, in physical movement.
NYCC: You are famous for working in different art forms. Do you treat the various strands of your career as distinct, or do you feel that they are interconnected?
SW: I have always been interested in all different kinds of art forms—much like how I encounter the world with all my senses. My education has never been limited to one art form, so I have always appreciated a variety of media. While my interest in movement and the human body began when I was very young and has subsequently served as an artistic foundation, other art forms are able to inspire me just as much as dance. Work in one medium helps me think about another medium in an alternative way—they are all interconnected. My works therefore frequently incorporate many artistic fields, where one can complement another, and hopefully provide multiple sources of inspiration for the audience.
NYCC: What emotions do you hope to arouse in your audiences?
SW: They should sense it and feel it in the way that is natural to them. Only after first sensing the work, should people start thinking about its meaning. Still, some works are more geared towards sensory stimulation while other works are more for intellectual stimulation.
NYCC: Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
SW: I never see myself in 10 years. I live by the day.