January 17, 2019 | Jeffrey Hoffman 

The Keys to Building Dance Composition for Beginner and Emerging Choreographers

Interview by Jeffrey Hoffman, Francisco Gella Dance Works Chief Executive Officer, with Francisco Gella, Choreographer and Chief Creative Officer

Renowned choreographer Wayne McGregor once noted that ‘‘the job of a choreographer is to find what’s personal to them.” Powerful stories – told literally and non-literally – and the dances created to communicate them are rooted in the personal experiences, beliefs, interpretations and feelings of the choreographer. Without the deeply vulnerable, personal, and introspective  work that it takes for the choreographer to create something memorable and powerful, the work presented moves along without life.  Do You Want to Know What It Takes to be a Professional Choreographer?

I sat down recently with Francisco Gella, Choreographer and Chief Creative Officer for Francisco Gella Dance Works, to delve into his own beliefs about his creative work. A self-described life-long learner, Francisco has been honing his craft for nearly twenty-five years beginning when he first experimented with choreography in his undergraduate composition classes. As a choreographer, Gella also understands his role as an educator, coach, mentor and provocateur – he believes that it’s important that artists not get wrapped up in their own ego or stuck inside their head. When a choreographer enters the studio s/he must respect the humanity and the essence of the dancers performing the work. That energy comes from the heart.

This interview comes on the heels of a new initiative Francisco is undertaking to nurture out-of-the-box creative voices through New Century Dance Project (NCDP). For Francisco, the work itself that he creates is not the only thing that’s personal to him. Nurturing aspiring choreographers and opening up opportunities for established dance makers whose talent hasn’t yet been discovered inspires him deeply – in part because of his own journey. From his perspective, many companies have historically made ‘safe’ choices in well-known commodities, at the expense of true innovation and the embracing of diversity. So in the last part of the interview, you’ll learn more about the exciting things he is up to – and they might just involve you!

Francisco Gella Interviews about Dance Composition for Beginning Choreographers

As a dancer and an artist, why do you love choreography and invest so much of yourself into your work?

I love the process. I love the challenge. I love to inspire and move an audience. I love to express what I am feeling and thinking using movement. I love to create moving pictures. Since the moment I made my first dance, the art-making process has fueled my soul. I haven’t been the same ever since and so I have a deep and intense connection to – a relationship with – dance making. It’s hard to put into words, but when I go into that creation process I’m entering into a transcendent place. I feel totally connected to that energy which is bigger than all of us, and that binds us all together.

I have always wondered, Where then do choreographers get the freedom to potentially fail? The dancers that I am personally most intrigued by are the ones that fall (literally), risking everything to see just how far they can push themselves as artists.

David Hallberg, Professional Ballet Dancer and Choreographer

Why is choreography so central to dance – for the dancer, the audience and the dancemaker?

It is a snapshot and an expression of one’s own deep personal and philosophical beliefs, thoughts and feelings.  It is a reflection of the zeitgeist (the spirit of the time we are living in) and if done in a very honest way, the work resonates broadly with the human experience. It will have a different meaning for each person and yet it is relatable to just about everyone. When this happens, a piece of choreography can exist beyond a generation and become timeless. Without choreography that taps into this common sense of humanity, the dance is just a series of meaningless steps.

From your perspective, what constitutes great choreography?

It is so many things done exceedingly well, that when put together, create a magical experience. Musicality, architecture, phrasing, movement vocabulary, intent, clarity of message, use of space, all of these elements and more are critical. But most of all, the work must be honest and reflective of one’s true perspective and feelings for the work itself to resonate in a powerful way. As someone who has both created and watched a lot of dance in the last twenty-five years, the work that stands out and that you remember the most, gives you an emotional and visceral reaction. And you remember it vividly.

You started a program three years ago with the support of Repertory Dance Theatre called New Century Dance Project (NCDP). This year you are introducing a program there to nurture new choreographic voices. Why is NCDP a great opportunity for professional choreographers?

NCDP is an important avenue for emerging and established choreographers to feature their work, get critique and evaluate their own use of choreographic elements in the construction of their work, gain more knowledge in the craft and process of choreography, be inspired to refine and own their individual voice through experimentation in a classroom and laboratory environment, and be mentored by established dance makers. It is about discovering one’s own unique voice in the context of contemporary dance and the historical canon of work, and understanding how that voice can contribute something greater to the larger body. Perhaps most importantly, if you ask almost every successful artist how they ‘arrived’, they will tell you that they could not have done it alone. Teachers, family, friends, colleagues, other choreographers – all played an important role in their own development. NCDP will play an important part of this journey by creating a community of curious, risk-taking, and supportive artists. Every choreographer selected to showcase their work at the Gala Concert this summer on August 17, will have the chance to receive a $2500 prize to be used for a new commission to be set on Repertory Dance Theatre – a seasoned fifty year-old professional company that has featured the work of legendary choreographers.

“The practice of choreography is educational in its nature therefore an important part of a choreographer’s job is to be a teacher.” ~ Francisco Gella, Creative Director and Choreographer

Why is NCDP an important opportunity for young student artists aspiring to be choreographers?

Students get an insider’s look at what choreographers go through. NCDP will help young artists understand the challenges when designing moving pictures and moments on stage.  The festival provides insight into different methods in constructing a dance. Through experimentation and mentoring, student choreographers begin to learn what works, what doesn’t work, what resonates, what inspires, what contributes, and what detracts from a clear message of a well-designed and constructed dance.  They learn how to more effectively communicate a message, emotion, idea, or thought through movement with clarity and focus. Students are given an opportunity to create work with their peers. Like professional choreographers, students have an opportunity to submit their work, which if selected, will be performed at a special 250-Seat Black Box showcase of student work on the Friday of New Century Dance Project, August 16. All student choreographers will receive critique from a panel of established artists, and one choreographer will be granted $1000 to create a new work to be performed at the closing Gala Concert during the 2020 NCDP festival.

How will NCDP help prepare contemporary choreographers for the future?

Contemporary dance expresses what is relevant in the now. For current choreographers to understand how to reflect the current mood and spirit of the time in their work, they must be educated on who came before them, who paved the way, who rebelled, integrated and defined dance in the past, which has allowed us to arrive at this current moment. Knowing the history of the dance art form, and the pieces of choreography that have lived on, gives current dance makers the needed context to help define who they are. The luminary figures that current choreographers are inspired and influenced by and what it is that current dance makers love about those past trailblazers, helps young aspiring artists to start paving their own way as they sharpen their own unique and powerful voice. The NCDP choreographic experience will connect YOU – who represents the present – with the past. And in doing so, set you up to contribute to the continuation of a legacy of groundbreaking dance. I invite you to answer the New Century Dance Project’s Call for Choreography 2019.