Two American choreographers and nineteen Latvian dance students


Inta Balode

As part of the International Day of Dance events, on April 29th at 18:00 in the venue of the Latvian Academy of Culture called “Zirgu Pasts” (Dzirnavu iela 46, Riga, Latvia) two short performances created by American choreographers will be held. Joséphine A. Garibaldi is a visiting Fulbright Scholar working in Latvia for six months; Michelle Boulé came to Latvia for a short two week teaching/choreographing residency as part of the exchange project between the New York based organization Movement Research and The Association of the Professional Contemporary Dance Choreographers in Latvia.

It does not happen so often that a contemporary choreographer would work with almost twenty performers; in most cases it is possible only in schools, that’s why sometimes we hear stories about how hard it is after the school. Does the school creates illusions which later collapse? It is also pretty rare case that the same group of people simultaneously works with two American choreographers coming from different backgrounds and generations. Will we start drawing conclusions about American dance when seeing those two works during the same night? It does not happen so often when a work created during 7 rehearsals (“Assembly” by Michelle Boulé) is put on stage next to work which was developed over several months (“Grass is Green” by Joséphine A. Garibaldi). Should we know that when looking at the work, is it very obvious, is there a moment when a performance is ready? Both choreographers stress that the work was created during the collaborative process. It is obvious that this working method is getting more and more popular, why it is getting so fashionable? To answer some of those questions I e-mailed both choreographers and I am very grateful they found a moment to respond (P. S. underlined are some of my favorite and to my mind most important phrases/ parts in the answers).

Inta Balode: -What is the difference between the life of a dance student and dance professional?

Joséphine A. Garibaldi: -As a student, you are being mentored through a program of teachers and hierarchical systems where a structure that has been deemed appropriate to the goals of the institution has been created and hence, in order to survive that structure the student follows the “rules” as they are imposed upon them; basically you do what you are told to do in order to advance in level, pass your exams and obtain your degree. A student in dance is in the “coming of age”, exploration stage, preparing and training should they decide to continue dance as life practice. A dance professional most usually has been vetted by their teachers to advance to a professional career; in other words, they get kicked out of the nest so that they may fly on their own. A dance professional has made the decision to dance as life practice and therefore, creates their own reality to make that happen. As a professional, you create the structure with which to follow; the “rules” of that structure are self-imposed.

Michelle Boulé: -In a practical way, things come to the dance student (classes, teachers, artists). At least that’s the agreement that’s been made. For a professional, the initiative is all coming from the individual to explore a terrain that is much vaster than the protected space of school. But the practices (curiosity, discipline, commitment) that get developed while in school can provide a really strong base for someone’s moving into professional work. (At the same time, school is not for everyone!)

-Why do you think the collaborative creation method where creative input from each participant is so important has become so common nowadays?

J.G.: -Great question and one that I would like to extend into a much larger discussion. The method of collaboration is not new, a logical extension of the modernist/postmodernist projects of the 20th century which examined the codified traditions of what it is to make art. Part of this continuing investigation includes the examination of art before the concept Art even existed; when dance was an integral function to the life of community. Contemporary practitioners, are in many ways examining function – pre-form – much like Cubo-Futurists and Zaum poets drew upon their folk arts to create a new language that would artistically and spiritually revolutionalize a new Russia (of course, most of them were either assassinated or emigrated). Likewise, in contemporary scholarship we are now fluent in Barthes’ Death of the Author where the author is no longer the sole decipher of the text.

Where I am now is the accumulation of all of my experience. What interests me most is process and during process, discovery. I am interested in seeking out problems to solve creatively and how people work together to solve those problems. In order to solve the problems, you have to examine the parameters of the problem that has been created: coefficients, variables, constants, coordinates, vectors and so on; breaking it down, examining how one moves into the other: which body part is involved, what is the effort, how is space being carved, what is the intent of the movement, and so on. The solutions to the problems are ad infinitum: how exciting is that! There is never one way to solve a problem – more voices, more solutions (of course, the role of the director/choreographer is to structure the many solutions into a coherent whole).

Collaboration is a messy process; it takes an immense amount of work and a willingness to give up control. It is much easier to tell someone what to do and they do it, or be told what to do and do it, than it is to work together to solve a problem. My choice to work collaboratively might be part of maturity, of life experience. The older I get the more, I realize, I have to learn; not only about the world, but about myself, my place in the world and my relationships with others in the world. As one who practices collaboration in her art making, I am constantly learning and it keeps me fresh; it is incredibly challenging and fatiguing, yet it is somehow quite invigorating. As an art maker, I seek to make meaningful work; work that somehow transforms, that teaches me, that teaches you, that teaches us together; where you teach me and we learn from each other together. My knowledge becomes crystallized when opening myself up to accepting other answers.

M.B.: -I feel like choreographers/directors want to use everything that a dancer can offer…personality, physical capability, performance qualities, etc. It makes for a much richer landscape, no matter how subtle or obvious those choices are on the part of the director. And there are also always personal dynamics or constellations in the room already that can’t be ignored and often insert themselves into the work regardless of the choreographer’s choices. It’s also more fun for everyone in the room to be working in relationship to one another! The dance is the people, and even in something more “abstract” like Trisha Brown or Merce Cunningham, those dances feel most successful when there is some personality in the performers, permission from the performer and the director for the dancer to take artistic agency. That’s also a collaboration. I think the collaboration called for can vary depending on the concept or material that a choreographer is working with, and I also think it’s best when there is a very clear director in the room, guiding the piece and making final decisions. In our idealism of democracy, there’s this notion that everything is equal, but I feel like a leader who has the power to make strong yes or no choices is always necessary. The choreographer sits with the piece constantly, whereas the dancers often let it go after rehearsal is over.

– How you would describe your favorite audience member?

 J.G.: -My favorite audience member is one who listens and one who opens themselves up while they are experiencing the work at that time in their life.

M.B.: -Someone who is open and curious and can say afterwards whey they did or did not like the performance. They don’t have to like what’s being seen, but the experience of performance dies when judgement and close-mindedness are a part of the exchange. It’s really like any kind of conversation. What type of person would you like to talk to? If someone walks into a conversation with the arms crossed and all their defenses (ideas, perceptions) up, you know the conversation isn’t going to go very far.

– What is your favorite length of time you like spending on making of new work?

J.G.: -Generally speaking, I expect to create one or two major works a year. That said, each of these works have been germinating and fermenting years before we actually go into production.

M.B.: -Right now, I like having a lot of time and also time away from a piece. I’d say at least a year of on and off working.

– Is it possible to name some features of “typical American dance”?

J.G.:Europe has an advantage because of proximity to diversity at relatively low cost. In the states, unless you live in one of the few arts-based metropolises (New York, San Francisco, Chicago, D.C., etc), there are wide expanses to cover therefore touring is very expensive (and so are tickets) so live performance of dance is representative of larger companies that have survived because of popular repertory. Compounded by the fact that America monetarily supports the arts less and less, the lesser known artists making incredible work are not as visible. And then there is the commodified Hollywood industry of music videos and staged “reality” shows which reifies what may be perceived as typical American dance.

I also think that the America has not yet rid itself of the Balanchine aesthetic, still preferring youth, particular body types, classical lines, and linear narrative.

M.B. -Oh, I think it’s hard to generalize, as there is so much variety in what is being shown (at least in what I see in NY). But I think some of the generalizations could be that there is a high level of physical refinement or even activity, optimism and determination, notions of success or failure.


“Assembly” and “Grass is Green” is performed by R?ta P?ce, Anna Novikova, Agate Bankava, ?irts Bisenieks, Taisija Frolova, Sandra Lapi?a, Eva Kronberga, R?dolfs Gedi?š, Ivars Broni?s, Kar?na Lapšina, Agate Cukura, Maija Tjurjapina, J?nis Putni?š, Anete Tambaka, Alise Putni?a, M?rti?š Spr?ds, Anastasija Lonšakova, Anne – Birthe Nord, Roberts Muci?š and is the course work by 3rd year Department of Contemporary Dance students of the Latvian Academy of Culture.

Choreography students at the LAC

“Assembly” is choreographed by Michelle Boulé in collaboration with the performers. Music includes work by Aki Onda, Casino vs. Japan, and Sylvester.

Michelle Boulé tells about the piece:

“Olga [Zitluhina] invited me to make this dance as a time to engage with the students – to let them be exposed to my way of working, maybe even more so than creating a final product. Created in 7 rehearsals, “Assembly” is literally an assemblage of material and ideas we tried over that short amount of time. I brought in a few ideas – waltzing, folk/communal dance, the word “love”, the idea of “real”, disappearance, images inspired by visual artist Tracey Emin, and a subtlety around attention, timing and presence. I didn’t want to come in with an already-made dance but rather wanted to see what would come up with the 18 of us in one room together. We scratched the surface… I scratched my own and I think they scratched theirs. The audience can witness our ideas in action… this being a single point of assembly in the passing of time.”

Michelle Boule

“Grass is Green” is a collaborative choreography project created by 3rd year Department of Contemporary Dance students of the Latvian Academy of Culture and visiting Fulbright Scholar Joséphine A. Garibaldi.

Approximately 35 minutes in length, “Grass is Green” will be performed as part of the Dance Day festivities 29 April 2014. According to Professor Garibaldi, much of the work in “Grass is Green” was generated through the correlating project “Global Corporeality: Collaborative Choreography in Digital Space” ( where students in Latvia have been working together in real time with students of the Department of Dance at Idaho State University in the United States. “The title, for example,” Garibaldi notes, “comes from poetry that student Taisia Frolova wrote”. Under Garibaldi’s direction, the students were provided choreographic prompts to create movement. Based upon the overarching theme of “Communication” students were asked to write about the theme and to compose a four line Rhythm Verse loosely based on the Daina structure. From these Rhythm Verses, the students then created audio scores. The text that you will hear in “Grass is Green” will be performed by the student who authored the text. Additionally, much of the sound score that Garibaldi has mastered utilizes short audio works that the students have created. “Each participant is reflected in “Grass is Green”,” says Garibaldi. “Each participant assumed a creative role in the making of this work. “Grass is Green” is a true collaboration and a true cultural exchange which is the intent of the Fulbright program. We have come together to share a little bit about ourselves with the goal of creating meaningful work. Through the making of this work (or any work), we emerge transformed, forever changed by having gone through a creative process together.”