Michael Pink with the three choreographers of Genesis.
"Are the choreographers really competitive?" This is by far the number one question I get asked any time Genesis rolls around. The full title of this mixed rep program is Genesis: International Choreographic Competition. There are three finalists and only one grand prize - the chance to return and create another new work in 2014. So yes, it is a competition. But there's no Tim Gunn peaking into the studios, telling the choreographers to “make it work.” No Gordon Ramsay-esque temper tantrums. No twists or turns. This series is all about the first half the title, Genesis. Creation. Three world premieres on one stage. A rare, fantastic opportunity for three visionary young choreographers to be featured.
For an artist this early in their choreographic career, this may be the first time they get the full attention of professional dancers. If they have worked with professionals, it's often in the few hours the dancers have to spare in-between rehearsals with their home Company. The sheer size of the Company was the first thing Genesis finalist James Gregg noticed about Milwaukee Ballet.
"I was surprised at how many people were in the studio!," he says, laughing. "There's about 10 dancers in my company in Montreal, so this is a big environment for me."
Meanwhile, Lauren Edson and Gabrielle Lamb, the other two choreographers, were busy fighting down the butterflies in their stomachs.
"I was definitely nervous for my first day in the studio,” says Lauren. “It always take a bit of time initially to break the ice and warm up to one another. I remember thinking 'I hope the dancers feel like I know what I'm doing, because I certainly don't feel like I do.'"
Gabrielle chimes in, “I'm always pretty nervous to get started, and this was no exception. But everyone was very kind and welcoming. The three of us watched class [the first day], which was interesting because we knew we weren't actually casting. I tried to get a general idea without getting attached to any particular dancers in case I didn't get them.”
This is one of the unique things about Genesis - the choreographers have no control over their cast. One by one, they choose the names of their dancers out of a hat until they have eight; four ladies and four gentlemen.
“It was my largest group so far; up to now I'd worked with a maximum of six,” says Gabrielle. “Eight is still fine, though, because you can still feature everyone and draw from their distinct personalities. I like the challenge of looking for what's special and unique about each dancer.”
Lauren notes that taking the uniqueness of each dancer and creating a unified look was a bit of a challenge, but conversely it was more gratifying to watch the dancers flesh out her choreography. “It is incredibly rewarding to see a dancer connect with something in such a personal way and elevate the work to a level I never imagined,” she explains.
Gabrielle cites the long rehearsal periods as her biggest challenge. “I'd never choreographed six hours per day before, so it forced me to improve my creative stamina. I just had to learn that, with that many hours of work, there will inevitably be creative blocks at some points in the day. So the challenge was to learn to navigate those---to know when to keep pushing at the same block and when give it a break and move to something else.”
While James admits he hit a wall or two during the creative process, the thing he remembers most about his rehearsals was the levity in the room. “When I look back, all I see is laughter. That's the part that sticks out-all the fun we had. I can't pinpoint one memory, there are too many good things. It's going to be hard to leave a group I clicked with so quickly,” he says.
The dancers: “open” and “wonderful.” They are equally willing to offer hours of focus and moments of comic relief. This was a common sentiment from all three choreographers.
“It has been so incredible to get to know everyone here and I feel like I have made lasting friendships with the dancers I have worked with,” says Lauren.
In addition to her “hilarious cast of characters,” Gabrielle notes it’s been special to share this experience with two other choreographers.
“I had actually been wanting for quite a while to be able to spend more time with fellow-choreographers and to be able to talk about what we all go through in the studio, because it can be a rather lonely job,” she says. “The dancers have each other, but the choreographer is all alone trying to bring his or her ideas into reality. So if anything it's been a nice experience to have them nearby and to have been able to talk about our respective processes…I think we all have very different visions and aesthetics; so in the end the competition will most likely be a matter of taste on the part of the audiences and judges. But for sure, knowing they are here and doing high quality work has pushed me to want to do the best work I can."
So you see Genesis is a competition with no losers. The rewards are deep and real and palpable. All three choreographers will be featured on the main stage of a historic venue. All three will have their work seen not only by the public, but by a special panel of judges comprised of artistic directors and other respected figures in dance who may help them along the way in their young careers. When the judges announce their decision Saturday night, there will be no tears, or swan songs, or booing as has become expected on reality TV. Only cheers and hugs and well wishes. If there are tears, they will be happy ones.
Genesis opens this Thursday, February 7 and runs through February 10. Tickets can be purchased by calling the Ballet's Box Office at (414) 902-2103.