SLUG: What challenges did you encounter in choreographing your work?
Kougioulis: As my piece is a development of a story regarding events in my personal history, one of the challenges that I encountered was based around my hesitation in how transparent I wanted to be with my dancers and with the audience. From the very beginning of our process, I gave each of my dancers a character bio that I felt they would individually connect to. Each of their characters have evolved as we have bonded together throughout the work. As the process continued, many of my truths were unraveled (for both my dancers and myself) and I shared more and more with them about the overall story. It has been quite challenging, yet delicate, real and beautiful!
Van Portfleet: I tend to plan, by which I mean that I am a serious organizer. This piece is different for me because it was totally unplanned. It did not begin with a concept the way that most of my work does, and so at some point, although I was interested in what we were creating together, I got very self-conscious of the work. Although I haven’t settled on a particular way that I like to work every time, and I tend to reach for new ways of creating with each piece, this felt a bit like walking blind, and I couldn’t figure out where it fit within my growing body of work or within my current interests. I also had a challenging time throughout this process because I have been injured and healing from hamstring issues for over a year now. I couldn’t do the amount of physical personal exploration that I wanted to, leading to a lot of dancer-generated material. I love directing the dancers through their explorations, though, so it was a fun challenge to lean more heavily on this type of creating.
SLUG: How did you select your performing dancers?
Draper: I chose my dancers because I knew they both have extensive backgrounds in improvisation, and I have complete trust in them. They each have such a beautiful and interesting way to moving that I really wanted to have in this particular piece. Ching-I Chang Bigelow is originally from Taiwan. She has worked with Susan Marshall, Gesel Mason, Punchdrunk and many fun artists. She is currently a third-year graduate student in the MFA Modern Dance Program at the University of Utah. Brian Gerke is originally from Missoula, Montana. He has danced with Headwaters Dance Company, Hilary Easton + Co., Juliana May’s MayDance, Sondra Loring and Dancers, the Trisha Brown Dance School, and the Iceland Dance Company. In 2007, he formed his own company, Steinunn and Brian, with Steinunn Ketilsdóttir. Brian is currently a graduate student in his first year at the University of Utah. These two have the ability to create magic onstage, and I feel incredibly lucky to have the opportunity to collaborate with them.
Kougioulis: I was pretty specific about the dancers that I wanted to work with for this piece. Kate Losser, Bayley Smallwood and Luciana Johnson are all currently undergraduates in the Modern Program at the U of U. Each one of them are not only beautiful dancers, but their personalities fit the intended characters in my work. I selected these dancers because I was very interested in getting to know them individually throughout the process. Kate, Bayley and Luciana have gorgeous aesthetics and together, I call them “The Dream Trio.” Each of their individual movement qualities have been a tremendously wonderful addition to the overall feel of my piece.
Van Portfleet: This might sound funny, but I spent the whole first semester at the U checking dancers out, both in and outside of the university, to see who I would like to work with. It wasn’t about looking for the “best” dancers, but those who I was drawn to create with. My movement can be rather nuanced in gesture and weight, and I love to work with dancers who have both a grounded sense of connection with the floor as well as an expansiveness throughout the body and capacity for explosiveness and expressivity. I was drawn to Emma Sargent, a senior at the U, for her wired and explosive energy that far surpasses my own. Angela Lee, a junior, has a beautiful suppleness, that groundedness that I love, and clarity of line that I was very excited to work with. And Natalie Border, a freelance dancer in SLC and alumna of the Modern Dance Program, has a gorgeous and visceral sense of weight and sensorial approach that helps to root the work in felt experience. The three of them together are truly stunning.
SLUG: How does the work you will premiere for Suite Space fit into your other choreography works?
Kougioulis: I am pretty new to choreography. My past interests were solely around performing and teaching. I have choreographed for studios and dance companies around Utah in the past few years—however, this piece is particularly precious to me as I am attempting to find my personal choreographic approach and aesthetic. I have absolutely loved trying on my “creative hat” in this process, and I am excited to continue choreographing more in the near future!