Choreofest Interview: Nicole Laliberté!

by Nicole Harris

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Nicole Laliberté photographed by Robert Coghill

We're only 4 days away from ChoreoFest, the one and only 24-hour dance festival! Today we bring you the next installment of our ChoreoFest choreographer interviews, a chat with first time ChoreoFest participant, Nicole C. Laliberté!

Nicole Harris: What made you want to make the move from being a dancer to a choreographer?
Nicole C. Laliberté: I have always choreographed. As a little girl I would stage shows in my basement for my dear, patient parents. My best friend Lisa and I would perform. I had my first public showing of my choreography when I was in the 4th grade for a school talent show. I set a solo on Lisa to Blondie’s “Heart of Glass,” and one on myself to Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive,” complete with multi-colored sequin tube top, LOL!
Later, as I pursued my formal dance training at The Boston Conservatory, I realized two things
that prompted me to start removing myself from my own work:
1. Being in the work prevented me from seeing the overall piece, its structure, spatial
design, cohesiveness….and also from being able to give dancers prompts / feedback for nuanced performance.
2. I sadly realized that although I had a powerful performance presence, my little body had
too many anatomical limitations to achieve the look I wanted. I would focus so hard on
extensions and pointed feet, thinking I had really done well, and then I would see myself
on video and cringe. This is still emotional and deeply personal for me to discuss; in fact, I’m not sure I should be disclosing this fact as I don’t want it plastered all over the web. I
chose to work with dancers who had the technical capacity and performance aesthetic
that I wanted for my works.

NH: What are you most nervous about regarding ChoreoFest?
NL: Well, I suppose keeping tensions down as we all become more sleep deprived, especially since I am working with some of my dancers for the first time, and this group is definitely working together for the first time. So I am unfamiliar with their personal triggers and preferred learning styles. Working with new people in a new group is always challenging for optimal
communication, and this setting adds much deeper challenges due to its nature. Keeping calm
and gentle communication open is key to a successful and enjoyable experience for all.
On a humorous but very real note: I am concerned about bringing too much stuff and the horrors
of trying to get all the stuff from my little Mazda into The Dance Complex on a traffic filled
Friday evening. I’m one of those people who thinks it best to bring something “just in case”
rather than to be caught without.

NH: Since this is a very controlled creative space (in terms of time and topic) where do

you see yourself starting when you get in the space?
NL: I will most likely start with some guided improvisation to help all of us get more comfortable
with each other. Depending on the topic, I may ask the dancers to engage in a written
exploration as a means of movement generation. Writing or no writing, unless I have an extremely strong personal connection to the theme, I would like the initial movement generation
to come from each of the dancers. We tend to better remember and most fully execute that
movement which naturally emanates from within our own bodies.

NH: In creating a new work, what is the relationship between you and your dancers? Do
they participate in the creative process? If so, how?

NL: Please refer to the information provided in response to the previous question. Additionally, I like to verbally engage with the dancers as to their thoughts and valuable insights about the creation of meaning in the work. Often I will ask the dancers what feels most comfortable or natural when finessing the details of the movement.

NH: Knowing that Karen Krolak will be on hand as "choreographic guru", what things do
you hope she can help with in the overnight process?

NL: Probably technological assistance with computer audio editing. I have a new laptop that I really don’t know how to use with its Windows 8 platform (grrr), and an old laptop that (at best)
functions at the speed of a snail trying to get up a molasses covered hill in winter.

NH: Who are some of your favorite choreographers?
NL: Oh boy…Alvin Ailey, George Balanchine, Mark Morris, Alonzo King, Jill Bahr, Dwight
Rhoden, Desmond Richardson, Bill T. Jones, Ulysses S. Dove… is that enough?

NH: Who are your mentors? How are you paying forward the things your mentor gave you?
NL: Oh my god, I could go on forever here…but first and foremost I must honor the memory of my recently departed mentor and colleague, Dr. Jan Van Dyke of Greensboro, NC. I can’t believe she is gone. She is being honored with a memorial this coming Sunday August 22nd, held at the UNCG Dance Theatre and livestreamed on the web. I can’t say enough about or adequately summarize how much I learned from Jan as a teacher, choreographer, administrator, and woman of dignity in the arts and academe.
Last week I was teaching young student choreographers during an intensive at The Dance
Academy in Fall River. I gave them the same first day lesson that Jan used in Choreography II,
The Craft at UNCG, for which I was twice her TA. We wrote rhythms on the board and
discussed time values of different musical notes, and how many beats per measure, and how to vary rhythm and apply it to movement to create new and interesting variations. It’s actually a
very difficult concept to grasp for most of us, but invariably successful in the end. The school
director was impressed when she saw the material and commented that they were learning so
much from me. I told her that it was all Jan, or JVD as we lovingly called her.

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