Creativity, technique, and collaboration have collided at The Movement Project’s summer intensives this year. The students were talented, the space at Pilgrim Church gorgeous, and the work that was done was nothing short of inspiring.
While our professional intensive kicked butt this year, especially with an energetic and complex master class taught by Neos Dance Theatre’s Mary-Elizabeth Fenn, I’d like to focus on our pre-professional intensive...mostly because I continue to be blown away by the hard work and dedication of such young artists.
For those who don’t know, our pre-pro intensive is for passionate young individuals aged 12-18 who wish to further their knowledge in technique, choreography, and other skills such as portfolio design and wellness. It is a jam-packed week chock full of information and connectivity, and is one of TMP’s yearly highlights. Plus, the students get to perform their own choreographic work alongside the company at the annual SummerWorks show; a professional debut like no other.
So join me; let’s walk through this week of fun and hard work; old friends and new, and experience it yourself.
It’s 8am, and you and the rest of TMP’s housing students are stirring. After getting ready and eating a breakfast of bagels, waffles, or cereal, you pack up your bags and head out the door.
You are staying a short walk from Pilgrim Church, where the intensive takes place. The neighborhood is a lovely one; Tremont is a trendy spot in Cleveland, speckled with homes and coffee shops, and the walk is pleasant. Students and the RA laugh and chat, the morning air not yet incredibly hot, as you reach the old church. You look up at the belltower.
There are two studio spaces, you soon discover. One is the upstairs studio on the top floor of the church. Its high vaulted ceiling and impressive chandelier reach far above you, but the real showstopper of this space is the large, stained glass window shining in the morning light.
“The stained glass...that’s super gorgeous,” comments Caitlyn, a Track 3 artist.
“So much natural lighting,” agrees Zoe, another Track 3er.
The second space is the theater; this will be where SummerWorks is performed, but for now it is a second studio. The space is nice and wide, allowing plenty of space to move, and the whole room is backdropped by a white wall. You enjoy being here; not only is it prepping you for the performance but it is also just as beautiful as the upstairs studio, albeit in a different way.
Technique, technique, technique...an important foundation as trained movers. You are excited for this. On top of improvisation and composition, TMP offers both ballet and modern, so you get to move a little differently throughout the week. The plethora of disciplines was especially appealing to Caitlyn:
“The variety of classes throughout The Movement Project was really nice because you didn’t just have one set genre of dance throughout the whole week. It was a little bit of improv, a little bit of modern, a little bit of ballet...and that really brought the whole week together. It felt a lot better to have varieties. Instead of having ballet the whole day--you’d get bored by it. So you have different varieties. “
That being said, there are tie-lines throughout the week, ways for the intensive artists to improve, and instructors have set goals and plans. Kristyn Lein, TMP’s newest company member, highlights this with her Track 1 students, “I did a lot of floorwork with them, I think it was kind of new for them and a bit of a challenge. But the [students] really liked it and definitely asked a lot of questions about it, which was good so that they were more informed about how to get in and out of transitions between my movements.”
IMPROVISATION AND COMPOSITION
Improvisation. The word is so intimidating, especially because your knowledge of it may be limited. The other students around you have varying degrees of familiarity with the technique, but most have never dedicated such a huge chunk of time a day to exploring such abstract concepts to create and explore.
As one of the instructors of improvisation this week, I begin our first class with a guided warm up, isolating certain parts of the body, to allow a gentle way of segueing into exploration by setting up parameters from the get-go.
You get a little frustrated at first, having to move only that one area of the body for so long. You feel it’s repetitive...maybe even a little tedious.
And then, right when you start to get frustrated, you try something new.
“I can express myself in different ways,” says Kyla, a student from Track 2, “Our teacher, she usually gives us a word and we have to improv by it and that word always sends a type of feeling to me and I go by that. [Improvisation has] made me feel much more relieved and I love improv. I wish I could do it everyday if I could.”
Improvisation isn’t the only outlier technique you build. Alongside, and very much related to, your improvisation class, you have composition.
Different composition teachers give different methods and approaches to building choreography; your track, however, builds solos first using a specific starting point...maybe it’s memory. Maybe it’s shape. Regardless, you build a small solo--a creation all your own, and get feedback on it. You gain perspective and the ability to look at choreography both subjectively and objectively.
Just in time to be split into small groups.
In these groups, your goal is to blend your work into a cohesive whole. This is a daunting task at first, one that requires communication and critical thinking, but you find inspiration in your group’s movements. The piece begins to grow. And grow. Until you have one complete and polished work, one that everyone has contributed to. This piece--your piece--will be performed on a professional stage alongside The Movement Project during SummerWorks, for everyone to see.
YOGA, PILATES, WELLNESS, AND PORTFOLIO DESIGN
On top of techniques in the dance realm, other classes are offered to help TMP intensive dancers be more well-rounded as pre-professionals. Portfolio design is an hour-long class in which students learn resume building and other useful skills. You’ve never had to make a resume before, and seeing professional examples and even writing a rough draft of a bio for yourself helps solidify your knowledge and adds more to your toolbox.
Wellness is another important aspect of creating a knowledgeable mover. Without taking proper care of your body, you can do a lot of damage, which is why TMP makes sure everyone gets a Wellness class, “They’re learning about body anatomy, how to take care of ourselves as a dancer,” says Megan Gargano, co-artistic director, “So that we have longevity in the field.”
This can be very new and somewhat intimidating. Anatomy? When to properly ice and how? The class, however, is approached with care and support. The focus of this class is to give you some useful information to take care of yourself and some new vocabulary so that you can better understand your body. And it works, you find, as you leave the class. You now look at your body with a new perspective entirely.
Running alongside wellness is yoga and pilates, taught by Elyse Morckel and Grace Nicklos respectively. Pilates is great for dancers, having been designed with the dancer in mind, and is a phenomenal way to maintain alignment, strength, and control. Yoga maintains breath, support, flexibility, and discipline.
“The thing about yoga is that you don’t want to come in with expectations of your students,” Elyse tells me in the cafeteria during a lunch break, “You have to evaluate them kind of on the spot to see what their needs are. So I had my set plan, but it was nice to move and tailor the structure of the class to the students and their abilities.”
You walk into the studio and into the bright lights. It’s a little jarring. You feel someone fix your hair as you blink into focus. Your eyes adjust. At first, you’re nervous. You may or may not have had a photo shoot before, but it’s always a little surprising at first, nonetheless. You know your pose, though. You went through it with Rebecca Leuszler, the co-artistic director of the company, backstage. You’re ready. The camera focuses.
Another thing that makes TMP’s intensive so valuable is its photo shoot. Photo shoots can be very expensive in general, but the students here get their photos taken as part of their tuition. These photos can be used for anything, really; resumes, applications, auditions, or even as really nifty profile pictures on social media.
“I think it was a very good experience,” says one student, in full makeup and costume after being photographed, “And the photos? I bet they came out really good because the setting of the room was really nice.”
And really nice it is; multicolored lights cast a tye-dye of color against a white wall as a backdrop, and the whole space feels somehow transformed, otherwordly.
The perfect place to create stunning photos.
After a long day of moving, you and the housing students return to the house. Two of them, Emma and Greta, later speak fondly of the fun they had while winding down after a day of training, “We usually hang out for awhile. One of my favorite things that we did was play cards a lot, which was a lot of fun because we got to laugh and have a good time together.”
Cards are not the only fun to be had; movie night and even a group outing to a bowling alley keep the students engaged, happy, and social after such a rigorous day.
The most exciting outing, however, is a trip to Cain Park to see GroundWorks DanceTheater, another company in Cleveland. You enjoy being able to see local dance and all of the opportunities the city has to offer.
When all is said and done, you have walked away from the intensive with a week's worth of improvisation, choreography, modern/contemporary, and ballet plus a broader understanding of building a portfolio, performing in a professional show, taking part in a photo shoot, and understanding how to maintain your body effectively.
But you also learn other things, too. Deeper things.
Friendship. Communication. Responsibility, “Groups were really able to interact and work with each other in a lot of different capacities,” Megan says proudly as she and I sit at the front desk, looking back on the week.
You can’t help but agree. Meeting new dancers from different studios, taking class from instructors you’ve never met before, and even staying in TMP’s housing for the week gave you a chance to be away from home and understand what that means to you as a person and artist.
And the best part? You didn’t have to do it alone. You experienced the week alongside other movers in the same boat you were in. You learned together and grew together.
As for me and the other instructors at TMP, we’ve enjoyed having each and everyone one of this year’s participants. Witnessing the growth and creative development is astonishing, and we can’t wait to see you all next year!