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pnb: choreographers’ showcase – interview with stacy lowenberg

Kiyon Gaines, Stacy Lowenberg, and
Jordan Pacitti in Dumais’ Time
and other Matter. (photo © Angela Sterling)

Stacy Lowenberg joined Pacific Northwest Ballet as an apprentice in 1994. In 1996, she joined Oregon Ballet Theatre, returning to PNB as a member of the corps de ballet in 1999. She originated leading roles in Val Caniparoli’s Torque, Dominique Dumais’ Scripted in the Body and Time and Other Matter, Nicolo Fonte’s Within/Without, and Paul Gibson’s Rush. Other roles have included Titania, Helena, and Hippolyta in a Midsummer Night’s Dream, and the Lilac Fairy in Sleeping Beauty. She has also performed as a guest artist with Des Moines Ballet Theatre. She is also a Pilates instructor for PNB’s Conditioning program and teaches frequently at PNB School. She has been a guest teacher at Des Moines Ballet Theatre School and the Tri-Cities Academy of Dance.

Lowenberg’s work has appeared in three PNB Chorographers’ Showcases: 2007, 2008, and 2009. She has also choreographed for Ballet Bellevue.

Rosie: What was the first piece that you ever choreographed?
Stacy: It was Rushed Goodbye.

And that was two years ago, right?

It was a beautiful piece. What drew you to choreograph the first time?
I was just always curious about choreography. I think it’s a good opportunity for someone to mess up, or to succeed, or to just experiment. I still feel like I’m experimenting.

So this is your third piece? Is that right? What’s been your favorite one so far?
I really liked my first piece, I think just because I didn’t know if I could do it, and it was really well received. And then the company performed it at Bumbershoot, and people liked it.

I really enjoyed the process last year, because I got to choreograph on company members. The process so fast. I set something in a week and it looked good. It’s much faster to set things on company members, who don’t have to be coached as much.

They’re also used to being choreographed on?
Yes. So this year it was very different, because were back to working with students. Two out of my four kids are quitting ballet to go to college. This is it for them. So I wanted to do a low-stress, fun ballet for them where they could giggle and have good time.

So what made you sign up to choreograph this time?
Last year I was just thought: I wonder if I can do it again? And this year I almost didn’t sign up, because I knew I was going to be planning my wedding. But I thought: No, I should make myself, because the more I practice, possibly the better I can become. And I guess I was trying to figure out if this is something I would be interested in doing some day, or not. I’m still trying to figure that part out.

Did you enjoy it?
We just had a blast. They giggled so hard. There’s been this rain of things that have happened… They have to be very silly, and there’s acting, so…

You’ve had acting before…
But it was romantic. With this one I’m hoping that people will laugh. It’s supposed to be a little funny.

My idea was: There’s this guy on the stage when the curtain opens, and he’s chasing his hat…like it’s blowing in the wind. He thinks: What is going on? Why is my hat moving? And then he grabs it. And then, the next thing: He hears something and he looks and there’s this girl’s leg coming out of the wing.

Oh, how funny.
It happens a couple times and then the girls come out and dance with him. He’s supposed to be like: Wow? Why are these girls dancing with me? I’m a dork! We had a hard time. I said, “Jake [Lowenstein], I know you’re used to having girls fall all over you… Can you try to be more dorky?

So we worked on their acting skills. And I think they had a good time being silly.

What prompted the idea for the hat? That’s so unusual.
At first I had the hat on him the entire time, and he would throw it off. But, the beginning music kind of suggested it to me… I actually started this piece on Ballet Bellevue, and they performed a version of it. It was just last year, in October. I changed it a bit, but it’s still the silly concept of a guy…and hat…

Have you choreographed a lot for Ballet Bellevue?
I set Rushed Goodbye on them.

So that piece has actually been performed three times: at PNB, at Bumbershoot, and at Ballet Bellevue.
It was my first piece. Jen Porter from Ballet Bellevue had seen Rushed Goodbye, and so they asked if they could have it for their Valentine’s Day program.

Then they hired me to choreograph another piece for them. It was performing in October, and I happened to be out of town, so I didn’t get to see the end process. So I asked Peter [Boal] if I could just work on that piece for the Choreographers’ Showcase, because I feel like you never really have time to work on something. I know it’s only five minutes, but there are so many little details to think about. And I think I’m still practicing choreographing on groups.

How many people are there in this one?
Four…you could maybe say five. There’s a girl who comes in at the very end.

It’s funny. I keep partnering them up…and then they do a little group dance. I’m still working out the group stuff. I love pas deux. They come much more easily to me.

Do you want to choreograph more?
Yes, I think so. I want continue. Next year, I guess it’s back [to setting the work] on the company.

I have ideas in my pocket. There was this music that I really wanted to use one year, but that didn’t work out…so that’s still in my pocket. And my first story ballet: I want to do Leda and the Swan. There’s this beautiful artwork that I saw at the art museum. I want it, I love it, it’s gorgeous! So, I started googling Leda and the Swan… And then, there’s this other piece I’ve been thinking about: I want to experiment, maybe, with dialogue.

Now, you’ve done a piece with dialogue before, right? Scripted in the Body, by Dominique Dumais.
Paul [Gibson] spoke. With this piece, in my mind, people could interpret what was being said in different ways, depending on the movement.

Do you feel that choreographing gives you a level of fulfillment that you wouldn’t have otherwise?
I don’t know. There’s nothing that compares to performing. Nothing. Choreography is actually scary to me. I started thinking about my piece and I started shaking. And I don’t [get nervous] when I think about dancing. But I shake just thinking about watching my piece…sitting in the audience… I think: I’m nervous! What is wrong with me? It’s just a five-minute piece. It doesn’t matter. Afterward, people told me, “I loved it!” And that made me feel better.

I love performing ballet so much, I don’t mind so much if people don’t like it. But with choreography, you’re more worried about people having a good time.

I don’t think it’s like that for everyone, though.

Do you think that will change…as you get more used to it?
Yeah. I hope so. I hope I get more cocky…get more like the boy choreographers.

Do you notice a difference working with male choreographers versus female?
I don’t know. I do find there are more male choreographers; I might be wrong though.

A lot of the guys know how to dance the girl parts and they know how to partner. And here I am, even though I’ve danced in pas de deux, I think: How do you get her into the air? Where do you grab her? I have to grab a guy and try it. I know what I want it to look like, but figuring out how it actually happens…

I think that men, who are used to partnering, know how it happens. I think it’s easier for them. They’ve done the girls’ steps before. I mean, no girl has ever done a press. We just can’t.

I understand that you took a choreograph workshop?
Last summer: it was two weeks long and we had assignments every day.

Did you learn a lot through that?
I did. And I actually talked to Peter, because I wanted to continue the process. It would be so good to choreograph during students all year long, but Peter didn’t think it would fit it into our schedules. Kiyon [Gaines] and I would have loved to do it; and we were going to give each other assignments. I just think, the more practice you have, the better, because you can experiment. You’re going to fail. You’re not always going to be well-received. Or, you shouldn’t always be well received, because you should be challenging yourself.

The worst part for me is that I never feel there’s enough time, because we’re dancing at the same time [we’re choreographing]. You don’t have time to make a mistake, to say: I hate that two minutes that I just choreographed and totally scratch it. You have to keep plugging along. And I don’t know if any of us ever feel like we have enough time.

What were some of your goals with this piece?
I wanted to work on it, refine it. I actually wanted to add on to it, but we didn’t have time. I started five weeks ago, but for two weeks we didn’t touch it, because I was performing. So it was really only two weeks of working on it. This week we’ve barely touched it either; it’s just been run-throughs this week.

How many hours have you had to work on it?
Well, it’s been different for everyone. Barry [Kerollis] and Olivier [Wevers] started during Swan Lake, because they didn’t have as busy a schedule. They were able to start then. I came in on my first week of vacation, but two out of my four people were out on vacation themselves. I thought: Well, this doesn’t work; we need everyone here. And so we had to start at the very last week of our vacation. But everyone has had different amounts of time.

Can you tell me a little bit about the process of choreographing this piece when you did it for Ballet Bellevue?
I started with the music. I always start with the music. I had some step ideas and it just…evolved. Each time it’s very different.

I definitely changed a lot of it. People would still recognize it, but the steps for the guy are different, because Jake is different from the guy at Ballet Bellevue.

And then, I tried to refine things that I didn’t think were clear. I think choreographing something with acting, you have to be pretty clear. And that was a challenge for me this time. I’m not positive that everything is clear: it’s clear to me, but I’m hoping the audience will get it. I hope that they think it’s funny. It’s only five minutes, so I don’t think that people are going to be sitting there laughing hysterically, but I do hope they go: oh, oh, that was cute.

You’ve been in some hilarious pieces yourself. In Coppélia, you were so funny when you found the key. And that weird dance, with the five of you walking across the front of the stage: Trisha Brown’s Spanish Dance. And Torque.
The silent pas de deux

That was so funny.
I love comedy and I love romance. I love them both. I thought: Alright, I’ve done the romantic thing…

I think [this new piece] stems from the fact that I’m getting married and I can’t flirt anymore!

I asked my girls: Do I have to teach you how to flirt? You’re not flirting enough! And then I was sitting around the other day and I wondered: Is it because I can’t flirt anymore? [The interview ends the note of merry laughter this dancer is known for.] I don’t know…