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Interview with Penny Saunders

This week we had the pleasure of talking with choreographer Penny Saunders about her upcoming world premiere with BalletX in Summer Series 2018 at The Wilma Theater, July 11-22. Penny Saunders and Rosie Langabeer’s world premiere collaboration blends found sound, haunting melody, and a live music trio, featuring Tara Middleton (Sun Ra Arkestra) and Gregg Mervine (West Philadelphia Orchestra) to explore transience and permanence, destiny and free will. Saunders won the 2016 Princess Grace Choreographic Fellowship, previously creating on Hubbard Street Dance, Whim W’him, and Grand Rapids Ballet.

How are you constantly evolving your creative process with each piece that you create?

I learn a little bit from every project that I have, so I get to bring those new skills with me into whatever adventure comes next. That allows me to try new and uncomfortable things. Other than that, I try to trust my intuition no matter how “strange” it might feel – everything can be dance in my mind.

What is your method for getting the dancers to understand your meaning? Do you use words, demonstrations, metaphors, imagery, etc?

I use anything and everything I can to get my point across! I do often find it more interesting to describe a movement using sensation-based imagery though. That way I can see the dancer’s personal instinct instead of constantly imposing my own on them. Making jokes and poking fun at myself during the process can also be helpful to diffuse my intensity and keep us all feeling comfortable in our vulnerability. I’m also incessantly adjusting tiny details – sometimes I cannot believe the dancers put up with me at all!

Do you come in to the rehearsal like an open book – ready to be inspired by the dancers and create on the spot – or do you come in with a set plan and prepared ideas; or a combination of both?

I never plan steps ahead of time – in fact I have a really hard time holding on to phrases nowadays. I prefer to be informed by the dancer and the moments we share together. I manage to prepare in other ways though… I improv to the music before hand, or sometimes I take notes or write bad poetry about the subject at hand in order to understand it more clearly.

What are you always striving for in your work? What motivates you?

I think the thing that I strive most for is connection. Firstly a connection with the dancers, then a connection to the music, and ultimately a connection to the audience. A beautiful, shared experience.

Why is dance an art form, in your own words?

I find all things to be dance. Life is dance. From our breath to a simple glance or a handshake – it can all be so powerful. Whether you find the beauty of dance through its mindfulness or its pure release, it has the ability to amplify the smallest details of life. Broadening perspectives, cultivating compassion and therefore elevating the human experience.

What is special about working with the BalletX dancers? How do they inspire you?

These dancers are amazing – finely tuned instruments indeed. They are co-creators, which I love. Sometimes I get so fed up with my own physical instincts and choices. It is such a relief to be offered their beautiful gifts so willingly. These artists are an absolute delight.

How is this piece different from any other work you’ve done?

This is my first co-creation with a composer. At first I was a bit overwhelmed with the idea, but in the end it’s actually really nice to share the entire process with someone. A partner in crime, helping me make the decisions along the way.

How has your creative process with Rosie Langabeer, the composer, evolved over the course of the project, and what does she bring to the table?

Rosie is incredibly creative and supportive. I have loved discussing all of the “ins and outs” of the project with her. Her input goes way beyond the music – we have co-created our own little world together. Rosie and I have often joked that through our many Skype chats and email exchanges, we could easily go on to create 15 more ballets after this one!

Don’t miss Penny’s upcoming World Premiere at BalletX Summer Series 2018 at The Wilma Theater, July 11-22.

To view Penny’s choreographic reel, click here.