For an aspiring choreographer, what could be better than the chance for a fully-realized performance of one of your works, complete with a group of talented dancers? That’s what former Ballet San Jose principal Karen Gabay will experience this weekend, as one of the four winners of the Joffrey Academy’s seventh annual Winning Works competition. Every year, the program recognizes emerging African, Latino(a), Asian, Arab and Native American choreographers, and the winning artists create original works on Joffrey Academy trainees and Studio Company members.
As she prepared for the final performance series, Gabay told Pointe about her Winning Works experience.
What is your new work about?
My piece is called Hopeful Undertones and is inspired by the issues that teenagers face today. This generation of teens has hit puberty where technology and social media has transformed society, creating more stress and anxiety. I wanted to show that the smallest gesture of kindness is powerful and can change the hopelessness in someone else’s world.
What was it like working with the Joffrey Academy Dancers?
It was challenging because I wanted to create a piece that had a narrative, yet I didn’t want it to be too dark for these young dancers. My cast is fairly close to the age that my piece is about, yet I needed dancers who weren’t afraid to show a different side to themselves. The six soloists out of my cast of fifteen had to express themselves more emotionally while maintaining the technique of classical ballet. Each of the six get featured in either a solo or pas de deux, and they handled it beautifully.
What is the movement like?
My movement is based on classical ballet. My first inspiration always comes from the music, and from there I imagine the tone of the piece and textures of the movement I’d like to create.
How did you get started as a choreographer?
I was encouraged by a friend of mine, Lev Polyakin, who at the time was the assistant concert master for the Cleveland Orchestra. He’d book “gigs” and I’d choreograph (and dance) to the music of his repertoire. These performances were very popular and eventually, I started my own company, Pointe of Departure, to expand on that idea.
What would you say to young dancers who want to try their hand at choreographing?
I would encourage them, especially young women. I think it is a great creative outlet.
Shannon Alvis, Sean Aaron Carmon and Jimmy Orrante join Gabay as this year’s winners. Their work will be presented at the Chicago Public Library’s Harold Washington Library Center on March 11 and 12. Find out more about all the winning choreographers here.