BWW Interviews: Troy Schumacher

BalletCollective will present two world premiere ballets that showcase the company's commitment to artistic collaboration on October 29 and 30 at NYU Skirball Center, 566 LaGuardia Place at Washington Square. The program will also include The Impulse Wants Company (2013). All three works will be accompanied by live music performed by the ensemble Hotel Elefant and feature lighting design by Brandon Stirling Baker.

Artist David Salle will collaborate with director/choreographer Troy Schumacher and composer Ellis Ludwig-Leone on All That We See, a work for five dancers. The new ballet is inspired by a series of images from a painting by Salle generated specifically for this collaboration and will feature company members Taylor Stanley, Lauren King, Claire Kretzschmar, David Prottas and Meagan Mann. The program will also include Dear and Blackbirds, a world premiere pas de deux for dancers Ashley Laracey and Harrison Coll, choreographed by Troy Schumacher with music by Ellis Ludwig-Leone, based on a poem by Cynthia Zarin.

Broadwayworld Dance recently sat down to interview Mr. Schumacher.

You've been exposed to so many choreographic styles. How would you describe your style?

I feel lucky in that sense. Being a choreographer who's also a dancer at NYCB is an amazing education. I get to be inside these great works of art and do my best to bring them to life. Certain patterns get in my body, which sometimes I love and other times I try to get rid of. Learning different new ballets has helped me to get a feel of how I want to run rehearsals and articulate choreography. I often want dancers to do steps as them as I figure out the choreography, not as me. Sometimes I'm a little more specific. Sitting in the audience or standing in the wings has perhaps given me the most inspiration and helped me communicate what I value.

Stylistically, I try to create works for dancers. In the studio, it's just my mind, the music and them. Their movement serves as the spontaneous inspiration. My favorite moments of ballets are when the choreography fits the dancer like a glove, and it looks like they are completely free and making it up. Robbins and Balanchine were great at that. Of course, there's always choreography there, but it doesn't look like it's being executed- it's just happening. I can have a hard time verbalizing my style, but I love watching things that look spontaneous and relate to music in an intelligent way. I do my best to accomplish that while showing the dancers' athleticism and struggles without overtly presenting it. The audience is often watching something occurring, not being danced to.

What was the impetus to found BalletCollective?

There were so many reasons BalletCollective started, but at the forefront was practicality. I was working with a group of artists in a collective form, and we had work we wanted to present. It quickly became very clear that it is impossible to put on a performance on a small scale and even recoup the cost of the theater, let alone any of the artist fees. We realized that we needed to start a non-profit in order to fundraise to make our performance possible. At that point, before diving into running a non-profit, I began to think of all of the purposes a company like this could serve.

Process is a huge part of our mission, which is to bring in composers, artists, writers, designers, etc., and have them closely collaborate with a choreographer to create new ballets. I didn't want it to be, "Ok, you compose a score and I'll choreograph to it." I wanted to form close collectives to allow artists to influence each other across disciplines and create something together. Every art form has its own histories and aesthetics. Allowing a composer to provide input into choreographic structure, or for a poet to consider dance as she or he writes, inevitably means that they create something different and unexpected than they would do on their own. So, the main process impetus was to influence the trajectory of new ballets and have ballet in turn influence other art forms.

The second main need I discovered was the lack of the opportunities for audiences to get close to some of the best dancers in the world. You can see NYCB in a large beautiful theater in Lincoln Center, but there aren't often any other opportunities. Often, proximity to great dancers allows new audiences to form powerful connections to the awesomeness of ballet. I am fortunate to dance alongside these wonderful artists and wanted to provide audiences a more intimate exposure by allowing them to experience their performances in a different venue. More so, all of these ballets would be made for these dancers, and they could let their personalities show.

What ballets have you created for the company? Describe the process of the creation of one of your ballets?

At this point, considering the works that were made with the initial company that evolved into BalletCollective, I have choreographed six works for the company. On top of that, we are constantly revising each work that we've made as our process evolves. I am really excited to share these two world premieres with New York audiences in a few weeks, one of which is All That We See. A large part of our process is collaborating with a third artist to create a work for the choreographer and composer to use as a source/blueprint/libretto. This is used as a tool for communication and inspiration; the ballets are 100% indebted to these sources, though the relationship between the ballet and the source may be less obvious.

You have a commission from New York City Ballet? Can you share anything about this?

Creating Clearing Dawn for New York City Ballet was an amazing experience. It was absolutely exciting for me to have this opportunity that I'd been waiting for. I had been working so hard on these works for BalletCollective, so it was an honor to share some of the style I've been developing on the best stage. Opening night was quite unreal, and I kept on asking myself, "Did this happen?" It took a couple of days for it to really settle in. We've had six performances, and the dancers and musical ensemble have brought new life to the piece each time they get out there. It's fun to watch.

What's the next thing that we can expect from BalletCollective at Skirball Center?

After last year's Joyce season, which I think was a huge step for the company, we decided that we should create two new works this year and decrease the ensemble size. This way we could explore different physical relationships and explore new methods of creating work.

I was so happy with the creative team that produced The Impulse Wants Company, and I didn't want to fix something that wasn't broken. But, I also wanted to find a way to involve new artists in this process. So, composer Ellis Ludwig-Leone and I ultimately decided to create a pas de deux with writer Cynthia Zarin and invite a visual artist to create another, more abstract work.

After hearing about the project, the great painter David Salle was interested, and we commenced talks on how to incorporate visual art as a source. After a few inspiring meetings, David presented to Ellis and me the idea of giving us a series of small images taken from one painting. We wouldn't see the whole painting, but would explore these images that tell whole stories themselves. Some elements appear in multiple paintings and we, in our way, explored that too. In exploring these images, Ellis and I looked at form, line, structure and our emotional responses rather than the obvious content. The images were literally All That We See.

Photo: Taylor Stanley in Impulse, photograph by Erin Baiano

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