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Vermont Choreographers Accept Challenge to Create New Work in a Month

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Mary Chris DeBelina Doyle - COURTESY OF ANTARES MEKETA
  • Courtesy Of Antares Meketa
  • Mary Chris DeBelina Doyle

Making time to create new work is hard for many artists, particularly if they have multiple jobs or otherwise busy lives. One organization supports choreographers, dancers and movement artists in the creative process. NACHMO, an acronym for National Choreography Month, is a Brooklyn-based nonprofit that offers an annual challenge — and a carrot — to participants: Create a new work in the month of January. We'll help you do it.

"We are your choreographic kick in the pants!" proclaims the NACHMO website. Through daily creative prompts, a blog and live events, the organization helps artists choreograph a short piece, support one another in the process and network. Long term, NACHMO aims to build "a connected, active and inclusive community" of dance makers worldwide.

Last fall, the Vermont Dance Alliance launched NACHMO Vermont, the 14th of NACHMO's hubs, all of which are in the United States. Hubs act as points of contact for choreographers and produce group shows.

On Wednesday, February 12, a dozen artists will present new works at the Vermont hub's inaugural show at Burlington's Karma Bird House. The informal solos and duets, each no more than five minutes long, will draw from ballet, juggling, spoken word, modern and contemporary dance, and interdisciplinary arts.

Audience members can expect "decisive experimentation," Vermont Dance Alliance director Hanna Satterlee said, and "a very expansive portrayal of choreography."

Satterlee, one of the artists creating new works, views the challenge as a month of research. "Who am I this month?" she asked. "How is my life affecting my art? Can I fit in my practice and commit to it in a new way?"

Being accountable to herself, the community and participants across the country helps her in that research, Satterlee said: "Some days, it's hard! But that's the point. That's why it's a challenge."

New York City-based Sharyn Korey and San Diego-based Anna Brown Massey cofounded NACHMO in 2009. As artists and educators, they were inspired by the annual November event NaNoWriMo — National Novel Writing Month — during which participants attempt to write a 50,000-word manuscript. More than 400 choreographers nationwide registered to participate in this year's NACHMO challenge.

The Vermont hub began through Satterlee's fortuitous meeting last fall with Annalisa Ledson, coordinator of NACHMO's regional directors, member of the artists committee and producer of New York City NACHMO shows. Ledson joined the Vermont Dance Alliance after moving to Burlington to earn a master's degree in interdisciplinary studies at the University of Vermont. "We immediately hit it off," Satterlee said, "and decided Vermont should be a hub."

Eighteen choreographers responded to the NACHMO Vermont invitation, and 12 are still going strong.

Mary Chris DeBelina Doyle is a part-time educator and stay-at-home mom of four kids, all ages 10 or younger. The Montpelier resident said that being part of NACHMO is "letting me find my voice again as a choreographer." DeBelina Doyle has carved out time to do every daily prompt. While out sledding with her children, she related, she read one that became a favorite. The prompt, available on the NACHMO website, reads: "Find three different types of fabric and move on them, letting the textures influence your movement."

DeBelina Doyle thought, I'm going to do this right now. A friend used a cellphone to record her improvised dance sequence inspired by gloves, snow pants and snow.

NACHMO encourages choreographers to post one-minute clips of their explorations on social media and to comment on others' clips. Such interaction has helped DeBelina Doyle learn "what resonates with people" and discover other forms of dance. She also appreciates that her videos are now "a catalog of all the things I've done" during the challenge.

Austin Smith has been juggling since he was 7 years old. Now in his mid-twenties, he teaches locally, busks on Church Street in Burlington and performs at juggling festivals, working with balls, clubs and rings. Though it might seem surprising that a juggler would participate in a dance event, Satterlee pointed out that "dancers use props all the time."

Smith said he hasn't used the NACHMO prompts, but just committing to the January challenge has stretched him artistically. Normally, when he creates new work, he focuses on what the props are doing and how his body can facilitate them.

"I wanted to flip that" for the challenge, Smith said. "What's my body doing, and how can I incorporate the props into the choreography?"

He'll perform a two-and-a-half-minute piece to music by Jazzinuf. "If you've never seen contemporary juggling, expect to be dazzled," Smith enthused.

UVM dance lecturer Paula Higa's duet found inspiration in two poems by early 20th-century Portuguese poet Florbela Espanca. Titled "The Woman That I Would Like to Be," the piece deals with themes of violence against women and will be danced by members of Higa's company, Paula Higa Dance & Ers.

"It's very aggressive in terms of movement. I want to show the kind of violence that we suffer in daily life," in physical, emotional and other realms, Higa said. The piece works with a duality, she continued: "Are you the woman who is experiencing the violence, or are you the angry woman? The characters, the dancers, switch places."

The Karma Bird House show will also include works choreographed by Current Harbor, Joy Madden, Jessie Mills, Moore Dance, Alana Phinney, Isadora Snapp, We are the Ancestors of the Future and Willow Wonder.

Afterward, some choreographers plan to morph their creations into more polished pieces. However, "You can make a dance in the privacy of your bedroom, never show it to anyone, and still have rocked NACHMO," the organization's website assures.

Next year, the Vermont Dance Alliance will again serve as a hub for the challenge, and Satterlee hopes Vermonters in other parts of the state will establish additional hubs. "Supporting choreographers is a team effort," she said.

NACHMO Vermont Performance, Wednesday, February 12, 7-9 p.m., at Karma Bird House in Burlington. $10-30 suggested donation. vermontdance.org, nachmo.org

The original print version of this article was headlined "Mission Possible | Vermont choreographers accept the NACHMO Challenge to create new work in one month"

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