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How a pair of ballerinas became emerging choreographers
A welcome biennial tradition for dance lovers, the Joyce Theater's Ballet Festival returns for its third edition this week. The 12-day festival features five up-and-coming choreographers presenting adventurous works in an intimate setting. Many of the participating dancers usually appear on much larger stages, and they're eager to use their summer break to explore new and innovative repertoire.
Two of the choreographers are employing performers well-known to ballet fans. Claudia Schreier's program (July 21 and 22) includes two pieces created for former New York City Ballet principal Wendy Whelan, and the ensemble features current NYCB members Jared Angle, Unity Phelan, and Cameron Dieck; Dance Theatre of Harlem's Da'Von Doane and Francis Lawrence, and members of Los Angeles Ballet and Pennsylvania Ballet. Meanwhile, Gemma Bond -- who has danced with American Ballet Theatre since 2008 -- has gathered an impressive group of colleagues to perform three works (July 25 and 26). Even though ABT's season just ended earlier this month, 16 dancers postponed their vacations in order to appear in Bond's program.
Although Schreier and Bond created their first dances around the same young age, they followed very different paths. New York native Schreier has consistently focused on both dance technique and choreography, but opted to attend Harvard at an age when ballerinas tend to launch themselves professionally. In addition to earning her B.A. in sociology, she choreographed for the Harvard Ballet Company and Harvard Contemporary Dance Ensemble.
"You never stop being a dancer in your head," Schreier says. "You may take off the shoes and produce a 20-page paper, but that side of yourself is always there, even if you're not actively performing or engaging with the dance world. If you have that dance bug in your heart, you're never going to let it go." Schreier hasn't let it go since graduating. In 2014, she won the Breaking Glass Project choreographic competition and presented an evening of her work at the Ailey Citigroup Theater. A year later, the prestigious Vail International Dance Festival commissioned a piece, and she's currently prepping her second Vail work, set to a Leonard Bernstein score. A preview of that dance is part of her Joyce program, along with three world premieres: a solo for Whelan; a duet for Phelan and Angle; and Charge, a large ensemble piece set to a score by Dutch composer Douwe Eisenga.
Meanwhile, British-born Bond crafted her first piece at age 13 for a student competition while at the Royal Ballet School. However, once she joined the company, the intense performance schedule put choreography on hold. Fortuitously, her arrival at ABT came with choreographic opportunities, including a year-long course specifically for women in the company and, later, an initiative to nurture young dance-makers. Bond successfully auditioned for each of the initiative's three years, and created pieces for private showings attended by dance cognoscenti.
At one of those, her choreography caught the eye of Diana Byer, artistic director of New York Theatre Ballet, who commissioned several pieces, and Bond realized she thrived under a deadline. "Before that, I had fun doing it, but there was no pressure," she says. "It was an opportunity to learn and create something." By February 2016, Bond was ready to offer a full evening of work at Danspace Project, and has since created dances for other companies. Her Joyce program includes Then and Again, seen at Danspace, alongside two premieres set to unusual and eclectic music choices, such as contemporary indie composer Lori Scacco and a 19th-century cello composition by Carlo Alfredo Piatti.
Unlike Bond, who continues to dance with ABT, Schreier has put performing on the back burner. A generous grant from the Virginia B. Toulmin foundation allowed her to leave her full-time job and concentrate on her burgeoning choreographic career. And that's exactly what she wants to do right now. "My hunger to be in the studio with the dancers, creating and immersing myself in the music, and creating that kind of community -- that's what drives me," she says.
Susan Reiter regularly covers dance for TDF Stages
Top image: Elinor Hitt and Da'Von Doane in Claudia Schreier's Vigil; photo by Nir Arieli.