“Renaissance”: Choreographer Amy Seiwert’s Latest Work

        Fluttering hands, interlocking wrists, and pointing fingers—if there’s one thing distinct about dance maker Amy Seiwert’s choreographic style, it’s her love of gesture and unconventional partnering that remains consistent throughout each new work she creates. Twenty years ago, Seiwert first stepped into Smuin Contemporary Ballet’s studios under the direction of Company Founder Michael Smuin. Smuin was a firm believer in encouraging emerging choreographic talent, and he supported Seiwert’s desire to create ballets until his passing in 2007. Upon her retirement from dancing in 2008, she was appointed Smuin’s first Choreographer in Residence by Artistic Director Celia Fushille. At the conclusion of the Company’s 25th anniversary season, Seiwert returns to create her first new work for Smuin following her successful ten year run as resident choreographer. “There is always a sense of support and camaraderie in the studio here that just make it a great place to create,” Seiwert shared in conversation. “To be back in the studio with [the Smuin dancers] is like breathing—we know each other’s styles really well.”

        Seiwert’s newest creation, Renaissance, encapsulates the collaborative and communal environment that the choreographer’s creativity thrives in. “When I work with the dancers, they are not empty vessels that I want to do exactly what I say,” Seiwert explained. “I want them to bring creative and physical ideas to the table.” The dancers themselves often tacitly influence Seiwert’s creative process. “I always believe it’s a collaboration even if you don’t talk about it. When I’m watching a dancer, I’m watching their body language. I know which way they kinetically want to move out of something and I’m going to build on that,” the choreographer elaborated. Her choreography is often so unique to the time and place in which she creates, she admitted that “if there was a different group of dancers in that room, the piece would turn out completely different.”

        Like many choreographers, Seiwert’s musical choices also inform a large part of her creative process. For Renaissance, Seiwert chose to work with the music of Kitka Women’s Vocal Ensemble, a local a capella group that specializes in performing music from a variety of Eastern European cultures, including Greek, Macedonian, Bulgarian, and Russian, among others.  “When Celia approached me about creating for this season and the desire to have a celebration, this music really spoke to me for that.” Seiwert’s experiences with her husband (who is a musician) at the Ashkenaz Music & Dance Community Center in Berkeley further inspired her work. “You’d have these dances that were multi-generational and there was so much joy. It didn’t really matter if you knew the dances or not, what was important was to join in and to have the spirit, the kef, of the music and the dance.” After selecting seven songs from several of Kitka’s albums for her work, Seiwert immediately set about finding the translations of each. “I really wanted to make sure that I knew the words we’re dancing to,” the choreographer elaborated. “It was important to me to at least reference what was happening in a lot of those places.”

        Seiwert was additionally motivated by the current social climate, where gender equity plays an increasingly larger role worldwide. A movement earlier this year caught the choreographer’s attention, in which millions of women in India formed a 385-mile long “wall,” joining hands in protest to some of the country’s unequal laws. “I feel for women, right now in this time in history, there’s a lot happening in terms of equity,” Seiwert observed. “In the field of ballet lately there’s a lot of talk about ‘flipping the script.’ That ‘we’re going to show women as strong!’” she continued. “But, women are strong. We don’t need to flip the script, we just need to tell the story from a different perspective.” Showing the strength of women needn’t be a one-sided narrative, as Seiwert sees it. She was particularly intrigued by the show of solidarity that the men displayed, echoing the sentiments of the “Women’s Wall” movement. While countless women formed the wall, many of the men in their lives stood with them, but across the street in solidarity. “They stood with them, but not side by side,” the choreographer emphasized. “I loved that show of support—that you can stand by without interfering in something that’s not yours,” she explained. The fight for equality, from her perspective, is a communal one that can be seen throughout her work. The dancers take turns supporting each other; women lifting women, men sometimes observing, sometimes helping. Some dancers intermittently break away, dancing freely on their own before rejoining the group. “What I have enjoyed exploring the most [with this work] is the strength and the joy of the community,” Seiwert said of her experience. “It’s that community aspect of ‘we’re creating this together.’ “What I hope people walk away from it with is that sense of community and a sense of joy.”

** Written by Eva Faizi, Smuin’s Communications Manager

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See Smuin perform the final program in its 25th season anniversary April 26- June 1. Kicking off the final program of Smuin’s 25th anniversary season is a world premiere from master dance maker Amy Seiwert. Also on the bill is The Best of Smuin, featuring the return of timeless Michael Smuin favorites such as “Unforgettable,” and the red-hot chair solo “Fever” from Smuin’s inaugural program “Dances With Songs.” Buy tickets here.
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