The 2016 Choreography Showcase is this weekend! This unique opportunity offers a space for Smuin’s dancers to choreograph short pieces on one another and perform them in a professional setting. Recently, we spoke with Company member Nicole Haskins about her experience in choreography and her piece for this year’s showcase.

Nicole in Helen Pickett's "Petal." Spring 2015. Photo: Chris Hardy.

Nicole in Helen Pickett’s “Petal.” Spring 2015. Photo: Chris Hardy.

Originally from Venice Beach, CA, Haskins trained at the local Westside School of Ballet. After creating a few small pieces for her home studio, Haskins embraced Pittsburgh Ballet’s summer program opportunity to present her choreography. Following positive reception of the piece, she was asked to choreograph several pieces for Westside’s spring showcase.

Haskins began her professional dance career as an apprentice with Sacramento Ballet in 2005, but continued to create work through Sacramento Ballet’s program encouraging dancers to experiment with choreography. Her first work, Souvenir, was invited to perform at the 9th Annual Choreography Festival in Palm Desert. During her seven years with Sacramento Ballet, Haskins created more than 15 works that were presented at the company’s various choreography events. She continued her choreographic studies at New York City Ballet’s New York Choreographic Institute, which she described as a workshop “focused on the process of choreography, not creating a work.”

After Haskins joined Smuin Ballet for the 2013/2014 season, she was excited to expand her creative experience, creating a beautiful pas de deux for Smuin’s Choreography Showcase that season. Artistic Director Celia Fushille asked her to create several works for The Christmas Ballet. Fushille commented, “When I saw Nicole’s first work created here on her peers, I could see that she possessed a unique voice.” Fantasia, a classical work for three couples, was well received in 2014, and this past year’s edition of The Christmas Ballet featured Haskins’ Joy to the World, the full company finale of Act I.

Nicole Haskins' "Joy to the World." Winter 2015. Photo: Chris Hardy.

Nicole Haskins’ “Joy to the World.” Winter 2015. Photo: Chris Hardy.

“I like to challenge myself every time I choreograph a new piece,” Haskins said, with factors like the type of music, different groupings of dancers, and even using a storyline. Naturally a planner, she organizes the formations and structure of a dance long before rehearsals begin. “I am very comfortable using shapes and mathematics in dance. I used to mark out spacing for dances using old cassette tapes!” After she creates a foundation of patterns, Haskins values the input of her dancers in rehearsal: “I trust that I can have a general overview, but I let the dancers actualize the steps within their own bodies.”

In this year’s Choreography Showcase, Haskins presents Merely Players, a piece for 10 dancers. By creating a piece that features pedestrian movement, is set to three different pop songs, and is danced in flat rather than pointe shoes, she introduced elements that stretch her as a choreographer. Haskins describes the movement style for her piece as a “contemporary, unrefined feel to classical ballet vocabulary.” She hopes Merely Players will embody “joy, and different ways that joy is in our lives. I wanted to create a sense of being at peace with the world.”

Nicole Haskins and Weston Krukow in the 2015 Choreography Showcase at ODC Theater. Photo: Chris Hardy.

Nicole Haskins and Weston Krukow in the 2015 Choreography Showcase at ODC Theater. Photo: Chris Hardy.

Haskins always enjoys the way audiences respond in the post-show Q&A sessions: “Everyone has their own interpretation of what a piece means. If I leave the audience an open space in the work, then anyone can relate to it in their own way.”

Celia Fushille looks forward to seeing Haskins’ piece performed onstage: “Nicole is precise and hears music in an almost mathematical way. The Choreography Showcase gives her a chance to challenge herself in ways that a commissioned piece may not. It will be exciting to watch her choreographic career evolve.”

Haskins is immensely grateful for the opportunity that the Choreography Showcase brings: “In an age of little diversity in ballet choreographers, the performance offers a great opportunity to aspiring female choreographers in the company. These workshops are invaluable to becoming a choreographeryou can’t become a choreographer without practicing choreography. I don’t know of another company in San Francisco that allows all of its dancers this kind of opportunity.”

See Nicole Haskins’ Merely Players and more works from Smuin dancers in the 2016 Choreography Showcase January 29-30 at ODC Theater.