Choreographer Brock Clawson -- In the 'Right Place'

Choreographer Brock Clawson

Brock Clawson is an interesting mix -- both a choreographer and a landscape designer. His work with dancers can be seen in the Joffrey's upcoming Contemporary Choreographers series, running February 12th to February 23 at Chicago's Auditorium Theater. We asked Brock some questions about his process and his current work, which we're pleased to share with you today.

What is your background in dance?

I started my dance training when I was about 12. I am trained in ballet, modern and jazz. I moved to Chicago immediately after graduating high school and continued studying dance at Columbia College Chicago as well as taking classes with various studios like Lou Conte, Ruth Page and through the scholarship program at Giordano Dance Chicago.

How did you wind up choreographing?

I was dancing with Thodos Dance Chicago and began choreographing through their New Dances program which provides company members with a budget and gives them the opportunity to create their own works on professional dancers. It really made sense to me and I saw a level of dedication and passion in myself that had been lacking in performing. The company recognized my talents and began providing me with regular choreography opportunities as well as a promotion in the company to become their Artistic Associate. It all sort of snow balled from there and bigger and better jobs started coming my way.

What is your process like when you make a dance?

When I am working on a new creation, I generally come up with a concept first, and then start the difficult task of finding music that I want to create to. That generally leads to me moving around a lot at home (in my kitchen) to come up with some thematic movement that I can take to the dancers. I tend to draw out a lot of patterns and have partnering ideas and movement phrases all put together before I even start working with the dancers. I like to be as prepared as possible in order to keep things interesting and moving once I am in rehearsal.

Joffrey is performing one of your pieces, Crossing Ashland, as part of their Contemporary Choreographers series this month. Can you describe how the idea for this piece came about?

This isn't a short and easy answer, but I will do my best. It's more of a series of events that lead into the idea.

I recently finished a three-year program at the Regenstein School of the Chicago Botanic Gardens studying Landscape Design and horticulture. I wanted to study another form of design that would further my choreography. In horticulture school, there is a common phrase that you hear all the time, "Right Plant, Right Place" -- which basically means that a plant can survive in it's non-ideal environment, but it will never really be at its best unless it is given the proper elements it requires to help it truly thrive.

I started to relate it to humans and began thinking about how many of us go through our lives in either the wrong relationship, job, location, etc., and what happens if we actually challenge ourselves to find our "right place."

My partner and I live in a neighborhood that is split by Ashland Avenue. While walking our dogs we would often say to one another, "Do you want to cross Ashland?" Most of the time we would choose not to, but every once in a while, when we were up for something different and feeling like going somewhere new and unfamiliar we would cross. It sort of became a metaphor for change.

Crossing Ashland, Ricardo Santos and Lucas Segovia, photo by Christopher Duggan

How did you select the music for Crossing Ashland?

I listened to so much music that I thought I was going to go crazy. I knew that I wanted to be able to have multiple pieces of music that would help the piece move, but they all needed to fit together in order to create a through line for the work. It's not easy to do if you aren't going with classical music which I knew I didn't want to do.

What is a typical day like when you are working on teaching the choreography to the dancers?

I tend to work pretty quickly because I always have this terrifying fear that I am going to not finish something. It has never actually happened but I always want to make sure that I have more time at the end of a process than at the beginning.

Generally the first week is just teaching the dancers the movement and working on the style. It's different than what a lot of them are used to, but because they are such gifted athletes and dancers they have been welcoming the challenge and doing a fantastic job adapting. What's the day really like? Move, move, move! Go, go, go!

It barely stops until you go home.

How long will it take to set Crossing Ashland on the company from start to finish?

Well, that's the magic question.

I am only one week into the process and I have two more to go. I am hoping that it will be completely finished at the end of week two so that my final week can be all about really digging in to the cleaning and the style and talking about the emotion behind the piece. I love coaching dancers through the emotional ride that works should carry from section to section. That's where it gets really fun for me.

What do you enjoy most about the process of making dances?

I love being in a room with talented people that share the same passion. I love relaying my vision to the dancers and feeding off of the energies of the dancers in the room that are really clicking with me and that are on board with what I am doing.

The creative process is always full of ups and downs for me... that's just how it has always been. I have my great days and I have my days where I wonder why I am even doing this... but it is always incredibly rewarding in the end. Nothing else in life challenges me to grow as much as choreography has.

Do you have any advice for aspiring choreographers?

This is always a difficult question for me to answer, but ultimately I would say... make yourself vulnerable, and never lose sight of the fact that you are creating for a paying audience.

What is coming up next for you?

Hawaii to relax for two weeks after the Joffrey ends -- my favorite place on earth. After that... more choreography and landscape design jobs.

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