New York choreographer brings mythology and magic to Interlochen dance students

As the new semester launched at Interlochen Arts Academy, students began preparations for their participation in the upcoming NY Phil Biennial on June 5. For the Interlochen Arts Academy Dance Company, that meant spending much of January working with a renowned New York-based choreographer on a piece that will be presented in conjunction with one of the commissioned musical works.

Internationally acclaimed choreographer Christopher Williams, who was on campus throughout January, has a career spanning years and continents, working with companies around the world on a wide range of projects. His collaboration with Interlochen, however, did give this seasoned artist a new experience: working with high school students.

"I've worked with college students but never high school students before," Williams said. "They're just so sweet ... they're so excited about it. If more dancers showed that kind of pure, childlike zeal, I think that the process would be just beautiful."

Williams was commissioned to create an original choreographic work set to Nico Muhly's orchestral work So Far So Good, which the Academy Orchestra will perform onstage at David Geffen Hall.

This collaboration is also new to Williams in that he usually chooses the music he will use in his work.

"I think typically as a choreographer, I'm very inspired by a germ of an idea - whether it be something that I plucked from history, or a piece of music, or even a movement idea," he said. "In this case, I was given the music, I didn't choose it, and that's something very different for me. But I was delighted to discover that when I heard it, I couldn’t help but imagine a choreographic scenario on stage—Nico is so brilliant at creating a score that has a kind of polyphonic narrative in it that it goes on its own journey."

Without giving too much away, the dance—which Williams has titled The Good So Far—is inspired by elements of shamanism, ancient rites and mythological symbolism. And possibly a look at some prehistoric creatures: "There may be some surprises—like Pleistocene megafauna totems—that appear in the piece," Williams said. Thanks to his work with frequent collaborator and costume designer Andrew Jordan and Interlochen's own Mallory Costume Shop, the audience may get a glimpse of an ancient cave bear, a woolly mammoth and more.

Williams said the collaboration between Interlochen and the New York Philharmonic offers some unique opportunities, both for students at Interlochen and for the New York audiences who will be coming to see the performance.

"For the students here that's a very big deal—to get to go to New York and perform on stage with the New York Philharmonic is an amazing experience," he said. "So I think it's of great value to the students—but it's also of great value to the New York Philharmonic, because it's expanding their horizons"—by adding dance to a primarily music performance-focused venue, and also by selecting the young musicians and dancers at Interlochen to be the only high school performers to participate in the biennial, he added.

From concept to choreography to costuming, the entire process has been fulfilling for this New York professional, who has been impressed by the caliber of student he’s found at Interlochen.

"Interlochen Center for the Arts, in my opinion, in my first time here ever, is amazing," Williams said. "These are high school students and they are working like college dancers, and that's incredible. They're having an experience beyond their years ... I admit I'm jealous! I wish I'd had that when I was this age! It's really special—a very special location, very special students who are here, who are totally devoted—so much emotion is present. They give 400 percent of themselves, and I have deep respect for them."

The Interlochen Arts Academy Orchestra will perform at the New York Philharmonic's 2016 NY Phil Biennial on June 5, 2016. For more information or to purchase tickets, go to nyphil.org.

Christopher Williams was also featured on Interlochen Public Radio. To learn more and listen to the piece, go to interlochenpublicradio.org.

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