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Dance is not magic. It is work perpetually in progress. Yet dancers and their audiences alike are often so swept up in dance as a performing art that they neglect to acknowledge dance performance as a process.

This month, Columbia Ballet Collaborative gave a nod to this process with Works in Progress, a studio showcase of new choreographic works set to premiere in November at Manhattan Movement and Arts Center. The Collaborative, established in 2007 by five professional dancers pursuing their undergraduate degrees, espouses a commitment to the enrichment of the arts community in and around Columbia University and its affiliate institutions. But more simply and significantly, it provides a forum for professional and aspiring artists to experiment and create in the safe, delightfully undefined space between academia and the professional world.

The six choreographers on the short program ranged from the highly-established Emery LeCrone, to Columbia students and new dance-makers John Poppe and Lauren Alpert. In the relaxed studio atmosphere, each artist had a chance to introduce his or her work and, rather refreshingly, the dancers performing it — all of whom exuded admirable focus in the midst of midterm season. The resulting climate was so warm, welcoming, and informal that I almost felt I had become a part of the conventionally private, vulnerable creative process.

Columbia Ballet Collaborative dancers in rehearsal with choreographer Lauren Alpert.

Before the show, I had a moment to chat with choreographer Nick Kepley, founder of North Carolina-based MOTION: Dance + Theatre, which he aptly refers to as both “dance company and choreographic laboratory.” For the Collaborative’s fall season, Kepley opted for a contemporary creation that called for his dancers to engage in a bit of improv, disclosing that he relishes the teaching opportunities inherent to the choreographic process. “Contemporary movement can be extremely difficult for classical dancers, and I’ve only seen this group five times so far… But I feel like they really had a breakthrough in their last rehearsal.” Indeed, the dancers appeared quite confident inhabiting Kepley’s crisp, dynamic choreography. With a performance background spanning the country from Kansas City Ballet to Broadway, Kepley knows the value of versatility in dance, and sees his work with CBC as a learning opportunity for himself as well as for his dancers.

Emery LeCrone, CBC’s choreographer-in-residence, shares this perspective. In 2010, she founded the Young Choreographers Showcase as a vehicle for emerging artists to experiment and develop their craft. LeCrone’s personal accomplishments in the creative world speak for themselves, and her involvement with the Collaborative presents its members with a model for the possibilities available to young choreographers. Currently, LeCrone is in the process of restaging Aria, a piece originally created for Nederlands Dans Theater’s newest artist Drew Jacoby, on former New York City Ballet dancer Kaitlyn Gilliland. For Works in Progress, the two women offered the audience a candid peek into the realm of rehearsal: Gilliland performed an excerpt from Aria twice, before and after a ten-minute coaching session with LeCrone, who ran a fine-toothed comb through Gilliland’s execution of the sinuous, nuanced choreography.

This observed rehearsal format was so engaging for the audience that I wish it had been extended throughout the program. I especially would have enjoyed seeing Kepley and American Ballet Theatre corps member Daniel Mantei — whose ambitiously geometric choreography spoke, perhaps, to the confidence he accrued from his participation in LeCrone’s Young Choreographers Showcase last year and ABT’s Innovation Initiative in 2010 — interact with their dancers and delve more deeply into their movement concepts.

Nonetheless, Works in Progress seemed to successfully connect its audience with the artists and the artists more closely with their art, priming everyone present for a more personal experience at the Collaborative’s fall performances at MMAC on November 16th and 17th.

To learn more about Columbia Ballet Collaborative and its upcoming shows, click here.

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Written by Leah Gerstenlauer

Leah began her dance training at the age of four in her hometown of Chelsea, Michigan, with her wonderful older brother (who is, incontestably, the best in the business of brothering) by her side. She continued her studies in Michigan and California — earning her B.A. in English at Chapman University along the way — before landing in New York City, where she currently freelances as a dancer and writer. She reads voraciously, drops into art museums regularly, and enjoys the fact that after nearly a decade stuck behind a steering wheel, her daily commute now requires only a good pair of sneakers and a MetroCard.