Guest Choreographer: Stephanie Martinez

Guest Choreographer: Stephanie Martinez

The Academy is thrilled to host Stephanie Martinez as their Choreographer in Residence. Stephanie Martinez is an award-winning Chicago dance artist with over 30 years professional performing experience. Her 2009 choreographic debut, AviMar, for Luna Negra Dance Theatre’s 10th anniversary season, instantly secured her status as a sought-after dance-maker. She has since traveled the country as a master teacher and professional choreographer, setting works on dance companies and university departments, in addition to a slew of reputable ensembles local to her native Chicago. 

Read below to learn about Stephanie's experience at The Academy, and her choreography for the Spring Dance Concert on April 29th!

First off, what have you been working on with the Dance Department?

A little while ago I was asked by Randy Duncan to come to The Academy and create a ballet for the young artists. Randy is a mentor of mine, who I’ve worked with for many years at River North Dance Chicago and Dance for Life. I also have the help of my amazing assistant, Cole Vernon, who has danced for Dance for Life as well as Ballet Hispanico. As a team, we’ve come here to tell our story to the kids, and they are the keepers of the steps.

The name of the piece is “And Then the Nighttime Came”, and it is basically about a person’s progression through life—a woman or a man. It transitions from the beginning of their life, to their young life, through middle age, and so on.

We all go through hardship as we evolve and get older. As the piece progresses, it shows your true self, who you are supposed to be.

I intertwined audio from a poet from Chile in the 1920s named Gabriela Mistral, a pioneer of women poets. I wanted to weave into my piece the sense of ownership [I saw in one of her poems] where the subject talks about not wanting her daughter to grow up to be a queen or a princess, but really just a capable person living in society. So in 8 minutes, I’m trying to tackle all of this.

Have you found anything particularly valuable to the students about this specific choreography?

You never really know how a dancer will respond to your work, especially when they are young. They haven’t necessarily gone through many of the subjects I’m trying to convey, so it becomes a real acting exercise— to try to take the skin of somebody else and figure out what it means to them in that time of their lives.

Fortunately, these kids are extremely talented and a joy to work with. They can pretty much physicalize anything, so it really becomes about showing them storytelling. I try to give them an environment, so they really know where they are in space, and so they’re not just randomly executing steps that we’re showing them. I think they’ll find that valuable. For this piece, I think a lof the movements are based in a vocabulary that is really gestural. It keeps getting bigger and bigger so it has somewhere to go.

Do you have any advice for young dancers? Especially the soon-to-be-graduating seniors?

Keep your individuality, but be able to conform within a group of dancers. Each is important when dancing within large groups and as a soloist. Also, it’s important to always remember to take direction, and always be striving for a standard of excellence. Never let yourself off the hook.

I find it’s critical to have friends outside of dance— to see the world through many different lenses, because it will help you be a better artist. The community and each arts department seem very supportive here. That helps the dancers see what’s happening outside of dance, so they don’t live within a bubble. It’s not just about a step. It’s about the ‘why’. In other words, dancers need to ask themselves whether it is just about the form, or are they a storyteller? Young dancers should always strive to take in different experiences. With a young mind, you can be unstoppable if you stay open to new things.

What is your lasting impression of the dancers here?

They are really smart, and I think they’re seekers. They want to have information. They’re going to be unstoppable once they leave The Academy because of the exposure that is offered to them through Randy and through this program.

I mostly work with university and professional dancers. When Randy asked me to do this,  I was curious. But teenagers can be tough, so I was nervous. But there was no drama. It was really all about the work. I was able to treat them like adults.

I just fell in love with them. I was originally only going to do a men’s piece, then I saw the women dance and I said ‘I have to do that, too!’. They’re all so talented.

Overall though, these students seem really prepared— more so than a lot of the universities I’ve worked with. There’s something happening here. The faculty can really help young dancers grow and evolve.

Have you noticed a different approach young dancers take to the industry these days than when you were coming up?

I think now with university dancers there is a sense of safety, which is not a bad thing— it is often a great thing. But you have to be sure it doesn’t result in a lack of motivation, or a tendency to go through the motions. Remember that every class is an opportunity to get better. You need that mindset. Because you need to be ready once you start working. The goal is to get hired. You are young and going into a profession that is not forgiving.

If I came to [The Academy], I think I would be a very different person. That’s not necessarily for better or worse, but I did not have formal dance training in high school. The way in which they are taught and supported by the faculty here, but also held to strict standards— even just how to act and carry yourself within a studio environment, makes it so by the time they are in the professional world, they know what they are doing.

Outside of this residency, what do you have coming up?

I am excited to be working with Dallas Black Dance Theatre, and African-American company, which is really cool. I think they think I’m cooler than I am! Later on I’ll be working with Ballet Memphis, Charlotte Ballet, and Cincinnati Ballet. I’m fortunate that I’m working with a plethora of different styles and skill sets. It certainly doesn’t get boring!