On the Job: Choreographer

Choreographer Lori Belilove pays homage to Isadora Duncan, the mother of contemporary dance

(Cheryl Carlin)

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From my perspective, dancers today are missing the Isadora experience. Now don't get me wrong, I love beautiful lines and clean turns, but the artist has to be developed altogether. If there is never any relief from the pressure to be technically perfect and on the count prescribed by the teacher, some dancers will get stuck there. I always teach a section of improvisation in my classes to keep that part alive in the dancers. It is an opportunity to bring together what they have learned in their own way—and what other way is there, ultimately? Nobody wants cookie cutters for dancers!

What does the foundation do?
It has a three-fold purpose: performing, educational programs and archival research.

A lot of people don't know that Isadora's work exists. There's a lot of de-mythologizing to do as well. There is the belief that Isadora was a freewheeling bohemian without any discipline. She was self-educated; she left school at 10 and went to the library and read voraciously. She was a philosopher and quite a genius.

How do you choreograph a dance? Do you write things down or sketch moves?
For me, a dance starts way deep in my psyche, like a stirring in my soul. Usually, I am stimulated by some experience or fleeting moment that registers for me as something to explore. Often in people-watching something will fascinate me and I'll have an idea about something I want to say. I'll use my company, and I'll shape and experiment. It's all exploration.

Tell me about the dancers' costumes.
The original tunic designs are from Isadora, inspired by both ancient Greek and Roman clothing depicted in sculptures, vases, wall paintings as well as Renaissance art. She loved how drapery clung to the body to reveal movement. The tunic is like a dress with a side slit.

I've evolved some of these to be more contemporary and to get rid of extra poof. Isadora and her dancers from the 1900s wore costumes with a gentle poof that exaggerated the hips, as seen in Botticelli paintings. The designs of the costumes relate to the mood of the dances as well—heavier fabric for lamenting dances and very light China silk for the lyrical works. Certain colors go for certain dances in the repertoire, too.

Where do you perform?
In the United States, we go mostly to colleges; the dance departments love us. We've been to France, Germany, London, Greece, Russia, Mexico, Canada, Brazil, West Africa and Korea. I love sharing this work with people, and, I'm afraid the enthusiasm for the richness of this work pours out in all my performing and teaching. 

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