BalletX Announces Its 2020 Choreographic Fellowship Winner

by Lewis J. Whittington for The Dance Journal

BalletX will present eight premieres in their upcoming 2019-20 season and among the commissions will be the work of dancer-choreographer, Nicole Caruana, the latest awardee of their Choreographic Fellowship Award.

Ms. Caruana is a twenty-three year old from Buffalo, New York, where she has established her own company, two years ago, UANA DANS. More than ever, she has been presenting her work in Europe.  In 2017, Nicole was awarded the first prize at The International Competition of Choreographers in Hanover, Germany with her company piece, Arba.  Her company has since been invited to perform in Germany, Denmark, Spain, and Greece.

Caruana was among hundreds of applicants for the BalletX Fellowship, which provides a residency with the company and a chance to work directly with an established choreographer. John McFall, established choreographer and former Artistic Director of the Atlanta Ballet for twenty-one seasons, will serve as the 2020 Choreographic Mentor, providing direct support and guidance. Both fellow and mentor will present world premiere ballets on BalletX at Spring Series 2020 at The Wilma Theater, March 18-29, 2020.

Christine Cox, Artistic & Executive Director of BalletX commented that what is most striking about Caruana’s work is “Nicole’s distinct voice that uniquely moves dancers in space, surprising you while touching your heart and soul. Her movement quality is human, and challenges the contemporary ballet aesthetic”.

Caruana recently premiered Lacrimosa with the Canadian Contemporary Dance Theater for their Spring program “Light Years”.  In addition, she is about to return to the Netherlands to create a work for Scapino Ballet Rotterdam.  Nicole was back home in Buffalo running errands but managed to pull over in her car to speak with The Dance Journal by phone about winning the BalletX fellowship as well as her upcoming commissioned premiere.

“I’m still a little bit in shock about the Fellowship and truly honored. My mother is a flight attendant and we have spent some weekends in Philadelphia and I already knew there was a good dance scene, so I was thinking about how to spend more time there. When I saw the application for a fellowship at BalletX, I thought that it would be amazing if it worked out.”

Caruana has yet to see BalletX perform, but will be in Philadelphia early next year to start to develop the yet untitled commission. Caruana is reluctant to talk about her particular choreographic style.  Araba had been a blend of contemporary idioms and balletics, bursting with dance drive, precision, and attack.  Lacrimosa was a journey from pain and suffering to spirited joy, all with a touch of humor. Caruana had scored the ballet to smoldering tango music by Goran Bregovic and Gabriel Yared.

“Arba”, Caruana says, “is a good representation of work that I make, but I’m constantly shifting, and have to say that I really love ballet. I don’t feel like I have an identity as a choreographer. I think that I love too many forms and too many styles. Lately, I’ve been working with tango, ballroom, hip-hop groove…I like a dance that reaches people, not so avant-garde or abstract that audiences leave confused.” She added that mostly she wants to produce “dance that is both concert and commercially available”.

Caruana is a graduate of SUNY Purchase College Dance in New York, stating that the program “was rewarding and unique and provided an opportunity to study with Nelly Van-Bommel, Sue Bernhard, and Dr. Rosalind Newman for choreographic composition.  “I was really fortunate at SUNY Purchase, where in my senior year Doug Varone was on faculty as our composition teacher and his company’s dancers also taught a class every Friday morning.  It was completely inspiring to be in that class”.  She goes on to add, “I remember that Xan Burley taught the first class I attended and I experienced the pure joy of dance. Up until then, I felt a little guilty that I was studying dance when friends were studying medicine. When Doug’s dancers taught, they had such edge and motivation. Doug himself really taught me how to use dance as a platform for storytelling, a key to making dance relatable to people who might not be interested in abstract, or pure movement performance.  I hope I do him justice because I admire him so much. He would talk about the effects of viewing a musical for instance, and the effect of being uplifted. Because you experience the whole trajectory when you leave a musical, you are left with this feeling of being uplifted from experiencing the narrative of struggle and triumph”.

Nicole is in the very beginning stages of thinking about what she will create with BalletX. She is contemplating a theme about “Colonial Americanism and I’m working with a set and costume designer.”  She might choose to use pointe work, but that is all the choreographer is saying at this time about its development.

Meanwhile, even with adjusting to being an on-demand choreographer on the international scene, Caruana intimates, “I am feeling a little pulled into two directions.  I want to continue dancing in Europe. Hoping I can continue to do both. I have a strong feeling that I will be moving from Buffalo to Europe. I will be going back to Scapino Ballet in Rotterdam in a few days, and we’ll be working together for the rest of June for my premiere there”.

“I honestly can’t tell you where I will be, come September”.  Meanwhile, Nicole has a firm date as BalletX’s official Fellow come Spring of 2020.

About Lewis J. Whittington

Lewis Whittington is an arts journalist based in Philadelphia. He started writing professionally in the early 90s as a media consultant for an AIDS organizations and then as a theater and dance reviewer for the Philadelphia Gay News. Mr. Whittington has covered dance, theater, opera and classical music for the Philadelphia Inquirer and City Paper.

Mr. Whittington’s arts profiles, features, and stories have appeared in The Advocate, Dance International, Playbill, American Theatre, American Record Guide, The Harvard Gay and Lesbian Review Worldwide, EdgeMedia, and Philadelphia Dance Journal. Mr. Whittington has received two NEA awards for journalistic excellence.

In addition to interviews with choreographers, dancers, and artistic directors from every discipline, he has interviewed such music luminaries from Ned Rorem to Eartha Kitt. He has written extensively on gay culture and politics and is most proud of his interviews with such gay rights pioneers as Frank Kameny and Barbara Gittings.

Mr. Whittington has participated on the poetry series Voice in Philadelphia and has written two (unpublished) books of poetry. He is currently finishing Beloved Infidels, a play about the murder of filmmaker Theo van Gogh. His editorials on GLBTQ activism, marriage equality, gay culture and social issues have appeared in Philadelphia Inquirer, City Paper, and The Advocate.

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