Follow the New Season of SYTYCD with Stephen Koester, Choreographer & University Professor of Dance
The first fall season of Fox’s “So You Think You Can Dance” is underway. Happily for RedThread blogheads, Stephen Koester is watching, commenting, and answering questions about the show—its dancers, choreography, judges, costumes, lighting, and anything else you’re dying to talk about. Koester, who is the director of graduate studies in the Department of Modern Dance, has a long list of accomplishments: He was the co-artistic director of Creach/Koester, an all-male dance company based in New York City; he has received five consecutive choreographic fellowships from the National Endowment of the Arts; his recent work has appeared in the repertories of the Ririe-Woodbury Dance Company, Repertory Dance Theatre, Pittsburgh Dance Alloy, Dance Forum, Taipei, among others, including his own company Dance Koester Dance, which has presented several Salt Lake City seasons. Koester regularly choreographs and teaches improvisation, composition, technique, and graduate seminars at the U. In 2002, he received the College of Fine Arts Faculty Excellence Award for creative research.
Last Wednesday SYTYCD auditioned in LA. To be honest, the auditions don’t really interest me that much; I just want to get to the dancing of the final twenty. Auditions are hard. First, for those leading the audition, you have to wade through a lot of mediocre dancing. Second, it’s emotional for all involved. The dancers are putting themselves on the line with their hopes and fears in a crazy mixed up stew. For those auditioning the dancers, it’s difficult to tactfully deal with other peoples’ vulnerabilities and lives. I can’t say I appreciate it when the judges openly laugh and make fun of the dancers in front of them (at least less “losers” were highlighted). For the dancer, it’s hard to hear no. A rejection almost always comes across as I’m not good enough – I stink, which is not always the case. A dancer may not be picked because what they have to physically offer doesn’t match the particular idea or style being explored in a dance though they may be perfect for another dance or for another choreographer’s style. A dancer may be picked over another because of their work ethic, physical appetite or attitude, which is different than ability. As a choreographer, I’d rather work with someone who may not always be the best, but who will be a pleasure to have in rehearsal. I also rather work with someone who has something unique to offer – an interesting way in which they approach and interpret movement.
Auditions are also hard because it sets up a competitive environment. One thing I don’t particularly like about SYTYCD is that it takes dance to a sports-like mentality of competition with winners and losers. The only competition in dance should be with oneself, to be the personal best dancer and/or choreographer one can be. To succeed in dance as an art form, you strive to find what is unique and personal to you, which ultimately will be different than anyone else. To avoid competition, dance should go beyond only measurable things like how many turns you can do or how high your leg can go. While impressive, these are only technical tools. What interests me more is what do you do with these tools and talents other than simply show them off.
Dance is more a collaboration than competition. Even when the choreographer provides all the steps, just how a dancer performs the movement material in rehearsal will influence the direction a choreographer may take or the movement choices made. Often the dancer plays a more direct, integral part in creating the choreography through rehearsal improvisations, solving choreographic problems lead by the choreographer, or setting one’s own steps. Dance will always reflect the dancers that created it; only that dance, with those people, could be made. Other dancers working with the same idea and same choreographer would result in something different and unique to that cast.
One of the things that draws me to dance is the communal, hard-working, humble and supportive environment in which it exists. We work intimately and with great focus to create art – art that thrives in cooperation not competition. While ego, personality and presence are all needed in a dancer, these should never overwhelm the process, the dance or the art.