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A Day in the Life of Dancing Women: Jacqulyn Buglisi, Laura Peterson, Catherine Miller

A Day in the Life of Dancing Women: Jacqulyn Buglisi, Laura Peterson, Catherine Miller
Christine Jowers/Follow @cmmjowers on Instagram

By Christine Jowers/Follow @cmmjowers on Instagram
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Published on January 27, 2008
Briana Blasko

Women at Dancework in Rehearsal, Audition, Workshop

A Day in the Life of Dancing Women- Captured in Photography and Words
Featuring Dance Artists- Laura Peterson Choreography, Catherine Miller, and Jacqulyn Buglisi-Buglisi Dance Theatre
Photography: Briana Blasko, Story: Christine Jowers

Copyright 2008 Dance Enthusiast


Photos Briana Blasko


Laura Peterson Choreography- In Rehearsal-
Making It Up, Throwing it out, Growing A Dance

Written by Christine Jowers-Dance Enthusiast Copyright 2008

Laura Peterson was awarded an Artist in Residence position at Dance New Amsterdam last November. The award includes one hundred hours of rehearsal space at the DNA studios, a stipend, and a weekend to perform at DNA’s studio theater on March 27-30th.

Electrolux, the title of her new work, borrows its name from the Electrolux tank vacuum cleaner introduced to the United States in 1924, apparently a revolutionary design that became a prototype for the industry. Peterson, not particularly impassioned by the history of tidy, just likes the way the word sounds.

Peterson is impassioned by the way we human beings affect our environment, a subject she will address in Electrolux as she and her company move through a manufactured stage environment filled with texture, bold color, the music of Led Zeppelin, and some form of debris.

Electrolux is germinating. “Everyday something good happens,” says Peterson.

Regarding her process, she collaborates with her band of dancers, Christopher Hutchings, Kate Martell, and Katherine Harris, and feels so connected and committed to them that she recently changed the company’s rehearsal schedule to accommodate Harris, who moved to Washington, D.C. and now commutes to New York to dance. Peterson also likes to invite observers to rehearsal. “When someone is sitting there, not me or the company, you can tell right away what is working or not.” Not content for her observers to stay put, she often gets them to play with props or position themselves in the dancing space so she can get ideas. Recently a dancing friend, soloist Astimina Chremos, visiting New York City from Chicago to perform, found herself leading a workshop in improvisation for the company.

At the time of the photo shoot with DE Photographer, Briana Blasko, Peterson was considering using boxes under a massive carpet as her environment. The rehearsal was all about playing with the boxes and seeing what could happen. As it happened, out of a two-hour rehearsal period, which involved alot of lying around on egg crates, an eight minute brutal dancing segment was born. The section was inspired by Martell who accidentally tripped and fell into a position that captured Peterson’s imagination. The rest of that day’s work was thrown out.



Laura Peterson Choreography Performance Schedule
January 27th- Dixon Place-
February 6th -1:30-2:30 Open Rehearsal at Dance New Amsterdam
March 18th- ELECTROLUX preview at Dance New Amsterdam
March 27th-30th- ELECTROLUX Premier at Dance New Amsterdam



...this process can be one of the most unnerving aspects of “this beast of a business”. “It really sucks to drop everything in your life, and do what you have to do, with no pay.”

Catherine Miller- An Audition-
Good things come to those who work intelligently while waiting.... and waiting.

Written by Christine Jowers-Dance Enthusiast Copyright 2008

After four years of performing with Doug Varone, Catherine Miller wasn’t exactly looking for a new direction. Yet, she felt that the dance world was saying to her, even if at times, inaudibly, “O.K. now it is time to get your Masters Degree and teach. You had a nice run with Doug. How can you top that? Where else can you go?”

The dance field isn’t known for its plethora of job opportunities, or for its sunny optimism, so when one job ends there is always the nagging suspicion that it may be the last and that perhaps one should be “realistic” about this.

Miller, self –possessed and as realistic as any dancer can be, describes herself as primed to move. Her inner voice told her it wasn’t time to go through the university catalogues just yet. She also knew that she wasn’t about to do “anything” for a choreographer in order to get a job. “ I don’t need to feel justified (as an artist) by having company work.”

She auditioned for Mark Morris’s Hard Nut- didn’t get in.

She auditioned for the Metropolitan Opera as an extra dancer-a gig that she has had before- but wasn’t needed this time.

Unfazed, (she is a firm believer that the match of dancer to company must be just right) she continued to attend her regular ballet classes at City Center with Zvi Gotheiner. During this time, in totally unexpected fashion two fortuitous events occurred: first, Miller lassoed a great “ day job” as a set dresser on the newest Darren Star (Sex in The City) series, The Cashmere Mafia, concurrently becoming a member of The International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees Local #52, and, second, Miller noticed a small flyer on the overcrowded bulletin board outside ballet class advertising an audition for Shen Wei Dance Arts- a promise of opportunity. Shen Wei, a 2007 MacArthur Fellow and much-feted choreographer, is known for his painterly approach to the stage, and his ability to realize distinct environments in each dance he creates. Miller saw Shen Wei’s company perform at The American Dance Festival in North Carolina and was captivated by the two pieces he presented there, MAP and RE. She decided that Shen Wei, was “worth jumping the hurdle for”- the hurdle, in this case, meaning the audition process.

The photos of Catherine Miller by Briana Blasko were taken on Saturday, November 24th, 2007 just after Thanksgiving. At this point Miller and three other dancers had been auditioning for Shen Wei Dance Arts since September 10, 2007. She returned to New York City for Thanksgiving after “rehearsing” with the company in Pennsylvania at The Silo. When the photos were taken, Miller was preparing to return to Pennsylvania for more rehearsal. She had no idea if she would be chosen by Shen Wei Dance Arts for their performances at the Guggenheims’ Work + Process series on December 2nd and 3rd and, even if she was chosen, there was no assurance she would be picked for the final company position.

Miller recognizes that this process can be one of the most unnerving aspects of “this beast of a business”. “ It really sucks to drop everything in your life, and do what you have to do, with no pay.” Miller felt fortunate that she could explain the situation to her “day job” bosses who agreed to relieve her for the try-outs without penalizing her for missing work. Even while some of the audition sessions were not required out of respect for the dancers need to make a living, Miller felt at a disadvantage when she couldn’t show up.

To cope in this stressful situation, Miller employed several sensible survival strategies. She took advantage of the lengthy trail period to assess how good of a match this company would be for her: vigilantly watching how people ran rehearsals and how they worked together, and persistently seeing as much of Shen Weis repertory as possible. Remaining focused on the positive was imperative: she was attracted to the variety and challenges in the movement, admired the dedication of the dancers to the work, and registered that the dancers were respectful and caring towards each other in rehearsals. Miller channeled her nerves by making her goal in each session to present her dancing in the best way possible while being contained enough to move safely. She did not want to injure herself at an audition.

On the day of the photo shoot, after wrangling with several location ideas, Blasko decided, if Miller was game (it was supposed to be freezing that day) she would like to work in Central Park directly across the street from the Guggenheim. I am certain it was the photographer’s intention to somehow, even symbolically, help this dance artist get the job inside.


* Catherine Miller was selected for the Guggenheim Works+ Process Shows. She learned on December 6th, three days after the Guggenheim performances, that she was selected to be a new company member with Shen Wei Dance Arts.

On her 2nd day at work I asked Miller what she was most enthusiastic about. At the moment she says both learning the meaty repertory and the prospect of touring internationally are exciting. The company has a great touring schedule so far: Barcelona, New Zealand for two weeks, Dubai, Beijing for the Olympics (Shen Wei is directing the opening and closing ceremonies) and a Fall Season at home in New York.


Jaculyn Buglisi and Buglisi Dance Theatre- Suspended Women-A Workshop
Written by Christine Jowers-Dance Enthusiast Copyright 2008

Jaqulyn Buglisi, Artistic Director of Buglisi Dance Theatre, danced as a principal with the Martha Graham Company for twelve years. She also draws from an extensive background in Denishawn, performing the early works of Ruth St. Denis and Ted Shawn since 1976. Therefore it is no surprise that she is dramatic, exotic, and, like any good art priestess, an expert in being both seductively enchanting and demanding.

Buglisi, a noted choreographer of over sixty pieces of repertory, possesses a vast dance resume, filled with accolades and recognitions, important collaborations, and pioneering activities. She is a champion for contemporary dance. According to the company literature, “ Buglisi Dance Theatre strives to nurture within the community a personal commitment to dance as a lifelong process of discovery.” – a sentiment to which dance enthusiasts all over the world say, “ HOORAH!”

Today at La Guardia High School for the Performing Arts on the Upper West Side of Manhattan we find Buglisi Dance Theatre in the midst of a performance workshop. Suspended Women, the choreography being introduced to students, originally premiered in 2000 at the John Jay Theater in New York City. The piece takes its inspiration from the life and writing of Sor Juana St. Ines de la Cruz, an intellectual poet- nun from Mexico, and is dedicated to all women since the beginning of time. Critics have called it “mesmerizing”, and a “masterpiece”.

Briana Blasko and I are watching excerpts of Suspended Women being brought back to life for a December 10th Company Benefit at the Times Center in Manhattan. Some of the women in the workshop will be chosen to dance in this Benefit Performance.

Ms. Buglisi, wearing black warm-ups and a jacket flecked with gold, serious yet glittering, is surrounded by supporters who greet us–her executive director, an assistant to the executive, and the rehearsal director. Buglisi ,too busy working for introductions, sorts out crinolines for workshop participants to wear. She is very particular about clothing and in fact about everything regarding her work, a detail for which she sweetly yet halfheartedly apologizes, as she implores a young dancer to please take off the t-shirt with distracting big print reading “Up, Up and Away.”

She wants the dancer to be focused in the space and in the work now. “ Up, Up and Away” is for later. Even if it is only on a practice t-shirt, everything has a meaning and everything is what is required to work here. One of the concepts that Buglisi tries to impart is the importance of the choices artists make in addressing their daily practice. This workshop is as much about how to approach dance and ones self as an artist as it is about learning repertory.

For Buglisi dance is all consuming, most certainly not just a job or gig. Of her working experience as a young dancer, she reveals to the students, “I wore more makeup in rehearsal than in reality” “I didn’t care about real life. I danced until 10 o’clock at night. It was the most important place for me.”

Buglisi guards her most important place, and all the activities therein, fiercely. Even though we received permission to take notes and photograph the work of the day, we are informed upon entering the studio that DE Photographer Blasko would be limited to only taking pictures of the dancers when they are actually running the dance –no casual in between performance shots. We are told this is for the workshop participants’ protection. (Who knew that a dance photographer could pose such danger to artists in New York City?) Despite the handicap, we stay. This is a compelling place to be and did I mention Buglisi is an enchantress? Besides, we are curious about all the talented women gathered here (approximately twenty- including people not dancing) who are eager, willing and poised to give all their time and energy to Buglisi’s mission.

The dancers enter from upstage in a horizontal line, but it is not really a line.

“Don’t make a line,” Buglisi is not satisfied with what she is seeing.

“People hate lines, I hate a line. In Italy no one stands in line.” (She is a founder of Teatro de Danza Contemperana De Roma, as well as a founder of the first modern dance company in the city of Spoleto, Italy).

She continues to sculpt the entrance, engagingly transforming her voice to a singing hypnotic whisper,“ You are connected to each other, a consciousness streaming through you. Lift your heart, feel it through your back, listen to each other. You have to tell me the story. (You) are not play-acting. You are speaking through the body...bringing your story, your many stories with you. You are many women, you are every woman... I want to see everyone. Maybe you are the memory of, the memory of, memory of...” she drifts off, then mentions examples of memories, “your mother, your grandmother”, and offers, mysteriously,“ I often imagine myself in a sarcophagus floating down the Nile.”

Here with Buglisi dance is a sacred experience. The studio is the home of highly creative, magical and personal power, a place not visited by many contemporary choreographers, according to one of the women students taking the elevator back to the city streets with us. Exhausted after producing a show and performing in several small evenings with a variety of dance makers, she has come here specifically for nourishment. She wonders who else focuses on dance as a way of unearthing what it means to be a woman.

Buglisi urges her students toward a profound artistic journey. “It is not step up, step up, releve. That is cheating.”

“Move to the edge, step to that next place, (feel) the life breath, the passion of life that stirs the moment you take the first step.”


Check out:

Jaculyn Buglisi, Chair of the Modern Department at The Ailey School, teaches daily classes of Martha Graham technique.

She also does Summer Intensives at the Martha Graham Studio

and the Contemporary Masters Workshops at Steps on Broadway.

Bulgisi Dance Theater- Upcoming Performances-

Friday, April 4th-La Guardia Performing Arts Center, Long Island City, NY

Friday April 18th- The Egg, Albany

April 7-27th: Creative Residency and Performances at Kaatsbaan International Dance Center, Tivoli NY


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