Q&A: Lesley Snelson

Courtesy of Muscle Memory Dance Theatre

The artistic director of Muscle Memory Dance Theatre on collaborating with local dancers and the inspiration behind her new work in M2DT’s fall concert.

Dallas — Founded in 2005 by Lesley Snelson and Amy L. Sleigh, Muscle Memory Dance Theatre offers local performances and choreographic opportunities for dance artists through its evocative use of dance as an organic art form.

M2DT keeps this tradition going with its 2012 Fall Concert, which is this weekend at Life Arts Space in Deep Ellum and features works by company members Jackie Beth Schilcutt, Tarah Tristan, Kristin Daniels and Snelson as well as guest artists Kiera Amison and Jhon R. Stronks.

Snelson received her MFA in choreography and dance performance from Texas Woman’s University where she also taught modern, jazz, hip hop and Pilates classes as well as theory courses related to the understanding of dance as an art form and popular, visual culture. Snelson’s choreography has been seen in many local universities, colleges and dance festivals, including Dallas Morning News Dance Festival, TWU DanceMakers, Denton Summer Musicals, Barefoot Brigade, Collin College’s Dance Fusion and Tarrant County College Dance Collective.

TheaterJones asks Lesley Snelson to share the challenges of running her own company, the inspiration behind her new piece, golden brace let, and her view on how contemporary dance differs from modern.

TheaterJones: Why did you decide to start a dance company in Dallas?

Lesley Snelson: I just felt this need to express myself in this place where there is an extensive amount of talented graduates from dance departments all over North Texas. And most of these graduates tend to think that the only way they can dance is if they leave this place. And I can understand that, but New York City is not always a good fit for everybody. And from the beginning Muscle Memory Dance Theatre’s main goal has been to show these artists that they don’t have to leave Dallas to dance. They can stay around and help make us a more interesting and expansive dance community.

Was it always the plan to start your own dance company?

I have always had this need to express myself through original movement and to communicate through something that I felt was innate to myself and I think that motivated me to start the company. The company has always been more about creating ideas through movement.

What is the most challenging aspect of running your own company?

It’s always the money and never feeling like you are able to give your people what they’re worth. And also feeling like you never give anything back to yourself either. It’s truly a labor of love. And because it’s a labor of love and not a labor of opportunity people always come and go and that is hard. You get really attached to people that you are excited about working with and then they have these wonderful opportunities and need to leave. It’s always challenging to have people go, but you are also excited for them at the same time. And that’s kind of where the company is now. We have lost, for lack of a better term, some really critical people over the last season to really exciting and important opportunities. Again, it’s a challenge.

How do you go about finding new members?

I think it’s a very symbiotic relationship. It’s people who want to work with us or people that we are interested in working with. So, I think that comes basically from word of mouth. It’s not uncommon for people currently working with us or who have worked with us to recommend our company to people moving to the area or recently graduated. And that’s really the way it’s been happening for the last four to five years.

What modern techniques have you trained in?

Courtesy of Muscle Memory Dance Theatre

I danced with Janice Garrett who was a long-time Merce Cunningham dancer. The majority of my training was from her. I also did many years of Horton training and had some really great postmodern training from my professors at Texas Woman’s University. I still very much look at Cunningham and Horton as my foundation.

Does M2DT focus mainly on modern-based movement?

Yes! We even try to make the distinction between modern and contemporary. When you talk about visual arts there’s a difference between contemporary art and modern art, and I don’t think it’s all that different in dance. I get that there’s an entertainment value implied when you say contemporary, and I don’t think that is necessarily part of our original mission. Not that I don’t want to be not entertaining, but I don’t want someone to think they’re coming out to see the ballet.

What was the inspiration for your new work golden brace let?

It was a collaborative effort between composer David Psenicka and me. He’s been really fun to work with and always unexpected. I feel like I have worked with many composers in my life, but he blows my mind. He works in a way that I have never experienced before in terms of where he’s coming from and how he thinks about music.

For me, the work actually started with movement and not with the music. It was about going beyond a place of instability to find a place of being stable. So, it came from a very visual place. That’s how the piece started and I showed David some phrases and he literally created music based on what he saw. It’s been a really incredible experience working with him. So, it started with movement followed by the music and we just kept collaborating back and forth. We literally met every week for 12 weeks.

Do you find it more challenging to create movement for a group or a solo?

I am personally terrified of solos. There’s just something so vulnerable about solo work. And there’s also the intimidation factor for me. I am definitely trying to work through that. I just love working in groups. I love looking at spatial patterns and seeing how things exist in space.

What else can audiences expect this weekend?

We have a great variety of performers. Jhon R. Stronks, a contemporary performer from Houston, will be doing a solo and he is just exquisite. You will also see a couple of new works by M2DT’s dancers Jackie Beth Schilcutt, Tarah Tristan and Kristin Daniels as well as guest artist Kiera Amison. So, lots of choreography by different people. Most of them connected to M2DT.

What do you enjoy most about collaborating with other dance artists?

The best part for me is just the opportunity to interact with others who are engaging in the same mode of communication through movement. And just being able to see how they’re seeing things and the choices that they’re making. And the feedback process back and forth. That’s definitely what keeps me motivated and excited about what I do.

This Q&A was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.


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