Q&A: Courtney Mulcahy of Contemporary Dance/Fort Worth

Courtney Mulcahy, right, with Contemporary Dance/Fort Worth. Photo: Milton Adams
Courtney Mulcahy, right, with Contemporary Dance/Fort Worth. Photo: Milton Adams

The choreographer on collaborating with a local composer and the inspiration behind her work Soxx, part of the second weekend of the Barefoot Brigade Dance Festival.

Dallas — The second week of the Barefoot Brigade’s three week-long dance festival focuses on a theme called “pARTners in crime.” According to a Barefoot Brigade press release, “Week two is devoted to the magic which happens when artists get together and create something they couldn’t have made on their own.

Contemporary Dance/Fort Worth company member Courtney Mulcahy took this as an opportunity to reconnect with Dallas composer Jon David Johnston and together they created a light-hearted piece entitled Soxx.

Originally from San Antonio, Mulcahy holds a BSHE in Fashion Merchandising from Texas State University and a MFA in Dance from Sam Houston State University. She has performed with such companies as The Dance Theatre of Harlem, The San Antonio Dance Company and The San Antonio Metropolitan Dance Company. She currently teaches modern, ballet and Latin ballroom at Collin County Community College and Tarrant County College. Mulcahy has also received several honors and awards for her unique and thought-provoking choreography.

TheaterJones asks Mulcahy what she enjoys most about the Barefoot Brigade Dance Festival, the challenges that come along with collaborations and the inspiration behind her new piece Soxx.

Week two of the Barefoot Brigade Dance festival takes place Jan. 17-19 at the Bath House Cultural Center in Dallas.

TheaterJones: How long have you been involved with the Barefoot Brigade Dance Festival?

Courtney Mulcahy: This is my third year.

What do you like most about this dance festival?

It’s just a great opportunity for choreographers to showcase a lot of different work and for us to collaborate with artists in the area. The festival also has a great variety of companies coming from not only within the state, but also out of state. So, you get exposed to a lot of different people.

What is this weeks theme and how does it factor into your piece?

Courtney Mulcahy with composer Jon David Johnston. Photo: Milton Adams
Courtney Mulcahy with composer Jon David Johnston. Photo: Milton Adams

The second weekend focuses on artistic collaborations. I have an acquaintance who is a musical composer so, I asked him if he wanted to work together on this piece and he said yes. I have worked with Jon David Johnston before and I really enjoy him.

I kind of wanted to do a light-hearted piece. I have been noticing recently in several modern dance performances this trend of performers wearing socks. I wanted to do a piece that focused on the dynamic of socks. So, I basically asked Jon to if he would be interested in writing a poem about socks and then compose the music for the piece. We had a lot of fun taking this whimsical look at socks and how they relate to us in our daily lives. And also just poking a little bit of fun at performers who dance in socks.

Do you find it more challenging to create a light-hearted piece versus a darker piece?

I do typically go for darker themes, but I am just not in that place right now so I wanted to do something fun and different. For me this was more of a challenge than your typical serious modern piece because you don’t want to come across too cheesy or not funny at all. It’s very delicate business trying to balance the whimsical and comedic material, but I have really enjoyed doing it. At least there is a lot more laughter involved in this process.

What are some of the challenges choreographers face when collaborating with a composer?

Well, the main challenge is the language. Jon has worked with dancers before so he has an understanding of our language. I have a music background and can speak a little bit of his language, but I don’t always hear all the things that he hears. So, it’s really about finding a common language that helps communicate what he’s trying to create and what I’m looking for. That has been a challenge for us, but every time we work together it gets a little easier.

What inspired the movement for this piece?

Contemporary Dance/Fort Worth. Photo: Milton Adams
Contemporary Dance/Fort Worth. Photo: Milton Adams

Every time I choreograph I try a different way of approaching movement.  I simply went into the studio and without any thought of the poem or the music I started creating movement. It was actually a very freeing process because I wasn’t bound by rhythms or phrases. I created movement that I loved that emphasized the socks. A lot of flexed feet and a lot of thought went into how the feet would be involved. It was just really fun to create any movement that I wanted to.

I ended up creating about seven minutes of material which I then videotaped and gave to Jon. He took the video and just composed the music to the movement that I had created. He is really interested in doing film scoring so he did it from that perspective which was very interesting.

The Bath House Cultural Center is a pretty intimate setting. How did the size of the venue impact your movement choices?

My piece is a trio, but even so the space is still quite challenging. I like knowing the venue before I go into the choreographic process because that does play into my work. At the Bath House the audience is right there so, I took that into consideration when creating this piece. You can use more minimalistic movement because it reads a little bit better in a smaller venue. The space also contains four columns which I didn’t specifically include in my chorography. I just told my dancers there were going to be four columns that they would have to navigate around while doing the movement.

What are your plans for the future?

I will always continue to teach. I love being in the classroom and having contact with the students, but I do miss choreographing. So, hopefully through Contemporary Dance/Fort Worth I’ll have more opportunities and more venues to be able to present my work. And maybe one day I’ll have my own company.

◊This interview was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.

◊ Keep a look out for my interview with the Houston Metropolitan Dance Company’s Artistic Director Marlana Doyle next week. The company will be presenting a group piece during week three’s program “All New Stuff,” Jan. 24-26 at the Bath House Cultural Center.

◊ The Barefoot Brigade Dance Festival continues with:

Jan. 17-19: pARTners in Crime

  • Big Rig Dance Collective
  • Sue Collins with music by Denton composer Claudia Howard Queen
  • Contemporary Dance/Fort Worth premieres choreography by company member Courtney Mulcahy in collaboration with Dallas composer/musician Jon David Johnston*
  • Collective Force Dance Company
  • Feel Good Dance
  • Satellite-Dance

Jan. 24-26: All New Stuff

  • Beckles Dancing Company
  • Brazos Dance Collective
  • Christine Bergeron
  • DGDG (Danielle Georgiou Dance Group)
  • Eyakkam Dance Company
  • FireWalk Dance
  • GORDONDANCE (TX/IL) – Lonny Joseph Gordon
  • Houston Metropolitan Dance Company
  • imPULSE Dance Project
  • Tina Mullone (Louisiana/Texas)
  • Jessica Thomas (The Colony)

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