Q&A With AFA Choreographer Courtney Collier

By Bria Jefferson, Marketing Intern

How can you beat a program that teaches you, nurtures you, and gives you professional experience? Answer: you can’t. Aside from new techniques, new friends, and sense of independence that Houston Ballet’s Summer Intensive Program presents its students with, it also gives them professional experience as well. Houston Ballet’s partnership with the American Festival for the Arts (AFA) Summer Music Program has made this a reality for its Level 8 students. The American Festival for the Arts provides young dancers the opportunity to partner with young composers to create their own original ballets. Between the lighting and costume designs, choreography, and music, it is completely student based; this showcase is one for the ages…because if you weren’t impressed with them before, you will be after you see just what these students can do.

I recently sat in on an AFA rehearsal and may I just say that the differences between staff led choreography and student led choreography leads to an entirely different sort of rehearsal. The students literally change. They go from quiet, serious, focused dancers to less quiet, a tad silly, but still focused dancers. To get even more insight, I sat down with Level 8 AFA choreographer Courtney Collier to talk to her about her experience throughout the process.

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Choreographer Courtney Collier with fellow Summer Intensive Program students rehearsing for AFA’s World Premieres Concert, July 2017. Photo by Amitava Sarkar.

Why do you dance?
“I dance not only because I love it, but because I enjoy the challenge. It is an indescribable feeling going out on stage and just knowing that all of your hard work is paying off.”

How long have you been dancing?
“I have been dancing ever since I was 3. However, I did not become serious about dance until about 4 years ago.”

Why did you come to Houston Ballet’s Summer Intensive Program?
“I came to participate in Houston Ballet’s Summer Intensive Program because it is challenging physically and mentally, which I always enjoy. Also, because you get to meet and become friends with such talented people.”

Is this your first piece?
“This is the first piece that I have choreographed.”

How did you decide you wanted to participate in AFA?
“I actually got inspired by my former dance teacher who just told me that this would be a great opportunity and I just went for it!”

Tell me the steps you took to go from dancer to choreographer this summer at Houston Ballet.
“The steps I took were definitely challenging but it has made me more confident in myself. First I knew I wanted to be involved so I met the composers. Next, the choreographers and composers got matched up. The composers worked on the music while we discussed ideas. We then started in the studio and I just followed my gut. This process has been super rewarding.”

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Students of Houston Ballet’s Summer Intensive Program in Courtney Collier’s Stranded. AFA’s World Premieres Concert, July 2017. Photo by Jaime Lagdameo.

How does it feel to be on the other side of the stage?
“It is so different being on the other side of the stage but it is so amazing to see what I did not know that I could accomplish.”

What is the most challenging part of being a choreographer?
“The most challenging part of being a choreographer is piecing together all of your ideas. You have so many things going through your head so it is important but challenging to piece all the pieces together.”

What process did you go through to choreograph this piece?
“I first listened to the music. Then improvised by myself, worked with the dancers, and just allowed my gut to take over.”

What is the story behind your piece?
“The story behind my piece is that they are stranded. The boat just left and they are longing for the boat to come back to them, but it never does.”

What is the best piece of advice you can give to young or inspiring choreographers?
“My best piece of advice would be, just go for it. You are going to have doubts and sometimes it is frustrating but it is so rewarding and you will be so proud so yourself.”

As a beautiful midpoint to the Summer Intensive Program, the American Festival for the Art’s World Premieres took place on July 14th but like all fabulous ballets, there will be an encore for those who missed it. With tickets starting at $15, this second showing will take place on July 27th and July 28th at the Summer Intensive Final Performances. Performances are at 1:30, 4:00 & 7:00 p.m. in the Margaret Alkek Williams Dance Lab at Houston Ballet Center for Dance on 601 Preston St Houston, TX 77002.

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