By JAMUNA CHIARINI
We might have missed Éowyn Emerald Barrett’s choreography completely if she had actually gone through with her plan to leave Portland a year ago. Her car was packed and ready to go, but love intervened and she stayed.
“As much as I’m the feminist my mother raised me to be, I have to admit, I fell in love,” Barrett explained about the change of heart. “He really brings out a better me, and I started believing in myself and my work more as something worthy of being seen. In this past year I have developed some relationships with dancers that I really enjoy and want to keep working with. I’m still antsy to leave some days, but I love this city too, especially on windy days.”
Originally from Toronto, Barrett moved to Vancouver, Wash., and began studying at the Columbia Dance Company and the Vancouver School of the Arts and Academics.
Her relationship with BodyVox started in high school, where she met co-artistic director Ashley Roland and dancer/choreographer Eric Skinner.
“Jan Hurst was my director then and used to bring guest artists in to teach at the studio and also judge a choreography competition that was hosted there. Ashley Roland and Eric Skinner were a few of those artists. I’m pretty sure that Ashley saw my first attempt at choreography when I was 12.”
“After I started driving, I would attend their [BodyVox] shows and take company class when I could. When I was 16 Ashley set “Twins” on myself and Spenser Theberge, who was my partner at the time.”
She continued her training at York University and the University of North Carolina School of the Arts, where she received her BFA in Contemporary Dance. The University of North Carolina School of the Arts had a program that allowed seniors to accept jobs with dance companies and still get credit and graduate, while not paying tuition.
This is where BodyVox comes in again.
“After graduating [from high school], I would take class when I was in town, and halfway through my 3rd year at NCSA I called to see if they were hiring,” Barrett said. “They took me on as an apprentice and by that fall they had expanded on the idea, hired two more dancers, and we became the start of BodyVox-2. I danced with them for the next two years.”
Since moving to Portland Barrett has danced with BodyVox, Lane Hunter, Tracy Durbin, Tere Mathern and in the Le Grand Continental production produced by White Bird. In January 2012 she debuted her own company Eowyn Emerald & Dancers to sold out audiences at the BodyVox Dance Center. Bob Hicks wrote after her debut concert in 2012, “The work is polished, athletic and professional, and enjoyable for all of those things.”
Barrett is one of four choreographers creating work for the next BodyVox-2 concert, March 7-9, and those choreographers have been holding a few open rehearsals as they set work on the dancers of the company. (I talked to Anne Mueller last week, after her rehearsal.) I spoke briefly with Barrett before rehearsal last Wednesday to find out the inspiration for her new piece. She said that she had two points of departure. One, she wanted to work with the dancers on their knees, and two, she wanted to use the body posture of a monk: the head and shoulders slightly bent forward with the hands clasped together in the lap.
The mood in the studio this week was relaxed and playful. The dancers laughed and talked to each other as they worked through the complex partnering, seeming to enjoy its challenges.
I was mesmerized by the natural unfolding and development of the partnering movement that she created on the three couples. One movement connected to the next like a smooth chain of events that were destined to happen. Her choreography is inventive, unique, daring and exciting to watch. Barrett herself describes her movement as physical, poetic, technically demanding and emotionally complex.
Q. What is your creative process like?
A. Usually I have a story I want to tell or get out of my mind. Then I pick music. I like to play with lots of things on the first day, film a lot of little ideas, then come in with the emotional context (for myself), start setting larger chunks, figure out if the story is getting an actual ending (more for me), and then talking to the dancers individually about their characters.
When I watched rehearsal on Wednesday, Eowyn hadn’t chosen any music yet and was playing different songs and playing them for the dancers as they ran through the dance. It was a very intriguing experiment that I had a different visceral reaction to each time, depending on the music.
Q. What music did you end up choosing for this piece?
A. It changed a bunch, which is not typical for me. It ended up being: “Recomposed” by Max Richter; Vivaldi, “The Four Seasons.” I am using 2 movements.
Q. Is the music important in how the choreography is shaped?
A. I would say that up until recently I always went in with music and my decisions were always guided by the music. Recently I have been trying out, not being so tied to the music while I am creating. This time the movement wasn’t tied to the music at all because I didn’t settle on music until Thursday.
Q. You have a natural affinity for partnering. How did you hone your partnering craft?
A. I don’t know. But I have been told that since I first started choreographing. I think I trust in it…more than anything else.
Q. What do you think created the spark in you to choreograph?
A. When I was living in Washington there wasn’t anywhere else I wanted to be but at the studio. I think I was given a key to the studio when I was 13 or 14. I used to ride the bus in on off days and create, sometimes on my own or with Spenser. After it became a regular thing, we would set work on other dancers in the company too.
Q. Do you have any advice for fellow choreographers on how to get started and how to get unstuck?
A. Go for it, turn on a camera and improv, set the mood and just start moving. Trust yourself, avoid repetition and pay attention. If you get stuck put on music like The Black Keys or something that is the opposite of what you have been using. It helps to break up the air around the movement a bit.
Take risks, and listen to your guts – I have had a huge year of learning to listen to gut reaction.”
Q. What are your day jobs? How do you make a life as a dancer?
A. Up until the end of August I was working at the Fox Tower theatre as the first assistant, so 40-45 hours a week. I also taught, did payroll at BodyVox, and rehearsed my own stuff. I don’t really know what I was thinking… I have a work ethic that is sometimes detrimental, especially in my last 5 years. And it’s always driven me to the weirdest things. Since leaving the Fox, I have picked up two more schools, and I say yes to most gigs that come along. It’s financially a lot harder, but now I can actually be in the studio when I want to be and not squeezing it in or annoying the neighbor below.
I currently teach at: Columbia Dance, Sultanov Russian Ballet Academy, and BodyVox. I’m also about to do a stint at Da Vinci Middle School for 2 months. I also work part time in the BodyVox office doing payroll and bookkeeping.
Q. What are your other interests outside of dance?
A. I love to bake, I really like being in a darkroom and developing film, but that is getting harder and harder. I like yoga, tennis, my boyfriend is really into disc-golf, which I’m just learning. I used to be a huge film nerd, but I’ve been taking that part slow for a bit (I’m still a huge nerd though).
Q. What are your plans for the future?
A. I’m planning a new show for April. I want to put together another Pacific Dance Makers concert this spring/summer. I am in the planning stages of attempting something new.