Alison Cook Beatty/Marc Safran Photography

READart’s Heather Zises sat down with Alison Cook Beatty to discuss her recent showcase, Moving Stories: An Evening with Alison Cook Beatty Dance at Peridance Capezio Center, the art of light design, the writings of Edward Gorey, and her “family” of company dancers.

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Heather Zises: What kind of a choreographer do you consider yourself to be?

Alison Cook Beatty: I resist categorization when it comes to describing myself as any particular type of choreographer. I’ve worked with all “kinds” of dancers from those who are members of ballet companies, to my own dancers who are considered modern dancers, to Kitty Lunn’s Infinity Dance Theater who feature dancers with disabilities. When I work with different “types” of dancers in different categories, I don’t look at them as a “type”, I just look at them as a person, and that inspires me to make pieces. The process is more simple. I’m sure a lot of other people do this too—if I go to work with a ballerina, I’m not walking into the room with preconceived ideas and I’m not going to tailor the movement to make it more of something it should be. I just think of dance as dance.

When I work with different ‘types’ of dancers in different categories, I don’t look at them as a ‘type’, I just look at them as a person, and that inspires me to make pieces.

HZ: Are there any recent projects that stand out/have personal resonance with you?

ACB: Every project I work on feels like that! You have this vision, and you work on it for months and months, and then it comes to life. When it’s finally in the stage of performance, sometimes I take a step back and think “Wow, how did that happen?” But every single performance—whether it turns out really well or it’s not the best—is about the process of trying, and I think everyone involved in that process is on that journey, too. Some projects are a little bit more memorable; like when I collaborate with others, or if it’s a larger scale production like Humanitas which we performed last month at Peridance on April 7th and 8th. Working with Christine Darch on the costumes for that piece was amazing!

HZ: What struck me about Humanitas was the use of light. For the first minute and a half or so, the stage was bathed in a soft, ambient light. What made you decide to open the show with that direction?

ACB: That was all up to the lighting designer, Tony Marques. He did such an incredible job on that piece. I’m so happy we got to work with him–he’s like a magician!  I could feel his lighting design while I was dancing in it…it made me feel like I was dancing in a fairytale. Not all lighting designers create the warmth and the textures and the moods that Tony is able to create. Does that make sense?

I could feel his lighting design while I was dancing in it…it made me feel like I was dancing in a fairytale.

HZ: Very much so. In painting, it’s called chiaroscuro. It’s all about shadow and light. In photography it’s a similar concept that manipulates positive and negative space, and the void. To work with something that is 2D and create a depth of field within it is what great artists, including lighting designers, can do.

ACB: Yes! Tony would come to rehearsals and ask me for a few words about my feelings for the sequence. I wouldn’t have to say too much, all he really needed to see was the work, and that is what gave him direction. It was less about my verbal cues and much more about the choreography. For The Emotions Project, I explained that I wanted a white void and this yellow eerie light bulb that was piercing the dark—

HZ: Like a Van Gogh painting?

ACB: Yes! And Tony created it! He made it happen. And again in Whale, with the projection, he was able to create this amazing depth when Company member Timothy Ward was standing upstage at the end of the piece holding the symbolic whale tooth necklace.

HZ: Tell me more about Uninvited Guest. It was a great Steampunk-meets-Surrealism freakshow! That was inspired by Edward Gorey, right?

ACB: That was a collaborative piece I did when I was a student at the Boston Conservatory of Music at Berklee and it was kind of like a collage. We found postcard images that spoke to us and from each image we made short phrases. Then we jam packed each phrase together. Then we came across a short story by Edward Gorey called The Doubtful Guest about an odd penguin-like creature who comes to a dinner party at a morbid Edwardian household and never leaves. The creature does all these mischievous things. Like the book, our piece followed Gorey’s surrealism and nonsensical verse, right down to all of the characters on stage.

HZ: As Artistic Director for ACBD, you wear many hats, including being a company dancer and a choreographer. What kind of challenges do you face in these roles?

ACB: It is hard for me to dance in my own work. I prefer not to. If it is a solo or a duet it is much easier than a group piece. I hardly ever dance in a World Premiere, I just cannot create a large group piece, look at the big picture, and be in the painting at the same time. I have to remove myself in order to see it. It is the same for directing, if it is a large group piece I have an easier time seeing the group when I am outside it. On the flip side of this, being able to dance with the Company allows me to feel the team. If someone or something is not working, I feel it. Even though I am wearing two hats, running in and out, I get the best of both worlds. Regarding challenges, it basically comes down to cost. Does the Company have enough resources to pay another dancer to do the work? If I can dance it right now for free I would rather have the money go somewhere within the Company than hire another dancer that we cannot support. Until we gain more resources to support the infrastructure of our growing Company I will continue to occupy as many supporting roles as I can. My main goal is to focus on choreography, as well as keeping the company afloat.

We (Alison Cook Beatty Dance) are just a normal group of artists working our tails off like everyone else…it comes down to hard work in every corner you can imagine.

HZ: What do you think distinguishes ACBD from other dance companies?

ACB: We are just a normal group of artists working our tails off like everyone else. There is nothing special or ordinary about us. We all are special. It comes down to hard work in every corner you can imagine. We are lucky we have a great team on stage and a great team off stage, from the interns, the volunteers, the advisory board, the executive board, and the dancers. It takes a village!