Meet the 2024 NEXT STEP Artist: Lily Wills

In this blog, you’ll learn more about PNB Company dancer Lily Wills and her new work for NEXT STEP! NEXT STEP provides opportunity, infrastructure, and support to grow tomorrow’s choreographic talent while providing a unique performance opportunity for PNB School’s Professional Division dancers. This year, Professional Division students will perform original work from company dancers Lily Wills, Noah Martzall, Luca Anaya, Melisa Guilliams, and the co-choreographer teams of Elle Macy/Dylan Wald and Amanda Morgan/Christopher D’Ariano. Learn more about this exciting step in Lily’s creative journey below.

What themes/concepts are you exploring in your Next Step Piece?

My piece is an homage to feminine power. I’ve taken inspiration from the book Circe about the Greek goddess of the same name. She is a witch banished by her father Helios to live on a secluded island. Other nymphs are sent to this island when they disobey the gods, and Circe cares for them. When sailors make landfall Circe feeds and shelters them, but if she finds out they intend to disrespect her, steal, or hurt her nymphs, she does not hesitate to turn them into pigs. In my piece, 3 scouts think they have discovered an uninhabited island only to find it is actually home to a group of beautiful nymphs and their witchy queen. By the end of it, you aren’t sure if the scouts make it off the island or not.

What is your choreographic process like?

My #1 priority is to make this a good experience for my dancers. The vibes in the room must remain light! I’m very open to incorporating steps and ideas that make the dancers feel good. I’m directing the piece but they are bringing it to life, so if they have a better side or an arm that feels more comfortable I’m all for it. I try to give them as much artistic freedom as I can within this short piece. I love it when I get stuck and someone suggests a step or idea, maybe it won’t get used every time but often, it will! These dancers inspire me so much and I am so proud of their growth this year. I am also their PD mentor and I just love working with them in and outside of the studio.

What choreographers inspire you?

I am inspired by many of the choreographers I am privileged to work with here at PNB. Penny Saunders, Matthew Neenan, and Crystal Pite come to mind. They are all very easy to work with and have a warm, calm, and professional presence in the studios. I admire that greatly. Each step they choreograph serves a purpose and adds to whatever narrative they are trying to convey, be it abstract or literal.

Images inspiring Lily’s choreography and costume designs

What’s something most people don’t know about you?

This is my second piece and the second time I’ve designed costumes for my dancers. I’ve been working with the PNB costume shop (shout out Olivia, Meleta, and Rob!) to create drapey chiffon dresses. I was inspired by the paintings of nymphs lounging and dancing together so carefree. I taught myself how to make flower crowns and sourced some authentic WWII headgear for my flat dancers, it’s been such a fun process. I can’t wait for it to all come together!

How does choreographing inform your performance practice?

I’d say I’m definitely more aware of how people present themselves at the front of the studio, myself included. Being in charge has given me some perspective of what reads and looks good from the front of the room, and how to be a kind but firm leader. Coaching my dancers has also helped me coach myself better!

You can see Lily’s piece on Tuesday, June 4 at 7:00PM at On the Boards. Click here for more information and to buy your tickets.

Photo credits: Lily Wills, photos © Angela Sterling. Images of nymphs provided by Lily Wills.