Company soloist and NEXT STEP choreographer Margaret Mullin sat down with me recently to discuss her upcoming premiere of Rorshach, a contemporary duet for two women based on the famous psychological test. Moving to music by Bartók, the two dancers command the audience’s attention as they mirror each other’s movements while staying true to their own idiosyncrasies. The result is a captivating piece that manages to be simultaneously thought-provoking and playful.
“I was definitely trying to have a bit of fun with this piece…I wanted it to be quirky, I wanted it to be a little odd, to tap into the diversity of what a young female dancer can do that may not be instantly thought of when you think of a ballet student…I wanted to bring out a lot of versatility in them, and a lot of ferociousness that they have.”
A MATTER OF PERCEPTION
The Rorschach test, a psychological test involving the subject’s interpretation of a series of inkblots, provided the inspiration for Margaret’s choreography.
“I’m definitely playing with their [the dancers’] ability to hold the audience’s attention in many different ways, and I think that played a lot to the Rorschach concept, because it’s all entirely based on perception.
Last year it was all male choreographers and there were a lot of questions about why there weren’t any women. I’ve received a lot of encouragement to do what I do, but there’s still some thought that women don’t do it [choreograph] because we’re not comfortable with authority. So I was thinking, we’re gonna do an all-girls’ piece this year, for girls by a girl…it’s been something that really interests me and it’s a fun idea – it lends itself so well to creative movements. [In rehearsals] we spent a lot of time talking about the other participant and thinking about how they perceive your work – the basis of the test is all about that.”
LOVE OF TEACHING
Margaret brings a wealth of experience to the studio when working with PD students, having choreographed on both students and Company dancers at Ballet Tucson and PNB.
“I think I enter the studio with that [teaching] frame of mind, where I enjoy an authority position as much as I enjoy nurturing other dancers. A lot of my choreographic process is that too, which actually helps me feel more creative…when I feel like they’re engaged and I’m helping them, I feel more energized, and I can tell that they’re more energized. I think the love of teaching and nurturing has been the biggest factor in my process and shapes what I do.
CHOREOGRAPHING ON PROFESSIONAL DIVISION STUDENTS
They’re students so you want them to feel their best, to enjoy themselves, and have the chance to be seen…Everyone is so different and that’s the part that I enjoy a lot.”
A NEED TO CREATE
“Choreography, for me, is something I feel like I can’t help but do…whenever I try to stop is when I start getting more ideas than I should…artistically there’s an undeniable need to do it. I really enjoy working with the students on NEXT STEP…it’s the ultimate tying-in of those things where I’m creating a new work, and they’re students so it’s a huge learning time for them still versus seasoned professionals, so it’s something that marries my two loves.”
A NEW MEDIUM
Next up for Margaret is something completely different: for the next few years, in addition to dancing, teaching, and choreographing, she’ll be working on a documentary with Nel Shelby (resident videographer for Jacob’sPillow) about dancer and choreographer Ian Horvath, whose passion for the art form helped to further dance in America.
See Margaret’s premiere on NEXT STEP
Friday, June 13 at 7:30 pm. Only at McCaw Hall! VISIT PNB.ORG TO LEARN MORE ABOUT NEXT STEP
Photos by Lindsey Thomas and Rex Tranter. Blog post by Kristen Ramer Liang.
Featured photo: Professional Division students Jessica Pelluer and Abby Cockrell rehearse Margaret Mullin’s premiere Rorschach at PNB’s annual Teen Night.