Palanza Interview Part I (http://www.theworlddances.com/blogs/2012/12/02/palanza-interview-part-i/)
on Dec. 2, 2012
Hilary Palanza has years of professional performance experience, a BA in dance, and certification from theNational Dance Institute. She also started her own company, Palanza Dance, based in San Francisco, for which she choreographs, and runs her own dance school, Children's Center for Dance, based on an innovative approach to teaching kids to connect to and love movement. Oh, also, she's still in her 20s! Hilary was kind enough to take time out from her very full schedule to talk to us. In Part One of the interview, she discusses choreography, what it's like to run a company, and how to balance creativity with the demands of administering Palanza Dance.
Q: Did you always know you wanted to be choreographer?
HP: No! One year in college I randomly decided to try to start on it. My school, Colorado College, had a program that offered students a chance to produce choreography with the guidance of a professor. I'd been dancing my whole life and thought I'd try choreography. I was happily surprised with what I was able to make with my imagination. My professor pulled me into her office and said, "I don't usually say this, but choreography is what you need to do." I listened! I graduated with my degree in dance and left college confident that this was what I wanted to pursue for the rest of my life.
Q: How did you decide to start your own company?
HP: I had done short term, project-based choreographing, but I found for my imagination to really get going I needed an ongoing scenario. I find now that I'm just getting started with the gamut of what's possible. What's most exciting for me, which has just started to happen in the last six months, is that I feel I'm finding my signature. I was having a conversation with another choreographer a couple years ago, and he said, "It's easy to put together movement, or even a piece, but to find your own signature is something else!" It feels really good.
Q: How would you describe your signature?
HP: It's a little quirky and emotional. I like to make movements that are memorable. I try to create images that print in people's minds. I really love and have always appreciated design. That inspires me to think of choreography as moving bodies in space a little like moving furniture around a room. I give the audience a chance to see the dancers from different angles and I try to make the audience see a narrative develop as they see the movement evolve in the space. When I first started creating pieces, I rejected narrative. Then I realized that we all have so many stories to tell, especially as artists, and it's important that those narratives come out.
Q: How do you deal with the financial aspect of operating a company?
HP: It's hard! It's hard to understand how to make it work and to pay your dancers and for the theater and the space. But there are ways around it. We have a residency, which means we don't pay for our practice space. The ticket prices generally pay for the cost of the theater. I'm thinking of doing a "Dining for Dancers" event, where I gather people together on a farm property around San Francisco or something. People would pay a fixed price for dinner and share the night with the dancers. That way there can be a chance for interaction with the artists and discussions about our art. Generally speaking, I think people aren't anxious to throw money at art until they know it's the kind of organization they want to support. People are generous, but there's always the question of to whom they choose to give their money. They want to know the money they're giving is money well spent, and we need to make sure it is. We can't be Robert Mapplethorpes. We have to be careful with what we're given.
Q: How to you manage to both run the company and sustain your choreographic creativity?
HP: That's a really good question! It's something that I struggle with. I'm not the best at delegating. I'm something of a visionary and I like to think of my ideas taking shape in a certain sort of way. It's a tricky balance. You need that time to give yourself to think creatively, and there are all these mundane administrative tasks that turn out to be really crucial too. It's about giving your self that time. For instance, on Fridays all I'm going to do is think about choreography, and I'm not doing any emails, not spending any time on the computer. Twyla Tharp talks about that in her book, The Creative Habit. She talks about putting all your distractions away for the time you need to be creative. Whatever your distraction is-laundry, talking to your mom on the phone, Facebook-block out time to put that totally aside and give your creative side a chance to take over.
Palanza Interview Part II
In Part One of our interview with dancer/company director/choreographer/dance teacher/dance school director Hilary Palanza, she discussed her choreographic impetus and how to sustain a creative life while making a company run. In Part Two, she talks to us about her dance school, Children’s Center for Dance, and offers advice for aspiring pros.
Q: How did you decide to open a school in addition to everything else you’re doing?
HP: I think there’s a real need for a non-ballet, more creativity-based kind of dance instruction for children. Some kids love tutus and ballet, but other kids need what I had when I was 4—a subtle structure of movement inside an exterior of fun and play.
Q: What’s your teaching philosophy?
HP: A big thing in San Francisco is the Montessori/Waldorf education style, which guides students through their interests. I’m kind of trying to do that with movement. I teach dance steps, but I also ask students to think about what interests them about how they move and what their bodies can do. It’s a lot more exciting to teach that way. I think with kids we tend to dumb down their education. We say first they need basics and that other things, like modern dance, should only be introduced later on. But kids, especially young kids, are already doing modern dance naturally! They’re sort of free in that way. I think it’s a question of guiding that impulse at an early stage.
Q: How do you do that?
HP: I talk to them about movement as language. I’ll explain things like how we talk to each other with our bodies. For example, in one class I said, “I'm going to give you an example of a movement, and I want you to raise your hand and explain to me how this makes you feel and what you think when you watch this.” All the hands shot up! They said all kinds of different things. “That reminds me of a windshield wiper!” “It’s like a tree!” “That reminds me of my grandmother tipping over!” Then, I have them try the movement out, but I also ask them to spend time coming up with different ways to move on their own. I give them about ten minutes to experiment. When it’s over I ask them to come back to a circle and demonstrate their favorite movement, and all the other students try it out. It works wonderfully! I had this one little girl who never cared about class. She just didn’t want to be there. When we did that exercise, she just jumped right up and had all these things she wanted to do that I had never seen before! I would have never known that she wanted to dance like that had I not given her that space, and now she’s really excited to dance and learn more.
Q: How do you manage to juggle all of your responsibilities?
HP: It helps to see everything as informing everything else. So when I’m teaching a three year olds’ dance class, and see a different way of moving, I think about how to experiment with it in choreography. Regular conversations give me images that I use as inspiration. It’s a lot, and I worried about it a lot. But there’s nothing I’d rather be doing. Dance is a language and a tool for life. It’s such a great gift to give your friends and to the community.
Q: Any tips for aspiring young choreographers, teachers, and directors?
HP: It’s really cheesy, but follow your heart. Be true to your self and be true to what’s inside of you. Don’t just say you’re an artist—make your art. Don’t talk about your art—do your art, and the rest will follow. There are tremendous challenges, but don’t ever give up. It’s the most worthwhile thing.