When Cassie Nordgren visits studios as a guest choreographer, she prides herself on bringing her high-energy, high-emotion brand of theater dance to the table. For her, the magic often lies in the intention behind the piece rather than its perceived difficulty. "Sometimes the piece is about telling a story, so you won't get those aerials or fouettés or whatever the new trick of the day is. That's not where I live as a choreographer," she says. "What you are going to get is that the students will have to rely on their storytelling skills to make the piece complete."
After returning to one particular studio to set a new piece, she was excited when the dancers wanted to perform one of her previous numbers for her, but quickly became upset when she saw how much her original work had been changed. In place of the intricate story she'd woven was a crescendo of tricks incorporated to make the piece more competition-friendly. "The piece used to have a beginning, middle and end, and instead of having an arc, it now just had one direction—and that was up," says Nordgren.
Luckily, she was able to use the situation to open a dialogue about best collaboration practices, and it became a valuable lesson for both choreographer and client. (She has since been back to that studio three times with great results.) But instances like these do raise important questions: When a studio hires a guest choreographer, who owns the resulting work and should the studio have carte blanche to make changes?