Gianna Reisen Is Drawn to Neoclassical Music for Her Choreography

Rising Waters, by Gianna Reisen. Photo by Josh Rose, courtesy of L.A. Dance Project

For Gianna Reisen, a classically trained ballet dancer who now performs with L.A. Dance Project, the process of finding music for her choreography is everything. "If I'm not 100 percent inspired by the music, the movement just doesn't come out," she says. Following this natural creative spirit, though, wasn't always the driving force behind her artistry.

While in her graduating year at the School of American Ballet in 2016, the ultimate goal for Reisen, like most of her peers, was to join the New York City Ballet as a dancer—not to be a choreographer. But when Peter Martins, the company's director at the time, noticed her work at a student workshop, he was so impressed that he commissioned her to set a piece for that year's fall gala, making the then 18-year-old the company's youngest choreographer to date.

Now, in her second season as a company member with LADP, led by Benjamin Millepied, Reisen is continuing her dual path as dancer and choreographer. Her work Rising Waters, with music by Andrew Bird, premiered last September.

As a choreographer, Reisen is drawn toward neoclassical composers. "They have a natural human quality to their work that makes me feel emotional and curious," she explains. "My music has to be dynamic in some kind of way—a fast section and a slow section—otherwise it feels monotone or repetitive," she says.

She typically sorts through piles of music files and saves those that spark an emotional response. Once the music's selected, she'll study the dynamics of the composition and the patterns until she can sing every note. "When I hear a piece I like," says Reisen, "I tend to see or feel the choreography."

Playing with movement alone in a studio with music she loves has been a valuable tool that's enriched her musicality. She encourages all ballet dancers and teachers to explore this as an exercise. "It allows dancers to feel freer in their dancing," she says, "and ultimately be more unique."

Andrew Bird - Echolocations: River (10/6/17)

Andrew Bird - Echolocations: River (10/6/17)

Artist: Andrew Bird

Album: Echolocations: River

"The way he composes cuts through deeper than hearing it with just your ears, his music hits a nerve, and I can't help but see dances when listening to his instrumental pieces."

Adams: Judah to Ocean

Artist: John Adams

Song: "Judah to Ocean"

Album: John's Book of Alleged Dances

"I used this for the second piece I choreographed for New York City Ballet, Judah. Adams uses a unique structure and unconventional sounds to create beautiful end results."

Lukas Foss: Three American Pieces (1944)

Artist: Lukas Foss

Song: "Three American Pieces: Composer's Holiday"

Album: Foss Plays Foss

"Foss is a dynamic American composer, originally from Germany. He uses modern phrases in classical sounding music."

Moondog ― Lament I, "Bird's lament"

Artist: Moondog

Album: Moondog

"In addition to being a composer, Louis Thomas Hardin (aka Moondog) was a poet and an inventor, which is clearly heard in his music, like poetry for the ears."

Sky Quartet: I. Sky Rising

Artist: Jennifer Higdon

Album: Sky Quartet

"I love Higdon's classicism, but she puts a twist on a lot of her music, which intrigues me. I love this album in particular."

Teaching Tips
Justin Boccitto teaches a hybrid class. Photo courtesy Boccitto

Just as teachers were getting comfortable with teaching virtual classes, many studios are adding an extra challenge into the mix: in-person students learning alongside virtual students. Such hybrid classes are meant to keep class sizes down and to give students options to take class however they're comfortable.

But dividing your attention between virtual students and masked and socially distant in-person students—and giving them each a class that meets their needs—is no easy feat.

Dance Teacher asked four teachers what they've learned so far.

Keep reading... Show less
Teachers Trending
All photos by Ryan Heffington

"Annnnnnnd—we're back!"

Ryan Heffington is kneeling in front of his iPhone, looking directly into the camera, smiling behind his bushy mustache. He's in his house in the desert near Joshua Tree, California, phone propped on the floor so it stays steady, his bright shorty shorts, tank top and multiple necklaces in full view. Music is already playing—imagine you're at a club—and soon he's swaying and bouncing from side to side, the beat infusing his bones.

Keep reading... Show less
Teachers Trending
Evelyn Cisneros-Legate. Photo by Beau Pearson, Courtesy Ballet West

Evelyn Cisneros-Legate is bringing her hard-earned expertise to Ballet West. The former San Francisco Ballet star is taking over all four campuses of The Frederick Quinney Lawson Ballet West Academy as the school's new director.

Cisneros-Legate, whose mother put her in ballet classes in an attempt to help her overcome her shyness, trained at the San Francisco Ballet School and School of American Ballet before joining San Francisco Ballet as a full company member in 1977. She danced with the company for 23 years, breaking barriers as the first Mexican American to become a principal dancer in the U.S., and has graced the cover of Dance Magazine no fewer than three times.

As an educator, Cisneros-Legate has served as ballet coordinator at San Francisco Ballet, principal of Boston Ballet School's North Shore Studio and artistic director of after-school programming at the National Dance Institute (NDI). Dance Teacher spoke with her about her new position, her plans for the academy and leading in the time of COVID-19.

Keep reading... Show less

Get Dance Business Weekly in your inbox

Sign Up Used in accordance with our Privacy Policy.