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Photo by Lorrin Brubaker

Catching Up with Gianna Reisen

A brief Q&A with the breakout choreographer


The final program of our Digital Spring Season includes an excerpt from Gianna Reisen’s first ballet for NYCB, Composer's Holiday. Premiering on the 2017 Fall Gala program, Composer’s Holiday is a delightfully brisk and unique ballet set to an arrangement for violin and piano of Lukas Foss’ Three American Pieces, with costumes by Virgil Abloh of Off-White™. Following that premiere, Reisen, the youngest commissioned choreographer in NYCB's history, danced for a year as an apprentice with the Dresden SemperOper Ballet in Germany; created another commissioned piece for NYCB, Judah, set to selections from composer John Adams, for the 2018 Fall Gala; and joined the Los Angeles Dance Project, led by former NYCB Principal Dancer Benjamin Millepied. We recently caught up with Reisen over email.

Congrats on Rising Water [Reisen’s Fall 2019 premiere at LA Dance Project]. What was the choreographic process like, from selecting the Andrew Bird music to working with LADP’s dancers?

Thank you! The process was a dream, quite frankly. The LADP dancers are so special and I am very blessed to have had the opportunity to work with them. It was my first time choreographing a trio, as I am used to working with larger groups, but it was interesting for me to discover intimacy and make the piece more personal with only three dancers! 

Andrew Bird has been one of my favorite artists for as long as I can remember and his music just hit the mark for me. I chose two compositions of his, from different albums, and put them together to create Rising Water. Katherine Tsina Bird, Andrew’s wife, designed the costumes. Andrew and Katherine were both a huge support throughout the process and actually came to see a few of the shows!

Your previous ballets have been set to music from American composers; I’m curious if you have thoughts about that through-line, particularly as your latest work, a piece for the School of American Ballet that has been postponed, is set to music by Stravinsky. 

This pattern is interesting to me as well. I don’t necessarily seek out music from American composers in particular, but I guess you could say my taste in music just happens to fall into that category. I’m attracted to music that has a lot of dimension to it, highs and lows, and I’ve noticed that a lot of American composers have this embedded in their work. I’m very excited to choreograph to Stravinsky. I know that creating a new work set to his music is a challenge, but it is a risk I’m willing to take! 

You’re currently a full-time dancer at LADP and continuing to choreograph for that company and others. How have you found balancing the workload—is it difficult for you to switch gears? 

The answer is yes. Balancing dancing and choreography is difficult, but I am very passionate about learning more as a dancer to better my work as a choreographer. My passion will always lie in choreography, but as I discover myself as a dancer, I improve my choreographic vocabulary.

It’s been an interesting, international, very busy three years since you premiered Composer’s Holiday here at NYCB. We’re excited to share it with our audiences again, via a streamed performance, in these unique times. How are you feeling about the work now? 

Composer’s Holiday feels like my child, in a sense.... As my first work for NYCB, I have so much love and deep emotional memories connected to it, and I’m glad it will still have the opportunity to be shared with the world while we are all at home, staying safe!

Composer’s Holiday is a ballet that I created with humanity in mind. There are many intimate, human moments between the dancers as they connect to the music. There are also moments that include odd shapes and quirky movements that make the piece feel otherworldly. I’m extremely excited to share my work and am so grateful for the high-energy dancers and talented musicians that bring the work together! As we continue to live in this unpredictable time of isolation and fear, it is so important to come together and carry on sharing art. I hope that Composer’s Holiday can bring a bit of light while we are distant from our friends, family, and loved ones.

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