Local Choreographer Bree Hafen is making the leap onto the national dance scene with her first full-length show, [+] SPACE. Last year Hafen was honored at the Capezio A.C.E. Awards for her chorographic style. As part of the recognition she will get to put on a full-length show at the Ailey Theatre in New York City this summer. But first Hafen will premiere [+] SPACE for Dallas audiences, July 26 and 28, at the Eisemann Center for Performing Arts in Richardson.
Along with the Dallas Repertoire Ballet, [+] SPACE will also feature dance celebrities Chelsie Hightower, Billy Bell, Janelle Issis, Thayne Jasperson and Nicki Loud. These guest performers will also be teaching a series of master classes at Academy of Dance Arts, July 26-29, from 9 a.m.-1 p.m.
Originally from Utah, Bree Hafen trained under Colleen Smith (student of William F. Christensen,) Lauralyn Kofford and many others at Center Stage Performing Arts. She has served as president and choreographer of the BYU Cougarettes and toured the U.S. and Europe with Odyssey Dance Theater before putting her professional career on hold to become a mom. Hafen currently teaches at Academy of Dance Arts in Allen and was a featured contestant at the Dallas auditions for Season 9 of So You Think You Can Dance.
TheaterJones asks Bree Hafen about the inspiration behind [+] SPACE, breaking into the choreography side of the industry and why she chose to premiere her show in Dallas.
TheaterJones: What are the Capezio A.C.E. Awards?
Bree Hafen: It’s a choreography competition hosted by Capezio and Break the Floor Productions and it’s really the only one of its kind for professional choreographers. What happens is you submit a video to their website and out of several hundred videos they select 16 choreographers to come to New York and present their work in front of some of the top choreographers in the country. I was fortunate enough be one of those 16 choreographers. So, I took five of my dancers to New York where they competed with my dance Terminal Soul which is about someone dealing with a terminal illness. The judges liked it so much that they awarded it one of the top three honors. And one of the perks of being top three is that we get to put on a full-length show of our own work the following summer in New York City.
What was your reaction when you found out you won?
Being a newcomer in my industry I really went into this thinking I had nothing to lose. So, when I was contacted that I had been chosen I was so excited. I am very confident about my work and I know that I have been able to create things that people appreciate and really enjoying watching, but I was up against names that politically should have been chosen over me. So, I was very pleased that they found the desire to give me the opportunity even though I am not one of the big names. And with that said, to be announced as one of the winners against 16 pretty well known choreographers was absolutely amazing. I really love teaching high school aged kids, but my dream has always been to have a company of my own and this has really given me that opportunity.
What is the inspiration for your show, [+] SPACE?
In artistic terms it means to have things close together, but the way I’m using it is kind of a play on words to encourage a more uplifting and wholesome genre of the arts. I know that dance sometimes gets a bad rap for being overly sexualized. A lot of the Broadway shows today you would never bring your 12-year-old son to. I wanted to create a place where people can come and really feel uplifted and inspired without having to compromise their standards. The same goes for my dancers. I didn’t want them to feel like they had to doing anything they felt uncomfortable with. I just wanted to create something very moving and positive.
How would you describe your movement style?
I do not pigeonhole my style because I really love to create movement in all different genres. I would say my specialty is probably contemporary, but I also love to create musical theatre, lyrical and jazz pieces. I really love to do it all!
What would you say are your strengths as a choreographer?
My strength as a choreographer is in storytelling for sure. I am able to use movement to really weave a story in a dance and that is something that will be essential in [+] SPACE. For the people that come to the show it will not be just movement to music. There are definitely storylines and it is definitely relatable.
What can you tell me about the pieces we will be seeing?
My first piece is about the different stereotypes. The dancers are in groups wearing different colors and there’s one dancer who’s trying to bring everyone to the attention that we are all the same on the inside. As the dance goes on their colors come off and the dancers are all in basic black and they come to recognize their alikeness vs. their differences. The second dance is more of a narrative about the rich vs. the poor in the 1920’s. It’s kind of detailing how this homeless community doesn’t have money but they have so much love and connection with one another while the rich family has everything they could ever want; however, their lives are kind of empty. And the third piece is a real tear-jerker. It’s about a wife who goes to war and doesn’t make it and comes back in the form of an angel to help her husband find new love.
How did you help your dancers commit to the storylines in your pieces?
I was very picky with the adults that I chose for the company because I knew I needed dancers who could emote in a very natural and heartfelt way. I don’t have to push them too much. I feel like they really commit to what they are doing. However, one thing that I do stress in rehearsals is the sensitive nature of the things that we are portraying. So, we spend a lot of time talking about if we touch someone this way it feels like we are saying one thing and if we touch someone another way it feels like we are saying something different. I am very specific about the tiny details in the choreography so that it all reads in a very real way. I never want anything I produce to be perceived as melodramatic.
Why did you decide to premiere the show here in Dallas?
After the A.C.E. Awards I came back and talked to Kathy Willsey, Executive Director of the Dallas Repertoire Ballet, and we decided that we definitely wanted to give Dallas a chance to see the show before we went to New York. Around this time last year she wanted to produce a show featuring all my work. When the A.C.E. awards happened, her idea then became a reality. Dallas is such an arts community. The city has such an appreciation for the arts and we wanted to continue to foster that. The more that’s nourished here in Dallas the better it’s going to be for tourism and the economy. It’s something we are really passionate about and we have already started asking for grants and funding for next summer.
Was it an easy decision to involve the Dallas Repertoire Ballet in your show?
Yes, it was. Dallas Repertoire Ballet is a 501(c)3 non-profit so, Kathy was able to help me find donors since putting on a production like this is extremely expensive. Kathy was more than happy to get involved and she really wanted to be a driving force with this show. She believes in me more than I believe in myself. And all the parents at Academy of Dance Arts and the DRB Board felt the same way. I couldn’t have done this without their support.
◊ Katie Dravenstott is a freelance writer and dance instructor in Dallas. Visit her blog at www.kddance.wordpress.com