Five Questions with Nichole Canuso

Michael Kiley, Meg Foley (photos), Shannon Murphy, Christina Zani, Joshua Delpech-Ramey in Nichole Canuso Dance's "As the Eye of the Seahorse"

Nichole Canuso Dance Company’s As the Eyes of the Seahorse, a collaboration with the band The Mural and the Mint, last night at HERE Arts Center. The show continues Dec. 10 and 11, with shows at 7 p.m. and 11  p.m. (tickets $15/$20). Canuso was kind enough to take a few minutes to answer some questions for Culturebot.

From what I gather, the piece started out as a performance with your husband, Michael Kiley, of The Mural and the Mint, which you’ve developed into the show you’re presenting here. When you’re choreographing for someone else’s music, what’s the relationship between the movement and the music? How do you bring that together and what are you adding through choreography?

I’ve been gathering dancers to perform short dances to the live concerts of The Mural and The Mint for several years now.  But in the past there has been a dance to only one or two songs during the concert.  Eventually we decided to make an evening-length project bringing dance into focus throughout the set: “As the Eyes of the Seahorse” was born.

TM&TM’s music is soulfull, hopefull, full of depth and full of beauty.  There is complexity in the musicianship but a clarity and simplicity in tone.

I try to match these qualities in the choreography.  I’m aiming to create movement that allows the presence and openness of the performers to come forward without overpowering the presence of the band.

One of the things I’ve read is that the piece breaks down the distinction between musician and dancer–musicians will be moving and dancers will be playing instruments, right?

We really perform as an ensemble (musicians and dancers), overlapping in space and following one anothers cues.  The musicians join in the choreography quite a bit and the dancers sing on several songs but there is no instrument swapping.

You both grew up in and remain based in Philadelphia. How is Philadelphia as a place to make art–and dance more specifically?

I grew up in Philadelphia.  Mike moved to Philadelphia as an adult.

It’s the ideal community for the work we are creating.  There is a great deal of support from foundations, audience members and peers for cross disciplinary explorations.  There’s an abundance of exciting hybrid work being created right now and audiences are really ready for it.

How do you try to engage your audience when you’re creating work?

It varies, but I always keep the audience in mind. For a while I was known for creating humorous dances, acknowledging the audience through eye contact during the performance.   As my work shifted tone and direction I remained interested in the exchange between the audience and the performer.  I wanted to explore the range of this interaction.

About four years ago I created a work Wandering Alice as an immersive performance in which 20 audience members at a time were led on a journey through several floors of a building.  A cast of 13 dancers and musicians performed in an around the audience allowing them to be surrounded, to enter the work and to fill in the visual picture of the dance.

TAKES was a performance (performed by myself and Dito VanReigersberg) in the evenings and a gallery by day.  The gallery was an interactive performance for two participants at a time:  aural instructions that led the two participants to create their own duet inside the live-feed video installation we’d created.

What should people know about Nichole Canuso?

Although I guide each process I invite collaborative creation.  I believe in acknowledging the qualities that make each collaborative team unique and try to create space for all the intelligence in the room.  Creating “As the Eyes of the Seahorse” has been a warm and rewarding experience.

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