Interview with Seán Curran
Posted on April 25 2018
So today we have a very special guest, a person I admire personally and am very grateful for the opportunity to share some of his Wisdom here on my blog. This person would be Seán Curran, head of the dance dep. of the prestigious NYU Tisch school, and the artistic director of the Sean Curran company. A true artist.
I hope you'll enjoy reading this as much as I enjoyed it!!
Seán Curran's career in dance and the performing arts spans 30 years and includes awards from the National Endowment for the Arts, National Dance Project, New York Foundation for the Arts, Jerome Robbins Foundation, O’Donnell-Green Music and Dance Foundation, the New York Dance and Performance "Bessie" awards, and many others. Founded in 1997, his contemporary dance ensemble Seán Curran Company has toured internationally to over 85 venues and has presented home seasons at Brooklyn Academy of Music, The Joyce Theater, and Dance Theater Workshop. In addition to work for his own company, Curran is a sought-after choreographer and director for opera and theater and serves as the Chair of the Department of Dance at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts. He has over 20 years of teaching experience in modern technique, improvisation, body percussion and composition as a visiting artist at the American Dance Festival, Harvard University Summer Dance, Bates Dance Festival, Boston's Conservatory of Music, Steps on Broadway, and university dance departments.
2/How would you describe a day in your life, as NYU's Tisch Dance dep. chairman and the artistic director of the Sean Curran company? How do you juggle these key roles so well?
My days are long and often intense; I try to be at Tisch by 8:45am, before the 9am ballet class begins. I am teaching contemporary technique this semester after a two-year hiatus due to a broken foot. I missed being in the studio with students and really enjoy teaching. I also am a "showbiz" person and relish serving as an ambassador for the Department, for Tisch, and for NYU in my role as Chair of the Department of Dance. One of the biggest challenges of being Chair is working with so many different personalities and being called upon to advise in so many areas, from technique, to production, to administration. Fortunately, I consider myself solution-based; I am always looking for solutions and seeking out suggestions from others on how to make improvements to keep the department running efficiently.
Seán Curran in the 1980s by Luca Vignelli
3/What's your favorite piece you have ever created?
I don't have a favorite piece but some are very near and dear to my heart: Symbolic Logic (1999) was a lesson in the architectural use of space and choreographic structure. It was also a dance of thankfulness; my company had made it to its Joyce Theater debut and I looked to India where they dance for, about, and because of the gods. I was inspired by Indian music and dance when creating the work. Some people might accuse me of cultural appropriation, but my aim is to make unusual hybrids, telling my own story by putting many disparate sources of inspiration into a kind of “postmodern blender.”
Another older dance, the nothing that is not there and the nothing that is, is from a series of works I made about people wanting to connect and not being able to do so. The beautiful music by Leos Janacek was as much a challenge as inspiration and the quartet form made me think and choreograph in a different way.
4/ What was your biggest dream when you were young?
To be a song and dance man on Broadway, to win a Tony for best actor in a musical, and to meet my future husband! None of this has happened, but my dreams have changed. It may sound cliche, but I truly believe that success is a journey.
5/ Where do you see the dance community in 10 years?
This is an interesting time for dance, primarily because of our growing obsession with technology, both as humans and art makers. It is curious that the demanding, physical movement taught in technique classes at NYU and all over the city is not manifesting itself in new works, and it is anyone's guess where we will be in 10 years. At its heart, dance is a three dimensional art form – there is no substitute for experiencing it live. I am not criticizing dances made for the camera or the incorporation of digital and new media (we actually have a graduate Dance & Technology concentration at Tisch), but I hope that artists will remember that dance is not solely a 2D from to be seen on computers and phones alone.
6/ What's your favorite thing about being a chairman?
Choosing guest artists and repertory to be set on Second Avenue Dance Company, the department's pre-professional ensemble, and inviting artists I admire to teach master classes for the department. I went through this program, graduating in 1983, and serving as Chair feels like a full circle.
7/ What would be the best advice you can give to a dancer who's just beginning his first steps in the dance world?
Have your artistic antennae out in the world. Take your dance blinders off – go to museums, movies, music concerts. There is a whole world of inspiration to nourish your creativity. Also, be in it for the long haul, for love and not for getting famous.
8/ What's the biggest difficulty about being a choreographer?
Raising money! You are responsible for paying dancers, renting space, and commissioning collaborators (composers; costume, lighting, and set designers). So many contemporary choreographers, myself included, donate significant personal income from other work to fund making dance.
9/ What comes first in your choreography process:music or movement?
Music used to come first and was both the inspiration and motor for movement. My approach to creating movement has recently become more idea-driven. I also frequently work with commissions that come with specific music or guidelines. I have come to appreciate and welcome these limitations as a way of expanding my artistic capabilities.
10/ What's your favorite part of the day?
I savor the hour at home before bed and after a long and productive day – the feeling of winding down and surrendering.
11/ Favorite dance piece ever?
It is impossible to name one; I am a big fan of Trisha Brown, Twyla Tharp, and Jiri Killian.
12/ Your favorite style of dance to teach?
Movement that is athletic and fearless, embracing physical abandonment and astonishing those around you
L: Seán Curran with dancer Elizabeth Coker by David Gonsier, R: Seán Curran by David Samuel Stern
13/ Balanchine or Petipa?
Martha Graham! Trisha Brown! Bill T. Jones!
14/ Favorite thing to eat?
15/ Dream Destination?
16/ What's on heavy rotation in your music library?
Joni Mitchell, Anthony and the Johnsons, Sam Smith, Talking Heads, Radio Head, the Handle opera Radamisto for an upcoming production I am choreographing, and Third Coast Percussion for a new work I am creating with Seán Curran Company to celebrate our 20th anniversary.
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