'Future Voices': OKC Ballet plans choreographic showcase in new dance center
From an early age, Amanda Herd-Popejoy not only loved to dance but also enjoyed making up dances.
"I do remember even at a young age, I always kind of like choreographing my own stuff and making other people learn my dances," she recalled with a laugh.
"I can see how it is kind of becoming a natural progression and something that I'd be interested in continuing to explore."
A former soloist with Oklahoma City Ballet, the Yukon native retired from the stage last year and has since worked as the coordinator of the company's trainee program, a role that has given her the chance not only to teach and mentor young dancers but also to develop her skills as a choreographer, devising pieces for the trainees' fall and spring concerts.
Herd-Popejoy will be among about a dozen OKC Ballet staffers and dancers, plus special guests, who will show their short works in "Future Voices: A Choreographic Showcase" planned for March 12-15 in the Inasmuch Foundation Theatre at OKC Ballet's Susan E. Brackett Dance Center.
Intended to be an annual event, "Future Voices" will be one of the first ticketed performances at the new dance, capping a goal the arts organization set when it began renovating the former American Energy Partners Fitness Center into a top-notch dance facility more than three years ago.
"We are beyond thrilled to get to introduce this building to the general public at large," John Kirkpatrick Executive Director Jo Lynne Jones said.
Herd-Popejoy first joined the school at Oklahoma Ballet (then Ballet Oklahoma) in 2001 at age 14, and by 16 received a company apprenticeship. From 2006-09, she danced with Pacific Northwest Ballet, Ballet Austin and Dominic Walsh Dance Theater before returning home to OKC Ballet in 2009.
Although the company has put on choreography showcases in the past, she said it's hard to imagine it organizing one the size of "Future Voices" in its cramped former facilities.
"It would have been impossible. ... We need that (new) space in order to have all the different choreographers have a space to work, and even then, we alternate our schedule and hours," she said.
"It's kind of a puzzle piece of trying to get your dancers in the studio. But everybody's been really helpful, and I feel like dancers are going out of their way to help all the choreographers."
An add-on production to OKC Ballet's 2019-2020 season, "Future Voices" will feature short works by guest choreographers Michael Bearden, director of the University of Oklahoma School of Dance; Robyn Pasternack, University of Central Oklahoma dance professor; and Kay Sandel, Oklahoma City University dance professor.
Along with OKC Ballet staffers Herd-Popejoy and ballet master Penny Askew, who also directs OKC Ballet's Yvonne Chouteau School, company dancers who will have pieces featured in the show include principals Alvin Tovstogray and Jonathan Batista and corps members Sam Jones, Natalie Matsuura, Carrie Ruth Trumbo and Erik Thordal-Christensen.
"This isn't meant to be a finished performance. This is meant to be people coming into our building and learning about choreography, watching and learning about the process," OKC Ballet Artistic Director Robert Mills said. "If I hadn't had similar opportunities like this, I wouldn't have developed into the choreographer that I am."
He is already planning a future installment of "Future Voices" for March 18-21, 2021, as an add-on to the ballet's 2020-2021 subscription season.
Bodies at work
For choreographers, Mills said opportunities to have dancers and space for creating works is both vital and rare.
"Getting bodies in a room and having the ability to create movement ... that's a lot of factors to come together for a choreographer," Mills said. "We can't just work with earphones on and imagine all the time. There's gotta be bodies there, so that's what this is about."
For "Future Voices," Herd-Popejoy has been revisiting with the company's professional dancers her piece "State of Being," which she created last year for students participating in OKC Ballet's summer intensive program. The piece reflected her uncertainty about retiring from the stage and entering a new phase of her creative career.
"I was nervous of letting dancing go. So, I feel like in my choreography, there's a lot of reaching towards things and pulling away. It's a barefoot ballet — the dancers are in leotards — and it's very contemporary. ... They have this sensation of a pulling, and there's also a lot of dancers manipulating the other person to make the movement happen, which is kind of symbolic of how I was feeling: not 100% sure on what would be next," she said.
"It's something that I feel like is kind of coming more naturally to me than I even anticipated. I really like that I'm getting a lot of positive feedback from my friends and dancers and people that see the pieces. It's kind of inspired me to keep trying it."
'Future Voices: A Choreographic Showcase'
When: 8 p.m. March 12-13; 2 and 8 p.m. March 14; and 2 p.m. March 15.
Where: Inasmuch Foundation Theatre at the Brackett Dance Center, 6800 N Classen.
Information and tickets: okcballet.org or 843-9898.