Choreographer Spotlight on Ellen Oliver: “Believe in your curiosities”

We’re back with the second installment in our blog series. 

Up next is Ellen Oliver, a two time RIWCP Choreographer and Dancer. Ellen is an interdisciplinary artist based in Providence and Boston. Her work values cross-disciplinary collaboration and friendship. She is the Youth Program Director at TEN31 Productions and co-founder of ProviDANCE Project and 3 Spice Dance. Her professional work has been presented at venues and residencies in New England, NYC, and India. Ellen is currently a dancer in Lorraine Chapman The Company and Metamorphosis Dance Company, and she has recently performed with Ali Kenner Brodsky & Co, Fusionworks Dance Company, Cynthia McLaughlin, and Kelley Donovan & Dancers

We loved catching up with Ellen to delve deeper into her choreographic process, background in dance, what she’s been up to during this time. Enjoy reading this Q&A with Ellen Oliver: 

Photo by Jim Coleman

RIWCP: Tell us about your dance background. 

EO: I’ve been dancing since I was a little kid. Always moving and playing.  When I was a little kid I pretended that I was a lion, and danced like a wild cat at recess! I grew up dancing at Heritage Ballet in Lincoln, RI before studying dance at University of North Carolina School of the Arts and later Hampshire College. I studied at summer programs including Royal Winnipeg Ballet, National Ballet of Canada, Kaatsbaan, and Alonzo King LINES Ballet. I also studied for a few months in Havana in college. Dancing has taken me on a journey. I’ve journeyed through ballet, modern dance, contemporary, and all sorts of experimental. Dance for me is something that is constantly transforming. I try to expand my understanding of dance through other mediums- athletics, film, painting, theater.

RIWCP: How did you first become interested in choreography?

EO: I think I was 9 years old when my teacher at the time introduced a choreography class. I created a very dramatic dance solo about a lost penny in an apron. It was all set to Beethoven’s “Rage Over a Lost Penny.” I was very into it! I drew lots of diagrams and notes to help create the piece.  I think it’s so important for young artists to be introduced to choreography at a young age. It sparks imagination and inspiration.

Photo By Ali Pierre Etienne

RIWCP: How has your thinking evolved throughout your choreography process from the beginning to now?

EO: I’m currently trying to let go of any control I have on the material. I am being open to change and spontaneity in the process. Releasing control can make room for very new and alternative happenings! At the same time, I am working on articulating choices and decisions in my work. For me, it’s a balance of chance and reason. Every project starts with a very different set of parameters and inspirations. I can only hope that my projects will continue with this momentum of curiosity and change!

RIWCP: What is it like for you to see the movement you came up with in your head translated onto dancers? How does it affect your process?

EO: It is an exciting challenge! Again, I think a lot of it has to do with letting go of control. Everyone is a unique mover and performer. My goal is to bring out the individual in the work. I want the collaborators/performers to be just as important as the concept. For me, the dancers and choreography exist together and emerge together.

Photo by Olivia Moon Photography

RIWPC: What are some of your sources of inspiration for your choreography?

EO: I am often inspired by classical music and literature. I am usually inspired by a multitude of things that all come together through journaling and improvisation. Sometimes the inspiration is clear, and sometimes I have to work to find it. I have a regular painting, film, and rock climbing practice to help find new inspirations. It is important for me to be surrounded by many people and settings.

RIWPC: What advice do you give to dancers that are interested/curious about trying choreography?

EO: Go for it! Trust in yourself, and believe in your curiosities. 

RIWCP: How have you been spending your time in isolation/quarantine? How has your work been affected by COVID-19?

EO: I have been spending a lot of time reflecting. I am slowly revisiting old ideas and reading old journals. I’m also using this time to reconnect with family, friends and my community. I think that I will return to the studio after quarantine with a fresh perspective.

Photo by Colectivo Artístico Trance

RIWCP: How have you benefited from participating in RIWCP? 

EO: RIWCP has introduced me to many creative movers in Providence! It has been a wonderful way to strengthen the Providence dance community. It also has helped me to fearlessly show my work to a full audience! I am so grateful for being part of a strong and passionate community!

Photo by Jim Coleman

Thank you, Ellen! Stay tuned to hear from a new blog post next month and don’t forget to follow us on Facebook and Instagram, where we will be posting more content from our RIWCP community.

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