Behind the Curtain: ‘New Slate’

Courtesy of Jackie Kopcsak

I had the pleasure of recently interviewing Jackie Kopcsak, one of our distinguished graduate students in our dance MFA program. Her choreography is particularly memorable for its wit and spark. Kopcsak here gives a great peek into the graduate choreography process, the results of which will be featured in the upcoming “New Slate” performance. She also shares about her research interests.

ML: What projects do you have planned in the coming year? Could you tell us a little about them? Which one(s) are you most excited about?

JK: Fall quarter will be the start of my second year in the MFA Program in dance. For the 10 of us in the class of 2013, this means it is also thesis year! Besides a written thesis paper, the majority of us will also be presenting a thesis concert. I’m really excited about this performance; I’m planning on presenting a one-act story ballet in the Claire Trevor Theatre sometime in May 2013.

ML: What’s the hardest thing about choreography that most people don’t realize?

JK: Something most people don’t realize is that choreography at the graduate level is a very competitive field. It all starts at the beginning of a quarter when the grads audition undergraduate dancers for their new works. The dancers probably have no idea how much we fight over them! Everyone wants the best dancers to help them bring their choreography to life, so the casting process can be a little challenging; there can be a lot of heated negotiation and compromise before all is settled.

Then, once a choreographer has their cast lined up, they have to start creating right away, as there are generally only two weeks until an adjudication of the pieces. This only gives the choreographers a few rehearsals before they have to show the early stages of their work in front of a panel of the dance faculty.

Unfortunately, not everyone’s piece will make it into a given graduate concert. In fall 2011, there were about 18 choreographers who presented work at the adjudication (nearly everyone from both years of the graduate program), and only eight spots available for “New Slate.” I was very fortunate (and grateful!) to have my work selected for both graduate concerts last year. I’m hoping to participate again this year, but you never know … the incoming dance grads are an extremely talented class!

ML: What are your research interests, and how did you become fascinated with these interests?

JK: I had never really been interested in Edgar Degas’ paintings of the Paris Opéra. I think as a modern woman I had always wanted to distance myself and my art from the stereotypes of ballet as this pretty, pastel pink world.

However, the last time I was at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, something about Degas’ dance paintings spoke to me in a new way … my interest was sparked, and I’ve devoted my thesis to investigating the lives of late 19th century Parisian ballerinas, artists given little attention by modern dance historians.

I had an amazing opportunity this summer to spend a week in Paris, familiarizing myself with the “Opéra Garnier” (the opera house where Degas observed ballet classes, rehearsals and performances) as well as the Paris Opéra archives. It was a little surreal, in a way, to gain admittance into the Opéra library and to hold in my hands some of the ballerina’s letters and other personal correspondence. To see their handwriting, their signatures and then to watch a ballet of the current company of the Paris Opéra Ballet performed on their stage — it made the research feel very personal and much more real.

ML: Why should students come to Claire Trevor shows?

JK: I’ve been really impressed by the caliber of performances the dance department has presented at the Claire Trevor theatre … the dance shows at the Claire Trevor have outstanding standards for collegiate productions. I think it’s our good fortune that within the School of the Arts, we have drama graduate students studying design and management for the theatre who also have a great passion for dance. It has been fantastic collaborating with these designers. Claire Trevor Theatre is a really great venue for experiencing dance — it’s an intimate enough space where that unique kinesthetic bond between performer and audience can be really profound.

After our interview, Jackie’s piece was selected for “New Slate.” Come and see it, along with other great performances, during Nov. 15-17.

For those students who have never seen a dance performance, why not expand upon the limited entertainment options in Irvine and try something new? I guarantee an engaging, frequently beautiful, thought-provoking and sometimes challenging experience filled with the indescribable charge of live theatre — all for less than the price of a movie ticket.