National Choreographer’s Initiative Goes Dark for the First Time in 17 YearsVoice of OC

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This week, the 17th season of the National Choreographer’s Initiative (NCI) was scheduled to convene on the UC Irvine campus. Alas, like many other things this year, it has been canceled.

Artistic director Molly Lynch recalls the first year of NCI when she thought, “Well, we’ll give this a try and see if this sticks.” Seventeen years, 56 choreographers and over 100 dancers later, it’s safe to say that the annual choreographic workshop has demonstrated its staying power.

But before there was NCI, there was the Pacifica Choreographic Project under Ballet Pacifica. Lynch brought that program to life in 1991 with the intention of fostering the development of new choreography within the ballet vocabulary. When the Irvine-based company closed, supporters urged Lynch to continue the project independently.

“Our community, our dance audience, gets the exclusive opportunity to see choreographers, in the mid to early part of their career, right here,” said Lynch.

She feels NCI fills a role that is not met by the other major performing arts centers in Orange County.

“NCI is about providing a space for new, up-and-coming choreographers,” said Lynch. “We’re able to bring new dance voices to Orange County.”

Each year, four choreographers are chosen to workshop new material on UC Irvine’s campus where Lynch is a professor and chair of the department of dance. With dancers and studio space freely given, and the pressures of deadlines and commissions removed, the choreographers are given ample opportunity to create.

Photo courtesy of NCI

Brett Sjoblom and Julia Eisen, both with Nashville Ballet, perform “Arnalds Studies” by choreographer Alan Hineline at the 2019 National Choreographer’s Initiative.

“It’s such a breath of fresh air to have time to experiment and explore,” said Eva Stone, a choreographer based in Seattle who was scheduled to participate in NCI this July. “It is terrifying and exciting, all at once, but what a brilliant idea to give artists who are seasoned and driven, but don’t have the luxury of exposure, a chance. It is such a gift.”

Stone and the other choreographers selected for the 2020 season will not be participating this summer due to the coronavirus pandemic. Their invitation to participate in the workshop will be honored next year in July 2021.

On March 13th, when the coronavirus pandemic was declared a national emergency, Lynch knew she needed to start making some decisions.

“We held on as long as we could, but we were tied to UC Irvine for housing and studio space and to the Irvine Barclay Theatre for the performance. I had to take cues from these partners and for a while we were all just waiting,” said Lynch.

With dancers housed two to a room, and many people expected to fly in from other parts of the country, the odds were not in Lynch’s favor.

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