Here is Penny Saunders—recipient of a 2016 Princess Grace Choreographic Fellowship—describing, in her grant proposal, her new piece and her second for Whim W’Him (SENSATION January 20-28, 2017  – Tickets link here) :


“Every choreographic creation is a journey that encompasses a clear beginning, middle, and  end. For this new creation, I would like to have one dancer personify this ‘idea’ and have the audience follow this main character on the journey through the idea’s lifespan. This 20-minute piece will demonstrate physically how the male dancer representing this ‘idea’ gets pushed and pulled, manipulated and affected by his surroundings, letting the audience watch him succeed and fail as he relates to the other six characters within the piece.


“I am imagining an opening that is light and joyous, in hopes to represent the youthful and invincible nature of an initial idea––unfettered and boundless. From there I would like to demonstrate the narrowing and shrinking of that youthful optimism, specifically showing how having observers can humble and slow the momentum of the initial potential. A single dancer can begin his movements large and confident but as the other dancers come into the light to observe, the protagonist’s movement becomes gradually subdued and diminished.


“I am interested in using Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 4 in D Minor, Op. 31: Andante-Moderato. This concerto offers various layers and an intrinsic story-like drama that will definitely influence the emotional journey of the characters. As a musical transition I may use Nick Cave’s and Warren Ellis’s Water and Ash, which will be a much-needed tranquility after the Violin Concerto. Here I am interested in exploring aspects of beauty within violence in a slow motion fight scene, as “the idea” meets and tries to conquer its antagonists. Furthermore, as “the idea” continues his journey toward completion, there is a section where the originator/choreographer of the idea is forced to let go of her hold, and the idea, in whatever form, and has to be released into the world to be seen and experienced by others. Silent Woods for Cello and Orchestra Op. 68 No. 5 by Antonín Dvořák should be well matched for this part. I would like to explore puppeteering qualities to build tension in a manipulative way as the group partners “the idea.” This tension could then culminate with the release of these outside forces allowing the idea/dancer to finally be completely free, or as free as it/he can be.


“Every time I begin a project I try to remove the element of self-doubt, but the creative process is such a fickle thing that it is virtually impossible. With this creation I am hoping to delve deeper into those darker thoughts of self-doubt and judgment, and try to use what I am feeling as I feel it. I want to take a closer look at why as artists we need the observers’ approval so badly, while we simultaneously hate that they have that power over us. I hope to create a cast of characters that will help animate each of these complicated aspects, both supportive and judgmental within the choreography. I feel so lucky to be able to dive into this work with Whim W’Him; they are an amazing group of individuals and I am extremely excited to be able to work with them again. Artistic director Olivier Wevers has successfully fostered an atmosphere of openness and support that makes working there an absolute pleasure. I am also looking forward to having another opportunity to collaborate with their lighting designer, Michael Mazzola… These are extremely talented artists who will be able to help me develop a perfect environment wherein this story of the creative process can unfold.”


I asked Penny via Skype, before she had rehearsed with the dancers yet, “Are you thinking of particular incidents that will embody different stages of this journey? Or feelings or complexes of emotions?” and she replied, “Yes. Otherwise, it will just end up looking like a bunch of steps.” And in fact, the dancers will each have an individual character—all of which together are facets of the same person. It’s as if she, the choreographer, were opening her own brain to look at its thoughts and inner reactions to them. The piece is now called


an idea, personified

Each dancer embodies some emotion/character/aspect and have moments of solo and/or duets in which to develop it and its relation to The Idea, which is to be danced Justin Reiter (whose hair changes with his own ideas)…


Doubt is Patrick Kilbane


Liane Aung  personifies Grace


Karl Watson is Time


Tory Peil embodies Passion


while Jim Kent enacts Folly


and Mia Monteabaro takes on the persona of Prudence


I asked to what degree she would have worked out or thought up movements that she wanted to employ by the time she got into the studio? Penny said, “I’m bad at preparing a phrase ahead of time, because I can’t stand choreographing on myself any more. I have images but not specific moves or music in mind.” When asked what input the dancers would bring to the process, she said they would go back and forth between improv and not, “But I’m VERY particular too—I may say a bit more of this, and a whole lot less of that. We’ll probably just spend the first week making a ton of phrases.” Then, she added with a grin, “I’ll spend the weekend tearing my hair out,” before the work really begins to take shape.


In the course of making the piece, Penny also noted, ““I will have to listen to the music more closely. It is going to drive me crazy, but it will all be stronger if the piece has a journey.” With the Mozart I could easily fall into a pantomimed ‘bad ballet’ vocabulary, and it could quickly become cliché, but I’ll try to make it more genuine and thoughtful.” Then, a “soundscapey section for the middle,” represents doubt and the breakdown of the obviously neat and pretty. “The last music is complete and beautiful. It comes together and will make the dancers come together. At the end, the Idea will take a final bow, but with doubt creeping in as he always does.” ”


A few days ago, and a week or so before Penny returns to the Seattle on January 11, I emailed her asking her general feelings about what she accomplished in her initial rehearsals with the dancers. “Rehearsals with the Whimmers went really well,” she replied, “and I was able to stay on track with my original goals and intentions.” I also asked her in what ways the music and how she is using it have altered and if she had any further ideas about costumes and lighting that she would like to share so far. Her response: “Music is the same as I had forecasted, and the costumes are still in their early stages of development. Everyone will be wearing pretty much the same thing with slight variations on a theme. It will be androgynous, and in the color family of blue.

“I look forward,” she concludes, “to getting back to the work so that we can clean, clarify, and edit before we bring it to the theater.”

 Photo credit: Bamberg Fine Art Photography