From dancer to choreographer with New Moves Online

19 August 2021

Dancing a choreography is one thing, creating it from the first step is something completely different. Claire Tjoe-Fat, Philippe Magdelijns, Leo Hepler and Emma Mardegan experienced this first hand during the creation process of Sonder and Beach Odyssey. With these short dance films, which are part of New Moves Online, the young dancers are making their debut as choreographers.

Less scary together

Although Claire and Philippe, who have both been promoted to élèves as of the beginning of season 21/22, initially intended to create two separate choreographies for New Moves Online, they decided to join forces. Claire: “Making your own piece for the first time is less scary when you do it together. It was also very nice that we could choreograph the work for ourselves, because that meant we didn't have to ask other dancers. Imagine if we had been super bad choreographers! Then you wouldn't want other dancers to waste their time on us.”

The result of their collaboration is the choreography Sonder, which depicts the meeting of two individuals and addresses the realisation that everyone you pass in life has a life as complicated as your own. Philippe: “The work has a minimalist character, both in terms of the choreography and the location and method of filming: we dance in one of the tuning rooms - a kind of studio used mainly by opera singers and musicians - and the choreography is filmed in a very subtle way, entirely in one take. We wanted it to be clear where people should look, so that the focus is entirely on the dance. The end result is very simple, but maybe that's what makes it strong.”

Dance party in the studio

Whereas Sonder is minimalistic and intimate, the short dance film Beach Odyssey, which corps de ballet dancer Leo made in collaboration with his good friends Emma Mardegan, Mila Nicolussi Caviglia and Bela Erlandson is bursting with energy and joy. Leo: “During the second lockdown last March, we started experimenting in the studio, just for fun, and eventually rolled into the New Moves project. At first I wanted to work on a solo for Emma, but in the end it evolved into a work for us and two of our friends, bringing the spontaneous dance parties in our kitchen at home into the studio.” “The work is about having fun with friends, and it actually was created in that way too,” adds Emma. “We wanted to do something both fun and challenging, and create a sort of playground where we had the freedom to combine work and play.”

On this playground, the four dancers explored the possibilities of the ballet technique. Collaboration, democracy and dancer’s own choices were the key words in the process. Leo: “Everyone was given the freedom to make their own choices and contribute to the choreography. I do not want to put on the 'title crown' of choreographer.” Emma: “We rather saw Leo as a kind of reference point and asked his opinion about the things we wanted to do.”

New insights

Choreographing gave the dancers the chance to look in a new way at the art form they work with every day. Emma: “As a dancer, you don't always know what the exact idea behind a choreography is. You just dance it. It is very instructive to be on the other side of the studio for once.” Leo: “Creating our own work reminded me that there are still so many possibilities in this art form that I work with every day and provided me with new, interesting perspectives.” However, the New Moves project not only offered the dancers new insights into the art of ballet, but also into their own interests. Philippe: “I used to think I did not want to become a choreographer, but now it turns out I really enjoy creating my own works. That is partly because of the freedom you get. Normally you sometimes dance pieces you are not so keen on, but now you only have to do things you really like.”


However, the freedom that comes with choreographing also proved to be an obstacle sometimes. Claire: “You suddenly have to decide everything yourself: costumes, location, lights, the way you want to present the work. That made it quite stressful at times. Especially if you also dance the choreography yourself, since you then take on two roles at once.” “There are many things that can be stressful,” Leo agrees. “Time management is a big one for me. In the beginning we were experimenting and enjoying ourselves so much that we almost forgot that we had to make a dance film that would actually be shown. Then suddenly filming was in a week and we actually had to make something.”

Yet this stress does not stop the dancers from further exploring the choreographic act. Claire and Philippe are already making plans for their next New Moves choreographies. Claire: “We might want to create something again next year, but then probably both our own choreography.” Philippe: “But that will probably be very different from choreographing for ourselves. When we were creating Sonder, if we didn't feel like working on it we could just decide to take a day off, but when others are dancing your work, you can't just say that!”