Katarzyna Skarpetowska on the Creative Process Behind her Cosmic Ballet "Polaris"

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When Richmond Ballet lands at the Joyce this week, Katarzyna Skarpetowska’s Polaris is among the anticipated NY premieres. (Polaris premiered in 2015 at RB’s New Works Festival and was one of its highlights.) A longtime dancer with The Lar Lubovitch Dance Company, and alum of both the NYC Highschool of the Performing Arts and The Juilliard School, Skarpetowska is currently co-teaching with him at UC Irvine. When she is not setting Lubovitch’s work, Skarpetowska is busy with her own commissions, which include a new version of the opera Orfeo. Recently named “25 To Watch” by Dance Magazine, she has already been tapped by RB for another new work. 

{ DIYdancer }, Candice Thompson: Polaris is inspired by the famous Hubble Telescope photograph called “Pillars of Creation” that captured the Eagle Nebula. What was the creative process like from there?

Hubble Telescope photograph “Pillars of Creation”

Hubble Telescope photograph “Pillars of Creation”

Katarzyna Skarpetowska: The piece was commissioned by Richmond Ballet in 2015 for their New Works Festival. They wanted a ten minute work. I always have research music lying around, and at the time, I was working with minimalist ambient sound. I found a ten-minute piece by the electronic musician Murcof that was cosmic in sound.

CT: Are you always inspired by music first?

KS: Most of the time. But this was a correlation of music and photograph. The photo depicts these cauldrons of interstellar dusts and gases from which luminous stars are created, and the pulsing mimics it. The dancers swirl in patterns that gain in intensity and relate directly to creation.

CT: Did you come into the studio with just this source material or with steps already planned out?

KS: I am always very much dependent on the dancers, I depend on them to inform every step I take. I have a clear idea of what I want to do. Each time I step foot in studio I have listened to the music for months on end, so pictures start to emerge, I kind of know what the dance will be, how it will unfold, or at least a plan, then once I am in the studio it is coloring in the lines and using dancers as my brushes and paint. Most of the time, the dance takes a life of its own and it may go in another direction from the prep because it is alive and it is in the moment. The dancers have a huge movement imagination, and their mistakes and accidents inform. I never come in with counts.

Polaris. Photo by Sarah Ferguson.

Polaris. Photo by Sarah Ferguson.

CT: You have such a busy schedule now—full of both commissions and teaching—but how did you get here? By that I mean, how did you get traction as a freelance choreographer?

Polaris, Cody Beaton. Photo by Sarah Ferguson.

Polaris, Cody Beaton. Photo by Sarah Ferguson.

KS: When I was with Parsons we traveled a lot and when we were off, I would go to universities and pitch myself to them. As my dancing career progressed and I started working with Lar Lubovitch, I began to get more opportunities from other companies, including Parsons, Buglisi, Ailey 2, and then Lar and Richmond. I have been around NY quite awhile, so slowly but surely the breakthroughs happen. Every choreographer has a different path, but by the time I was done with dancing, the groundwork had been set. A lot of it is circumstances. I don’t feel like I have done anything too surprising.

CT: How do you manage it all?

KS: It’s a lot. Info comes in as it does, and then it is like working on a giant puzzle, hoping to fit every piece in. I have had a project on my calendar for two years because the timing hasn’t been great and now it has been postponed because of the opera I am working on in St. Louis. I try as much as possible to have a year planned out in advance. Freelance living is…for now I have gotten used to it, but it is very stressful to know where money is coming from and what you will be doing for it. I am based in NY and rarely there. This is a lot more of a hustle than being a company dancer. But I enjoy the process of organizing it all. I have stopped worrying so much, because it usually balances itself out in the end.

Polaris will be performed May 9th-14th  at the Joyce Theater.

Click here for tickets.

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