Choreographer Matt Carney shares more about the process of creating My Blue Heaven for HomeGrown.

Company member and costume designer Sharmaine examines a nurses uniform at the Veteran Museum in Balboa Park for inspiration.

People keep asking me, “What is the piece about?” Good question! Glad you asked. I try to go into the choreographic process with an open mind. Rather than going into the studio with a preconceived outcome, I prefer to come in with general ideas and let the dancers and the movement tell me what the story should be.

What I do know is I love this music that I grew up with on my grandma’s player piano. I love the memories of singing and dancing to the music with both of my grandmothers, Maxine and Millie. I know that even late in their lives when they both suffered from Alzheimer’s, singing these songs would ignite a spark deep in their spirit. I know that I still find strength from these post-depression era ladies that taught me to be resourceful and respectful no matter the circumstance. I know that I always admired their fluid lives of going to and from daughter, sister, mother, nurse, Rosie the Riveter, farmer, lunch lady, school bus driver, and of course grandma. But that’s not really what the piece is about. It is what has inspired some of the movement, gestures, and themes, but the piece is about the current dancers, here and now. How they interpret what I give them and then how the audience interprets what they see is really what the piece will be about.

Here’s where we’re at in the process

We are one week into rehearsals and things are coming together. I’m about two thirds of the way done setting the material and hope to be done by the end of next week. After that, time will be spent working out subtle nuances and getting the dancers comfortable with the movement. So far, we finished two of the duets, the all male piece, and the all female piece.

Thankful for all of the strong ladies in my life! Stephanie and Sharmaine check out an exhibit featuring Rosie the Riveter.

Three new men joined the company this year and it’s been great to get to know them and see their strengths. Adam Bloodgood always has a smile and PB&J close, brings explosive jumps and intense focus. Harrison Gray brings a youthful quality with extension to give even the girls a run for their money. Ryan Walker is shining as a strong and thoughtful partner in dealing with precious the cargo of SDB principal dancer Stephanie Maiorano. And then there is returning principal dancer, the handsome and all around nice guy Joe Hochschild, who brings a stoic calm confidence to the work.

The title piece, My Blue Heaven, features eight female dancers and they are already bringing the piece to life. At my heart, I feel like I am a modern dancer that loves ballet. My choreography does incorporate ballet steps but usually with a bit of a modern flair. Maybe there is a little more spiral of the spine, or release in the torso, or maybe they are literally (and intentionally) falling off of their legs. But this group seamlessly incorporated these modern embellishments and the flow created is quite mesmerizing. Better yet, I think all of their own personally unique and beautiful qualities shine through too! I’ve always heard that a ballet company is only as good as their corps. If that is the case, SDB is on the up and up. These ladies are gorgeous and talented.

The other two duets feature my dear friend, muse, and collaborator Stephanie Maiorano. Even though this is our 9th season working together, I’m always floored by the high level of professionalism she brings to the studio. It’s not always easy working with friends, to be honest. Sometimes things can get too casual or comfortable, or maybe arguments from the streets can enter the studio. Not the case with Stephanie. Work is work. She respects the art form and the sacred time in the studio deep in her guts and is always ready to dance. If I’ve learned anything from Stephanie, it’s that life is too short to not be fully invested in the movement and moment at all times. Also featured in the duet is second year company member Ahna Lipchik. Ahna has a knack for immediately incorporating small details and seeks clarification on timing and style that propels the choreographic process in a forward motion. After week one their duet is almost stage-ready and I can’t wait to see it during the shows.

So, “What is the piece really about??” Please come and we’ll figure it out together.