What is your inspiration for Keep Me In Mind?

This piece is deeply inspired by the amazing music of singer/songwriter Peggy Lee. I selected these pieces of music and put them in a kind of story line. Once I did that, I discovered that seduction was a recurring theme. Throughout the piece, the dancers try to seduce the audience, they try to seduce each other, and there are also other sections that explore the seduction of memory, the seduction of loss, and the seduction of space. 

OBT trainee Alison Walters and Eva Stone: Photo by Katya Turnbow

Why Peggy Lee? How did you pick the music?

I had previously set a work to the music of Blossom Dearie, who is a slightly lesser-known but equally amazing singer/songwriter, jazz pianist, and composer. I loved working with her music but had put that project away. Then, a friend mentioned Peggy Lee, and I found myself on Spotify, deep-diving into her music – I was immediately inspired by its tone, its content, and its sensuality. I had just recently choreographed something rather heavy and personal, so when I received this commission from Olympic Ballet Theatre, I wanted to mix things up a bit and try something new to challenge my artistic mood. And when I began rehearsing, the dancers were so lovely and open that the piece just started blooming from there. 

You started working on this piece in October 2023 and presented a sneak peek during the OBT’s Autumn Auction & Dinner in November. Did you change anything since then? 

I have not changed too much since the auction. We only presented three out of the eight sections of the work. The work has grown significantly since then. There is a lot of give and take in the rehearsal process, which is a wonderful blessing to have as a choreographer. I have been expanding the work and building on the world that we are inhabiting, developing the concepts of seduction, and playing with them in a deeper context.

This is your first time working with OBT dancers – how is this experience for you as a choreographer?

Working with OBT has been an amazingly wonderful experience. I have been choreographing for about 30 years, and over that time, my process has obviously changed. When I was younger, I was very prepared – I was clear, accurate, and knew exactly what I wanted. Now that I am a little further down the line, my process is – what I say – more fuzzy on the outside, and then it becomes more specific and clear as we go on. The framework is always there, but filling it in takes time and collaboration. Sometimes dancers don’t like this way of working. They really want everything to be very specific, and I get that. But I came into the first rehearsal with OBT telling the dancers – “This is how I work, and I promise you, we’ll get there in the end. Just trust the process.” And they absolutely are doing that for me.

OBT Dancers: Photo by Katya Turnbow

Not all dance companies operate like this. Each company has their own ethos and work ethic and how they like to be taught, and how they like to learn. It’s not always a good match. I found that OBT dancers are very flexible and willing to work with me. And I think it’s this open-hearted process that has created an incredible product – one I love watching in rehearsal. I also believe the dancers really love dancing this work. And because we have those two things in place, I am quite confident the audience will love watching this work as well!

What’s interesting about costumes and staging for Keep Me In Mind?

This piece has a period flair to it. Peggy Lee’s music was popular from the late 1950s to the 70s. I am focusing on her earlier style. We are costuming the work to reflect a late ’50s/early ’60s vibe. OBT costumer Doris Black has been wonderful in helping us. 

As far as sets are concerned, we don’t have much. In my fantasy, this piece does have some staging, so as an alternative, I decided to have the dancers become the set! There is a moment when the dancers become a kitchen. Sometimes, when you don’t have access to actual furniture or props, you can use dancers to build that world. And that actually worked out pretty well. I don’t think there is a time where a dancer has been able to say – “Well, I was once a refrigerator in a ballet!” But now, OBT dancers can say exactly that!

What do you want the audience to take away from this production?

I am the type of choreographer who is concerned with how the audience receives my work. That doesn’t mean I need them to understand everything I create or ‘get’ everything that I make, but I am very interested in making the artist-to-audience connection. I want them to feel something. I want them to walk away with an experience of some sort. I believe you should come into the theater one way, and by the time you leave, you should somehow be changed. That has been a driving focus of my work for many years. 

This piece is fun, and light-hearted, and funny, and tragic, and heartbreaking, and endearing, and hopefully, through the choreography, and with this fantastic musical score and gorgeous dancers, the audience will find themselves in places of remembering, connecting to love, happiness, or heartbreak. It’s a beautiful journey!

Keep Me In Mind premieres in the 2024 production of Debuts on February 17 and 18 at the Edmonds Center for the Arts. Tickets are at https://www.olympicballet.org/tickets/