Laura Graham and Nina Botkay travel the world teaching the ballets of William Forsythe and Alexander Ekman to some of the world’s most prestigious ballet companies. Often their work goes unnoticed in official acknowledgements, but without their commitment behind the scenes audiences wouldn’t experience these great ballets onstage.
When a choreographer is asked by a ballet company to perform one of their existing ballets, they are often unable to oversee the process themselves as they are too busy creating new work. In the case of William Forsythe and Alexander Ekman, this is where they call Laura Graham and Nina Botkay.
Arriving at a new company to re-stage a ballet both Laura and Nina are responsible to select and cast the dancers in the absence of a choreographer. This includes matching up the unique qualities and demands of the original cast’s roles with the dancers they have in front of them and essentially manage a process that will replicate the conditions in which the original ballet was created. Sometimes they danced as members of the original cast themselves, sometimes they assisted the choreographer during the creation process and sometimes they learnt, danced and performed the ballet over many years.
Though there many different pseudonyms for their role, Nina and Laura are most commonly called “répétiteurs”, “stagers” or “choreographic assistants” - although the nature of their work could easily elevate them to "miracle workers". They will assume full responsibility of replicating and translating the choreographer's original intentions and motivations by teaching the sequences of movement and creatively sculpting them to fit a completely new set of dancers.
Depending on their schedules, or the geographic location of the company, sometimes the choreographer might arrive just before the opening night to oversee and support the répétiteurs work, however more often than not this is simply not possible. In this case, the choreographer places an immense amount of trust in their assistants - enough to say they will inevitably become surrogates or doppelgängers in their absence.
When staging a work for William Forsythe, Laura Graham finds “being as authentic with the information as possible” gives “the dancers the original idea of how it started, so the dancer themselves has an experience with the growth of the piece by growing with it themselves.” In this regard “the why of the movement is so essential.” When it comes to Forsythe’s work “it’s constantly changing depending on the people dancing it” and seeing when dancers have a cultivated understanding of why they dance certain movements “empowers them to make more informed choices for themselves.” Even if the ballet is twenty years old, for Laura it is about “creating art in the present moment.”
Nina notes that the majority of the time a choreographer will choose their assistant or répétiteur “because they trust this person a great deal.” Having danced as a colleague with Alexander Ekman at Netherlands Dance Theatre II, Nina Botkay describes her role as assistant choreographer as being the “in-between person - the one that balances the process”. This can often become a juggling act of supporting the choreographer’s vision and becoming a bridge to the dancers and their needs. “The assistant is always next to the choreographer but has much less pressure, so a lot of the time, and especially when there are many dancers involved, they will see the rehearsals a lot clearer than a choreographer.”
Beyond their respective (and highly impressive!) careers as dancers, both Laura and Nina have an extensive knowledge of the international dance scene due to the countless works they have restaged across the globe. We are not only fortunate to welcome both Nina and Laura to ISS2018's guest faculty, but to receive permission from world-renowned choreographers the likes of William Forsythe and Alexander Ekman to have their work introduced to senior Australian students is an almost unprecedented event in recent Australian dance history.
Older students in our ISS2018 senior.dance program will be introduced to the styles of Forsythe and Ekman while students in our new youth.ballet program will work exclusively with Laura and Nina to delve further into the repertoire of these exciting internationally acclaimed choreographers.
Don't miss out!
9-19 January, 2018