Narrative and Interview by Kensley Turnbow
Nicole Perry is a choreographer in Florida specializing in consent-based work and advocating for boundaries in the dance world. Though touch and contact in dance is perceived as a “given,” Nicole believes that it should not be. It should not be assumed, for example, that if a dancer is in a room to dance, they are also in the room to be touched, lifted, flipped, held, poked, etc. It is very important to Nicole to create a safe and confident space for dancers to express themselves freely. Nicole makes it a priority to embrace every dancer’s different movement quality in her work instead of creating, as she would call them, “cookie cutter dancers.” Doing this creates a more dynamic piece that is pleasing to the audience’s eye, and that is more comfortable for the performer.
Nicole was awarded the Silver Palm Award in the 2021-2022 season for her choreography, Lungs (New City Players), To Fall in Love (TheatreLab), Overactive Letdown (TheatreLab), and One in Two (Island City Stage). The Silver Palm Award is a community theatre award in the South Florida area. It is an award that recognizes “outstanding contribution to the South Florida theatre season.” These four shows demonstrated a safe and consent-forward environment for the performers, she says.
Some of Nicole’s career highlights include her choreography being featured in God Forbid: A Sex Scandal that Brought Down a Dynasty, her work in two seasons of An American Tragedy with Hedgcrow Theater, and her work in The Always Present Present at Centre Opera Theater. She has also had her work featured in musicals and plays like Good People, The Last Night in Inwood, One in Two, and Borrowed. Nicole makes these spaces feel safe for the performer while also successfully telling the story that needs to be told.
Nicole Perry also focuses on something that she calls KINesphere. She explains that it is a way to conjoin nature and dance, and to help the audience appreciate how beautiful nature is. She has a performance called Kinesphere 2023 coming up soon. There will be four performances to inspire audiences to appreciate the ecosystem and to inspire people to take better care of it. All proceeds will go to the performers and towards the Love the Everglades organization.
Our interview took place on zoom. Nicole was located in the living room of her house in South Florida. We had a very interesting conversation sparked from the questions that I had prepared prior to the interview. The first question I asked was, “What kind of choreography do you do?” Nicole explained that she goes outside the box with her choreography. She has been recently dancing outside utilizing nature and sparking new interesting ideas in doing so. She explained that it was to help the audience appreciate our world and nature while also appreciating the art that people can create. She explained that soon there will be a KINesphere show in the mangroves and the Everglades. Nicole also choreographs intimate scenes for musicals in a way to where the cast feels comfortable, while also getting the story across that is trying to be told.
The second question that I asked was if she had learned any skills that helped her as a choreographer. Nicole proceeded to talk about how when she was little, she learned how to play the piano. This skill helped her with reading music, finding accents for choreography, understanding musical phrasing, and, overall, with her choreography work inside and outside of musicals. She explained that sometimes it is hard for actors to hear the little accents of the songs that would play. She would have to talk about the phrases musically with them, and she was glad she had that skill to recognize little accents and to understand music better in general.
Next I asked, “Before you choreograph a dance routine, what do you need to determine?” I asked this question because when I choreograph a dance routine I need to determine the skill level of who I am choreographing for and the space that I am working with. Nicole explained that the most important thing to her is successfully portraying the story that she is trying to show. She also focuses on the comfortability of the performer and what they like or dislike doing. She finds movement that matches well with the performer. She explained that in her pieces everyone does their own solo with choreography that works well for them and then they all come together at the end. Nicole talked about how she mainly choreographs for a group of three that she has been working with for a long time, but whenever she goes and teaches at universities, it is more challenging to know what skills to incorporate in their dance because she doesn’t know the skill level or with whom she is working.
I asked Nicole what her favorite professional memory was in her career so far. She talked about her performance at the Centre Opera Theatre. She and another dancer collaborated and made a piece that they performed together. She explained that this was the first time that she had collaborated with someone to make a piece that would be performed somewhere big. Nicole also explained that this was the first time she had ever gotten to travel for something dance related. She explained that there were two dancers on stage dancing while two opera singers were singing. Nicole said that that was a very cool and unique experience.
Nicole and I talked about what inspired her to be a choreographer. She explained that she has always known that she wanted to be a choreographer more than she wanted to perform. She said growing up in dance classes there were a lot of things that she could do technically, but there were also a lot of things that were difficult for her. Nicole talked about how she was the oldest and the tallest in her dance classes, so she felt like she didn’t quite belong. But as a choreographer, she felt a sense of belonging and could still do what she loved. She could do movement that she knew she could do and the movement that she enjoyed doing. Nicole has also always had a love for teaching so she knew that that’s the route that she wanted to take. Her first job was teaching piano lessons, so she felt like teaching was an area where she was successful. Nicole explained to me that most dancers are also teachers as well because the gigs that dancers get only last a month or so then we have to find a different job.
I asked Nicole what space she uses to choreograph a routine. She talked about how in between classes that she would teach at school, there was an open studio that she would use for choreographing pieces. In between those classes Nicole would also go outside brainstorm for KINesphere. She talked about dancing with the trees and sometimes meeting with other choreographers outside to dance with nature. During COVID, she would have classes or explore choreography with others on zoom, or even meet at her house. Nicole talked about wherever she had the space or time she would choreograph. Nicole explained that she does not have a typical routine because she doesn’t have time for it. She takes every opportunity she has to choreograph when she has the time.
I asked Nicole what her favorite part of the choreography process was. She explained that her favorite part was seeing her choreography on other people’s bodies. “The choreography is more dynamic and interesting than I could have imagined, and it always sparks new ideas. It is cool to see something in my head take life.” Nicole talked about how she is a very collaborative choreographer and she enjoys taking people’s ideas into consideration whenever she is teaching. We talked about how it is interesting to see multiple people do the same choreography, but it still looks so different on people just because of how we move and how our bodies function. Nicole explained that she likes to lean into that idea instead of making “cookie cutter dancers,” who have to look a certain way. That is why Nicole likes KINesphere. She choreographed each individual a solo that they feel like is their’s and that they feel comfortable with. She explained that in doing this it has really opened up her movement vocabulary and broadened her ideas for new choreography. We talked about how it is inspiring that she embraces each person’s movement quality instead of getting upset because each person isn’t moving exactly how she envisioned. She explained that she understands why choreographers do that and that she has worked with plenty of them in her life, but she has realized that dancers do a better job whenever the movement fits them and whenever the work is consent based. Horne Motion, a man that Nicole has previously worked with, has been very successful in his career and not getting injured because he moves like himself and does not try to move like anyone else. Nicole explained that she has labral tears in both of her hips and she doesn’t move the way that she used to, but she embraces her movement now and would be in worse shape if she had been trying to dance like others. Nicole believes that it is not about how flexible you are or how your body moves, it is about having that “cohesive experience and technical dazzle” that the audience is looking for.
Nicole and I talked about how long she had been doing consent-based work. She explained to me that she now calls it “consent forward” because it is always changing and consent-based sounds like it is set in stone. She told me a story about one of her students that she taught in high school in 2018. The young girl was in a musical theatre class and she had to kiss someone at the end of the play. The girl was in distress because she has never kissed anyone and she did not want to do it. This experience opened Nicole’s eyes and made her realize that she wanted to do consent forward movement. She described being focused on other movement qualities when she could be helping performers feel comfortable in intimate moments. Nicole and I talked about how right now touch and contact in dance is a “given” and someone can just walk up to you and grab you when it doesn’t have to be that way. Nicole is bringing the idea of consent-forward processes to multiple universities. Nicole has led workshops for faculty in dance programs for different universities about power dynamics and consent. She explains to the class about how they may want to examine how they are teaching and creating with students. Nicole’s workshops have a good balance between lecture and activities. One of the activities she has them do is they get a partner and they discuss their boundaries and their level of touch that they can work with. Nicole has been working with the Dance Education Equity Association and they have been working with dance competitions around her town. They talk about power dynamics, consent, bullying, and “all of the yuck” in dance competitions. Nicole feels as if we bring this topic to light there will be a big shift for young girls in dance.
My interview with Nicole Perry was very insightful and inspiring. As a young choreographer, it was a very cool experience to learn about a more experienced choreographer’s life and what they stand for. I loved hearing about Nicole’s biggest goals in her dance career and the already achieved goals that she has had so far. I love what Nicole believes is right in the dance community and I hope to one day incorporate some of the same things in my own teaching style.
“Performance Featuring the Work of Nicole Perry.” Nicole Perry, https://nicoleperry.org/events.