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Blending classical ballet with modern movement approaches, American choreographer Claudia Schreier works in both ways – intellectual and visceral. Schreier is interested in exploring how one can elegantly capture the kaleidoscopic nature of moving people in space. Her neoclassical ballets are thoughtful choreographic essays assembled as building blocks and unraveling dynamic human geometries infused with shades of emotion. She spoke candidly with Dance ICONS, Inc., about her artistic interests and creative processes.



ICONS: Can you tell us about your introduction to dance and choreography?


Claudia Schreier: My first introduction to dance was seeing American Ballet Theatre perform Sleeping Beauty when I was two and a half years old. It was getting really quiet, and the prince was leaning over to kiss her to wake her up, and I shouted loud, Hes gonna kiss her,” with my little lisp. I was so excited. I was clearly engrossed with the theatricality and the grandeur of it all from a young age. My parents put me in a ballet/creative movement class at the Y in Midtown East when I was three. Then I just never really stopped.


Choreography started in parallel to it. I did my first piece, somewhat choreographed and somewhat improvised, when I was eight or nine years old. And then, I had another opportunity when I was in my early teens. I like to say, I didnt initially aspire to become a professional choreographer because there was no reason to think that that was a viable career path at the time.” It was a passion more than a long-term focus, but there was something in me that wanted to keep creating.


ICONS: You dashed right into choreography. What was the impetus for that?


CS: I just really wanted to make dances. In college, there was a dance program, but there wasnt a concentration in dance; I couldnt major in it. The opportunities to choreograph were extracurricular, for the Harvard Ballet Company and for Harvard Dance Program productions. The beauty of that is that I was in a really supportive, insulated environment where everybody wanted to be there, and the level of dancing I had at my fingertips was extraordinary because a lot of my classmates were former or current professional dancers taking time away from a full-time dance career to attend college.


When I graduated, I still didnt know exactly what I wanted to do. I ended up working at Ailey in marketing for a number of years, but the wanting to create never stopped. I went back to Harvard to make work again, and I was very lucky to connect with the Columbia Ballet Collaborative, which is a wonderful student organization based at Columbia University. It is similar to Harvard in that there is this wealth of talent, and the people want to be there, create, be part of new work, and perform. Its in New York City, so it still feels like part of the New York dance scene. I started to create works for them, and then it kind of built step by step by step to today.


Over the years, I have been jumping on opportunities to make new work. Because I didnt know that this was going to be my career, I would treat every ballet as my last. I would put everything into it— as though there were no next one. I didnt have a bunch of commissions lined up. It was always just making it to the next one, then enjoying that and devoting myself to it.


ICONS: You attended Harvard University for sociology primarily; how do you overlap scholastic urges into the pieces you make?


CS: I think my type A personality shines through quite a lot. There is always an urge to want to hone every detail, obviously knowing that I have to let some of that go, as part of the process is learning not to fall into the pitfalls of perfectionism. I think I wanted to do the best possible thing I could do, whether thats writing a paper or making a ballet: It is not that there is a divide between academia and the arts. Our societal structure divides it. Its actually a much blurrier line:  some of the greatest minds are some of the greatest artists and scientists. And theyre often fused into the same mind and body!


ICONS: Do you have regular practice for creating movement?


CS: Typically, what Ill do after Ive found the music and listened to it quite a bit is create movement sequences, little bites, that I call choreographic Lego pieces, which I can then chop up and rearrange. I didnt use to film myself, but I find myself doing it more often now because as my style shifts, I want to be sure Im capturing the right version of what I want to convey to the dancers. I sometimes need to watch it back so I can see what Im doing and I communicate.


Theres a bit of taping, a lot of notetakings. Im breaking down all the counts and I have my own shorthand; I can copy and paste and rearrange. Its kind of like a long-form essay.  I find that when Im writing or when Im choreographing, the process ends up being kind of similar. It's the process of working through my thoughts and discovering clarity and intent through the act of referring.



ICONS: Can you talk about visual geometry in your work?


CS: I love watching patterns reveal themselves and creating intricate patterns that I would call shapeshifting. I love the kaleidoscopic nature of moving people around in space and trying to figure out how to utilize shapes and structure in a way that still feels human and touches an emotional nerve. Its a way of using something that could be dry or mathematical and subverting it so that it is a compelling way to communicate the essence of music.



ICONS: What excites you most in the dance studio?


CS: A lot of times, I come in with a million ideas of what its going to be, and they just fall out of something a certain way, and its so much more beautiful than anything I could imagine when I was sitting in my apartment before.


In this regard, choreographing is always a collaborative process. If I am doing my job properly, I hope I will end up with the product that I conceived before I stepped into the studio. I would be doing a disservice to myself as an artist to think I am the only one who can create and present that work. I would also be doing a disservice to the dancers, who have trained for this moment to be able to give a part of themselves to the process.



ICONS: How do you approach the dualities of classical and contemporary?


CS: My background is in classical ballet. I didnt have the level of true modern dance training that I would have liked to have.  I didnt have exposure to the modern greats until well into college. Physically my body does have a modernist style. Im naturally compelled to move in a way that aligns itself more with modern styles. Im more grounded. I shift my weight in a way that I think is associated with modern and contemporary dance. I love using arms and exploring how the flow of an arm relates to the initiation of the head into the back in a way that classical ballet does not explore.


The irony is that what I make is still very classically influenced, but its the kind of ballet that feels better on my body than ballet ever did. Adding to that, I did finally have the chance to watch, learn, and perform works by the masters and found such an appreciation for Graham, Taylor, Parsons, and for other choreographers in my late teens and early twenties. I think that as well has influenced how I approach my craft because Im so taken with the meatiness of it.


ICONS: You frequently work with living composers for commissioned scores. What does that mean to you and your work?


CS: Its one thing to have similar tastes, but you might not jive in terms of the push and pull of collaboration. Its a humbling process on both ends because we dont want to over-influence or curtail each other’s visions, but at the same time, were working towards this unified goal. There has to be a dialogue in that.


Its a joy; Ive gotten to work with quite a few living composers. I have a ballet going up at Richmond on Tuesday by the composer Christopher Cerrone, who is just blowing up right now. I knew him more through his opera work, and I explored his catalog more. He sent me material for this new premiere, and its so special to be able just to message the person. Youre living inside their brain and heart for weeks at a time. And then to be able to ask them, what do you hear here, whats this count, what was the inspiration for that? It just completely changes how I approach the process. To me, thats invaluable. Having multiple lines of communication, talking, and also speaking through the creative process –  thats a real gift.



ICONS: Do you find that there is a composer that you always come back to?


CS: There is a young woman, Tanner Porter, whom Ive been working with a lot. I discovered a string quartet of hers back in 2020 that I ended up using at Boston Ballet, and she re-orchestrated it for the full orchestra. Then I commissioned her for San Francisco Ballet, which just premiered in January. I have never connected with anyone artistically the way I have with her. She and I are kindred spirits through and through, not only in terms of our styles and preferences but also in terms of our working styles. She is just a dream collaborator. I dont like to speak in hyperbole, but we really just get each other. I cannot wait for whatever else we can do together after this.




ICONS: What has it been like being the choreographer in residence at Atlanta Ballet?


CS: I absolutely loved it. Even taking out the details of working in Atlanta specifically, all the tropes are true. I really got to know them as a family, the ins and outs of the organization, who is running the school, whos in the costume shop, whos there administratively, and everyone in production. I got to watch dancers grow over time, go from the second company to the main company, see them leave and have babies and come back. I got to know them on a personal level and watched them grow professionally. And then theyre helping me professionally because they get to know my style and help me in a lovely cyclical way.


More specifically, I love Atlanta as a company. Theyre beautiful dancers, so warm and welcoming. They’re all so supportive there. I have loved working with Artistic Director Gennadi Nedvigin and Rory Hohenstein, whom Ive worked with the most as my ballet master. They've been so amazing. When I go back, it feels like going to my second home.




ICONS: What can you tell us about the newest work for Atlanta that youre starting next week?


CS: My latest ballet for Atlanta Ballet, Carnivale, will premiere May 12-14 for the Company’s upcoming Significant Others program at the Cobb Energy Centre. I am creating it for ten dancers, and it is set to Joaquín Rodrigo’s Concierto in Modo Galante, a jubilant, joyful work in three movements. 


ICONS: Is there something that you know now that you wish you had known at the beginning of your career in choreography?


CS: I would tell myself to take care of myself better. Like I was saying, I didnt know in the early stages where this was going to lead, so I put everything I had into every single work. At least by that point, I had learned to trust my gut and to know that a certain amount of burnout was coming to push it away.


Thats something that artists, in particular freelance artists, have to contend with because theres that pressure always to be pushing forward the next thing and creating higher and better constantly. Aim to achieve, not overachieve!



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 Fauna, choreography by Claudia Schreier, Atlanta Ballet:




Claudia Schreier discusses Fauna at Atlanta Ballet:







Photo ©  Kim Kenney, portrait of Claudia Schreier

Photo ©  Kim Kenney,  First Impulse, choreography by Claudia Schreier, Atlanta Ballet

Photo ©  Kim Kenney, Fauna, choreography by Claudia Schreier, Atlanta Ballet

Photo © Lindsay Thomas, Kin, choreography by Claudia Schreier, San Francisco Ballet

Photo © Lindsay Thomas, Kin, choreography by Claudia Schreier, San Francisco Ballet

Photo © Rosalie O’Connor, Slipstream, choreography by Claudia Schreier, Boston Ballet

Photo © Rosalie O’Connor, Slipstream, choreography by Claudia Schreier, Boston Ballet

Photo ©  Kim Kenney,  First Impulse, choreography by Claudia Schreier, Atlanta Ballet





Interviewer: Charles Scheland

Executive Content Editor: Camilla Acquista

Executive Assistant: Charles Scheland

Executive Director: Vladimir Angelov

Dance ICONS, Inc., April 2023 © All rights reserved.