Photos: Richard Lovrich
Anna Pillot glides across the floor of the Siena College basement dance studio in near silence. The only noise to accompany her movements are her sharp exhales, the sound of impact after a jump. She moves with such fierceness that the evidence of her choreography lay in red blotches on her skin—the grip of her fingers on her feet, the pressure of her elbows and ankles on the floor. Her eyes are sharp and focused on a fixed point behind her imaginary audience, her body being moved from one sequence to the next as if involuntarily leading her across the room.
The choreographer and artistic director is rehearsing for the debut showcase of her new company People Who Move, a program of the Albany multi-disciplinary, nonprofit arts organization eba, which is led by artistic director Maude Baum.
“Maude is my mentor,” Pillot says, who danced with the nationally touring Maude Baum and Company Dance Theatre for five years. “She’s a huge champion for the arts in Albany and the area.”
Pillot has shown a few original works through Baum’s Siena-based program Brave New Dances program, which operates out of Siena College. When Pillot opted out of Baume’s spring dance season to focus on her own choreography, Baume pushed her to pursue a bigger project, offering up the Siena basement studio space and pausing her spring program altogether to allow People Who Move to be the main focus of the season as a program of eba.
“For me it’s the drive to be creative,” Pillot says about her new endeavor. “I love to dance. If you have one talent given to you, I feel like that’s mine. People Who Move has always been in my head because my mentor in college always said, ‘dancers are people who move’ and I love that philosophy. It really is in line with the mindset that dance is for everyone.”
Including Pillot, People Who Move is made up of six dancers of different ages, body types and abilities—a priority for the choreographer, who hoped to create a concrete and unified work that still retains each dancer’s individuality and style.
“Yes, it would be amazing to work with only trained dancers but I feel like you do lose a little bit of the humanity sometimes,” she continues. “I’m more interested in what the person behind the movement is bringing, how they’re sharing their experiences.”
Marianne Schultz (above, foreground) began dancing with Maude Baum and Company and eba 40 years ago and has only recently returned to the Capital Region after pursuing a performing arts career and education in New Zealand and England. Rebecca Ann Morgan is relatively new to the dance field but has studied with eba and Baum for several seasons as a student and apprentice. Meagan Corbett has been dancing for 25 years with local companies that include eba, Baum and Troy Dance Factory. She is a resident choreographer for The College of Saint Rose Golden Knights Dance Team and her own contemporary dance troupe Artistic Choice Dance Collective. Stephanie Hiemel has also been dancing for 25 years, specializing in ballet and modern dance with The Malta Ballet Company, Bucknell Dance Company and Maude Baum and Company. Ramona Martin (below, center) has also performed modern dance with Maude Baum and Company over the past several years.
“If you’re not actually saying something, then I’m not really interested,” Pillot says. “That’s where I come from as a choreographer. Maybe people who are looking for highly trained movers that are really impressive with their technique may not enjoy what I’m presenting but I think there’s something for everyone. I hope it makes you feel something.”
In the studio, Baum keeps a close eye on the 25-minute group piece rehearsal, noticing micro movements that set off the general synchronicity and focus. She takes notes in tiny script on a palm sized scrap of paper, filing observations down to the measure of attention behind the eyes of each dancer. She’s mainly here for guidance, helping Pillot delegate the intention behind her piece with each note.
“Have you ever seen Anna’s work?” Baum asks The Collaborative as the dancers were warming up for their full show run-through.
Baum tilts her head back and nods towards the group that had begun to line up off-stage to make room for Pillot’s introductory solo piece as if to say, “You’re in for it.”
In addition to the central solo and group pieces, the People Who Move debut will include a flowing gown piece and short vignettes set to songs on vinyl Pillot picked up while thrift shopping.
Pillot has been choreographing since the fourth grade and knew from a young age she would dedicate her life to dance.
“I knew I would go to college for dance and move to New York City and be a choreographer, that was my whole thing,” she says.
And she did. After moving to New York, Pillot got involved with circus arts and fell in love with trapeze. Dance took a backseat in her life plan temporarily while she trained in trapeze and aerial arts for four years and found herself in Cirque Du Soleil for a one-month workshop contract. When it became too much on her body she decided to take a break, was hired full-time at Lululemon and slowly re-entered the dance scene through eba.
“I try to do everything,” she laughs.
Calling State College, Pa. home, Pillot moved to Albany in 2012 and says finding a place to train in the Capital Region was tough.
“It took me two years to find a dance community,” she says. “Granted, I was traveling because my [trapeze] coach was in Montreal so I wasn’t really physically in the area a lot but it is a bit underground…there are a lot of artists who work for each company or on their own and not a lot of places to show work.”
Pillot decided to take matters into her own hands, creating the Emerging Choreographers Project in 2017 with Baum’s guidance. The project aims to raise awareness of the local dance community and provide new and independent artists to get feedback on their work.
“I’m a collaborative,” she says. “I think it gets really competitive but I think if we take a more the merrier attitude instead of scarcity, it’s just going to grow. That’s what inspired me to start the emerging choreographers project because if I want an opportunity, I create it.”
She applied to the grants program through the Arts Center of the Capital Region in Troy with eba as the fiscal sponsor of Emerging Choreographers Project and received the maximum amount of funding. The first year’s highlighted six local choreographers, packing Albany Center Gallery with over 100 people.
“It just underlined the fact that Albany wants dance,” she says. “People came. People were interested. There were questions. Last year it was mostly to the choreographers about their process and their work, but then people were asking me why I created it, what’s my plan for the future.”
Funded again by the Arts Center grant in 2018—along with voluntary donations—Pillot spread the event over a few days, bringing in an audience of about 50 people per night to see work by eight local choreographers.
“This year we got funding again, but we have a break in funding next year so I have to figure out a better long term strategy so it can be self-sufficient at some point,” Pillot says. “We still feel like it needs to be a free event to create as much access as possible.”
Emerging Choreographers Project 2019 will take place at the Cohoes Music Hall, August 15-16. Applications will open May 1 at emergingchoreographers.com. Submission are reviewed through a juried process and while the focus is mainly on concert choreography, Pillot says the project is open to any and all works. At the end of the day, it’s all about growth.
“My long term goal is to create a dance festival here in Albany,” she says excitedly. “Emerging Choreographers Project would be a part of it but it’d really be blown wide open because there are a lot of studios, companies and artists here, and in the surrounding areas as well. This could just be a magnet for it.”
The dancer and choreographer is juggling quite a few projects to help develop the dance community in the Capital Region and she doesn’t plan to stop looking for ways to promote local work on a more consistent basis.
“The biggest goals and the ones that are the most exciting are the ones that make you sweat the most,” Pillot says. “I’m definitely sweating.”
People Who Move debuts at Siena Creative Arts in Loudenville May 3, 7:30 PM. Additional performances are May 4, 7:30 PM and May 5 at 2 PM.