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Jennifer Stahl on Monday, Aug 04, 2014
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What do judges look for at a choreography competition? Obviously, it depends on the competition. But there are a few components that typically stand out no matter the context.
On Saturday night, I had the opportunity to sit on the judging panel for Capezio's A.C.E Awards—part of the Dance Teacher Summit put on by our sister publication, Dance Teacher—along with Andy Blankenbeuhler, Ray Leeper, Benoit Swan Pouffer and Nina Vance. It was a very different experience from when I adjudicated the American College Dance Festival Association's Dance Magazine Award for Outstanding Student Choreographer a couple months ago. Rather than college students, these were emerging professionals, mostly from the contemporary world. And rather than looking for potential to encourage, this time the panel was looking to award $3,000 to $15,000 toward the production costs of an evening-length show.
Each of the judges had very strong opinions—and only a few minutes to debate them before we had to come to a consensus. We had very particular reasons for choosing the pieces we did. But they were all indicative of the kinds of things judges typically keep an eye out for at any kind of choreography competition.
2nd Runner-Up: Emma Portner's Let Go or Be Dragged: The unique details and specificity of Portner's vocabulary—the dancers pliéd on sickled feet and melted into partnered lifts the audience didn't see coming—showed a keen choreographic mind.
1st Runner-Up: Cherisse Wakeham's She: The judges were intrigued by how she used the skirts strategically, not just as a costume afterthought. They gave the movement a satisfying, airy breath.
Winner: Talia Favia's The Difference Between Action and Words: This was an easy, unanimous decision among the judges. So many of the choreographic elements were successful: gripping musical dynamics, intelligent use of group structures, inventive steps, clear purpose for the recurring duct tape motif. We all wanted to see a full evening's length version of this work.