Lauren Volo, Courtesy Sudeikis

The Songs That Give Kristin Sudeikis the Chills

Anyone who has taken Kristin Sudeikis' class knows that her love of music is contagious. It's hard to leave her classes at Broadway Dance Center or Peridance without a new favorite song—partially because she has great taste, and partially because of the experiences she builds around what she plays. Music artists have taken note: Sudeikis has become a go-to choreographer for music videos, having worked with Mumford & Sons, Ben Harper, Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros and more.

Sudeikis told us about how she discovers new music, and made us a road trip-worthy playlist:


On What Draws Her to Songs

"There's something outside of me that pulls me in towards it. It's a magnetic sort of excitement when I hear a song and it gives me the chills. You can't make yourself get the chills. I'll want to go deeper into the baseline or the drum or a lyric or the way a singer's voice will hit a certain frequency, and I'll want to converse back with that song. It's almost like I want to be a part of that song."

On the Song that Launched Her Career

"When I was 13, 'Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)' by Eurythmics was the song I danced to that gave me my first scholarship. I was in the back of the room, dancing for my life, and Mia Michaels pulled me up onstage."

On Music & Her Choreographic Process

"It's almost always music first. I sometimes just let a playlist play and move and move and move to different songs. Then the song I'm most drawn to I'll play from the beginning and start to move the phrase to that song and find the nuances within it. There's an element of discovery while you're in motion in real time. It invites us to be fully present and listening, not just with our ears but on a cellular level."

On Moses Sumney's "Ascension" 

"He opened for Sufjan Stevens and I was massively blown away and started to research his sounds. This is a song that I play in warm up. It has a very dreamy, otherworldly feeling to it that I play especially in New York City as a juxtaposition to the city."

On How Discovering Music is Like Fishing

"I'll go somewhere and my ear will be up. I'll Shazam it or ask the DJ or the server at a restaurant. Different pals of mine are musicians or choreographers or artists and we're always passing music around. I'm also actively searching a lot. Some people fish; discovering music has been something I've always loved to do.

"I also love making mix CDs or playlists for people. If someone's going through something, make them a mix CD. If something exciting happens in someone's life, make them a mix CD."

On Why Music Is So Essential to Her Life

"To me, music is like water in that it's in us and all around us. It's essential. It nourishes, it cleanses. I can't get enough of it. I like to feel fully immersed in it. It's a force greater than any one person, something that connects us with all that's unseen. Music is simultaneously rooting and transcendent. It's exciting to me to think about creating a memory for other people with music, if i can invite them in to have a shared experience."

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Luke Isley, Courtesy Ballet West

How Do Choreographers Bring Something Fresh to Music We've Heard Over and Over?

In 2007, Oregon Ballet Theatre asked Nicolo Fonte to choreograph a ballet to Maurice Ravel's Boléro. "I said, 'No way. I'm not going near it,' " recalls Fonte. "I don't want to compete with the Béjart version, ice skaters or the movie 10. No, no, no!"

But Fonte's husband encouraged him to "just listen and get a visceral reaction." He did. And Bolero turned into one of Fonte's most requested and successful ballets.

Not all dance renditions of similar warhorse scores have worked out so well. Yet the irresistible siren song of pieces like Stravinsky's The Firebird and The Rite of Spring, as well as the perennial Carmina Burana by Carl Orff, seem too magnetic for choreographers to ignore.

And there are reasons for their popularity. Some were commissioned specifically for dance: Rite and Firebird for Diaghilev's Ballets Russes; Boléro for dance diva Ida Rubinstein's post–Ballets Russes troupe. Hypnotic rhythms (Arvo Pärt's Spiegel im Spiegel) and danceable melodies (Bizet's Carmen) make a case for physical eye candy. Audience familiarity can also help box office receipts. Still, many choreographers have been sabotaged by the formidable nature and Muzak-y overuse of these iconic compositions.

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