The Choreography Festival That's Boosted the Careers of Danielle Agami, Joshua L. Peugh and Olivier Wevers

Last year's winner: Manuel Vignoulle's EARTH. Jack Hartin Photography, Courtesy McCallum Theatre

It's not often that a promising choreographer gets to stage work in a world-class theater, on a skillfully-curated program with professional dancers, and with the possibility of winning a substantial cash prize. But at the McCallum Theatre's Palm Desert Choreography Festival, that's been the status quo for over twenty years.

Since Shea New, the festival's artistic director, founded the festival in 1998, she's worked tirelessly with McCallum's director of education and festival producer, Kajsa Thuresson-Frary, and stage manager and festival production manager Joanna Fookes to build a festival that nurtures choreographers, highlights high quality work, powerfully engages the local community and cultivates an audience base for dance in the Coachella Valley. The trio is backed by a strong team of professionals at McCallum and the brilliant volunteers from the local and national level who serve as adjudicators.


Over the last two decades, the festival has attracted 38,118 audience members, placed 679 choreographers in the limelight and awarded over $650,000 in prize money. In recent years it has attracted more sophisticated talent as its reputation has grown globally—artists like Danielle Agami, Joshua L. Peugh and Olivier Wevers. That's what prompted French choreographer Manuel Vignoulle to enter the competition in 2017, when he won the festival's Grand Prize.

Manuel Vignoulle winning the Grand Prize. Jack Hartin Photography, Courtesy McCallum Theatre

Vignoulle was inspired to enter for a second year after having a positive first experience with the festival. "I saw that what I was doing was touching people there," he says. "They are so organized and they treat people really well." Vignoulle won again in 2018, with Earth, a trio tackling the interconnectedness of human relationships through juicy, dynamic partnering.

Vignoulle's EARTH. Jack Hartin Photography, Courtesy McCallum Theatre

He hopes to maintain a connection to the dance community in Palm Desert. "When you connect just once it's just nice, but if you see them several times, you start creating a relationship and it's about what we can share together," he says.

Danielle Rowe, an Australian, San Francisco-based choreographer, took the second place award last year for her pas de deux For Pixie, a turbulent yet poignant tribute to her grandparents."They couldn't live with or without each other, so they actually lived next door to each other most of their married life," she says. Rowe also taught a master class for Coachella Valley dance students during the competition weekend.

Danielle Rowe's For Pixie. Jack Hartin Photography, Courtesy McCallum Theatre

For Vignoulle, the experience has earned him recognition—and confidence. "It gave me self-esteem that pushes me to move forward, to be a bit more bold," he says. "And now I get more attention from bigger dance companies." He has since created a work for Adelphi University dancers, as well as a piece for the Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts in Dallas, Texas. He also continues to make work for his own company, M/motions, which specializes in taking physicality to new limits.

Rowe, who acts as associate artistic director for SFDanceworks, has choreographed for San Francisco Ballet and Ballet Idaho since the competition. "It's nice to have validation that your work is liked enough to get an award," she says. "It gives me a little more confidence to keep going."

The Palm Desert Choreography Festival is accepting submissions until May 15th.

Editors’ List: The Goods
Unsplash

What's better on your morning commute than listening to a podcast, you ask? We'd say, listening to a dance podcast!

Lucky for us, there are more dance podcasts than ever. We're here to provide a guide to our current top dance podcast picks.

Keep reading... Show less
The USC Kaufman graduating class with Mikhail Baryshnikov. Gus Ruelas/USC

Just four years ago, the University of Southern California's Glorya Kaufman School of Dance welcomed its first class of BFA students. The program—which boasts world-class faculty and a revolutionary approach to training focused on collaboration and hybridity—immediately established itself as one of the country's most prestigious and most innovative.

Now, the first graduating class is entering the dance field. Here, six of the 33 graduates share what they're doing post-grad, what made their experience at USC Kaufman so meaningful and how it prepared them for their next steps:

Keep reading... Show less
The Creative Process
Rena Most at work backstage. Photo courtesy ABT

Every dancer knows there's as much magic taking place backstage as there is in what the audience sees onstage. Behind the scenes, it takes a village, says American Ballet Theatre's wig and makeup supervisor, Rena Most. With wig and makeup preparations happening in a studio of their own as the dancers rehearse, Most and her team work to make sure not a single detail is lost.

Dance Magazine recently spoke to Most to find out what actually goes into the hair and makeup looks audiences see on the ABT stage.

Keep reading... Show less
Dancers Trending
James Yoichi Moore and Noelani Pantastico warm up onstage. Angela Sterling, Courtesy SDC.

On a sunny July weekend, hundreds of Seattle-area dance fans converged on tiny Vashon Island, a bucolic enclave in Puget Sound about 20 miles from the city. They made the ferry trek to attend the debut performance of the fledgling Seattle Dance Collective.

SDC is not a run-of-the-mill contemporary dance company; it's the brainchild of two of Pacific Northwest Ballet's most respected principal dancers: James Yoichi Moore and Noelani Pantastico. The duo wanted to create a nimble organization to feature dancers and choreographers they felt needed more exposure in the Pacific Northwest.

Keep reading... Show less

mailbox

Get Dance Magazine in your inbox