In The Studio

What Makes Sidra Bell's Dancers "Artist Citizens"

Choreographer Sidra Bell, Photo courtesy David Flores Productions

Sidra Bell is one of those choreographers whose movement dancers are drawn to. Exploring the juxtaposition of fierce athleticism and pure honesty in something as simple as stillness, her work brings her dancers to the depths of their abilities and the audience to the edge of their seats.

We stepped into the studio with Sidra Bell Dance New York as they prepare for their upcoming season at New York Live Arts.


The tasks that you throw out to the dancers are really interesting. Is that something you have ever considered keeping in the structure of the performance?

Every now and then we talk about what it would feel like if I was present in the space. There have been times when I've used recordings of myself and laced some of that text into the music of the piece. I've always been very verbal and language is my love so I've always used it as a way of creating portals into movement ideas.

SBDNY performer Sebastian Abarbanell, Umi Akiyoshi Photography

Did you ever struggle with your identity as a non-performer or has it always felt clear to you to be the dancemaker?

It was really clear to me. I always had this sensibility of being the maker and I stepped out of the idea of performing in my work very early. I've always had a connection to physical research but I really love team-building and that has created a fullness for me. Now I feel more full in my movement and it's because I've continued researching through my body with the dancers in the creative process.

SBDNY performer Misa Kinno Lucyshyn, Umi Akiyoshi Photography

You have a pretty eclectic group of dancers that you work with. Is there anything specific you look for when creating an ensemble?

It's a truly intimate process. I've been thinking a lot about company culture. It's really important for me to be able to foster and nurture each of the dancers. So the size of the company is really important to me because I feel I can speak to each of them individually. In the process of creating ensembles—I've had three or four transitions of having a company—the one thing that binds them all is that they all move with purpose. They bring not only a really strong sense of physicality but honesty, rigor, curiosity and they are unafraid. I talk a lot about "artist citizens" and I feel like that is something that is consistent with all the dancers I've worked with.

It's important to me to have my dancers feel like they have a strong voice in the room. That doesn't always manifest into actual dialogue, but it's the ability for them to have agency in the work. It feels like it brings a currency to the work. So I try to let myself evolve through them.

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"Actually," I say, "I am."

"Wow!" they enthuse. "Who do you dance with? Or have you retired...?"

"I don't dance with a company. I'm not a professional. I just take classes."

Insert mic drop/record scratch/quizzical looks.

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