A Passion for Dance and Music: Bryan Koulman talks ahead of his 4th annual show

Bryan Koulman Dance Company is presenting its 4th Annual Season show. Phindie interviewed director and choreographer Bryan Koulman about the program and his passions for dance and music.

Photo by Lauren Hirsch

Photo by Lauren Hirsch

Phindie: You like using classical music for your dance pieces?

Bryan Koulman: One of my parents was a music teacher. I grew up playing piano and french horn before I did ballet. I love classical music and also love contemporary music. So in this upcoming show, I am using some music from Weather Report. That is jazz in 60s and 70s that I was really into when I was in high school. I also have some classical music.  I listen to music when I do computer consulting work, and I heard this Haydn Cello Concerto and thought that was such a great music. Our cellist is Principal Cellist with Philadelphia Opera Orchestra so he is a big addition to the show.  The pianist is Benjamin Hoffman. He teaches at several school and fond of working with dancers.

Benn is playing Cello Concerto and also playing for a solo that I made for Nicolai McKenzie.  The music for that one is Tchaikovsky, which is a super classical music but it actually ends up sounding very jazzy. He is a modern dancer, so it is an interesting mix.

Phindie: How many pieces will be presented at the show?

Bryan Koulman: Five pieces. About an hour and half total.  I definitely people to want go see more. I think that’s a decent amount of one choreographer’s work.  Haydn is an old piece that I put another movement onto it. That’s the only one that is rehash. Other four are new pieces.

brian-koulmanPhindie: Are there any concept for the whole show or each piece is different?

Bryan Koulman: When I planned this show, I wanted the pieces to sort of flow one after the other.  One of the concept of the “Weather Report” piece is what I thought was cool when i was back high school student.  it’s sort of adolescent boys thought what was cool back then. So they do a lot of strange stuff. It’s spacy, the music is spacy. I’ve been drawn to phychederia or surrealism. I really like surrealism. The idea of somewhere deep in our brain to find subconscious images, that is the concept of this piece.  The rest of it also got those really talented and amazing ballet dancers. Just having them do what they can do is just exciting to me. They are from Pennsylvania Ballet Company so they are very good. Honestly it’s a little intimidating. I am not intimidated by each dancer, but trying to get all six of them to work together, it is challenging.  

Phindie: It is challenging because?

Bryan Koulman: It is challenging because there is very limited time. I mean they pulled it together last year. It’s the same for this year. But when people go see dance in general, especially classical ballet, and they all move together, that’s not an accident. They go through tremendous amount of rehearsal and they have to be good.  

Phindie: How many hours do you have with the dancers?

Bryan Koulman: The Pennsylvania Ballet dancers joined at the last second, so with them 15, 20 hours? Because they just ended the season with the company. We will make it. But it is a little scary.

Phindie: Do you complete your choreography before going into a rehearsal?

Bryan Koulman: My method is to try to put everything before going into rehearsal. It may work or may not work, so then I come back and think about it again.  I don’t come in with no idea. I have to prepare especially for classical music.

Phindie: Do you pick music first or idea first?

Bryan Koulman: It’s usually and often music first.  But I have a strong sense that the dancers are doing something more than just dancing to music.  I want it to be some kind of character or something off of a beaten path.

Phindie: What is the costume like?

Bryan Koulman: Well, I am doing boy scout outfits for one of the pieces.  It is kind of a little joke. It is a piece for three boys. Then I have a friend who’s helping me dying some leotards. Then I have Luna, which we are using tennis outfit. They are actually great. The dancers just throw them into washer and bring them back.  And they are very flattering. There is something glamorous about it. They are not so dissimilar from ballet wear anyway. It is about five powerful female. It is set to a 17 century lute music by Robert De Visée. It has a little bit of mystical side to it.  The music builds and builds, and ends with very mystical notes. It is a very powerful and intense piece.

Phindie: How mixing classical and contemporary dancers work?

Bryan Koulman: Well, we will find out.  There is one part when Nicolai is dancing with a very tall ballet dancer, and I am very excited to see how it will come out. It is very interesting to me to see the smash of different kind of dancers and see how they relate to each other on the stage.  It is not going to be like one ballet company, all dance together, used to dance together or tailored to dance together. The dancers just met each other, everyone is very nice. I actually like rehearsing. Excitement of dancers learning and making something, it is so rewarding.  Teamwork is very fun.

Phindie: What is your favorite moment from the upcoming show?

Bryan Koulman: In Weather Report, there is this scene where ballet dancers are frozen in picturesque pose, and Nicolai is doing some funky movements. Then suddenly the ballet dancers snap into a difference poses.  I love the moment. It is very amusing, because Nicolai and the ballet dancers are totally different.

Phindie: What would you like your audience to receive from this show?

Bryan Koulman: I would like them to be really dazzled.  The other day, kids at the ballet school were looking at their rehearsal, and they were like “look at that!”  Because they were jumping so high. I got into dancing very late. I did not start taking class until I was 20.  But I watched dance from age of 8. When I was a child, they were doing lots of mixed media stuff. They would use film and dance and electronic music.  I was so excited by it. That’s the feeling that have kept inspiring me for 50 years now. It’s this feeling of excitement. Like I don’t know what this thing is that they are doing but I really like it and I want to know.  That’s what I would like the audience to feel. I would like them to get excited by my show and also to like classical music.

Phindie: Will your playbill be inspiring to kids?

Bryan Koulman: I hope so.  We never know how it will come across to people and some people may think my dance is weird.  I actually like a lot of ‘inaccessible’ dance. I like Merce Cunningham’s choreography, which may be difficult for people to understand sometimes. But this is not like that. This one I am aiming to make people get excited about this.

Phindie: What motivates you?

Bryan Koulman: Dance makes me feel alive.  While I am doing this, the level of excitement keeps me going.  And when I am done with this show, even though I would not create and choreograph for several months till the next occasion, I can stay very happy.

[Performance Garage] June 6-8, 2019; bkoulman.dance

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About the author

Eri Yoneda

Eri Yoneda writes about dance and classical music for Phindie.