By Steve Sucato
Morgan Walker’s burgeoning choreographic career got another boost recently when she became the second dancemaker to receive an invitation to participate in GroundWorks DanceTheater’s new Discovery Residency Initiative for up-and-coming choreographers.
Walker, a dancer and rehearsal director for Cleveland’s Dancing Wheels Company, has a BFA in Dance Performance and Choreography from Kent State University and has trained at The Ailey School in New York and previously performed with Philadelphia’s Cardell Dance Theater. As a choreographer, she has created works for Kent State University, Bellingham Repertory Dance, Dancing Wheels Company, Detroit Dance City Festival, Contemporary Dance Choreography Festival, and American College Dance Association.
This past December, at Cleveland State University’s Department of Theatre and Dance Studios, Walker spent a week with GroundWorks’ dancers, developing movement ideas for a new dance work and honing her craft. I spoke to her about the residency and her experiences working with GroundWorks’ dancers.
Were you surprised at being asked to participate in a Discovery Residency with GroundWorks?
When David [Shimotakahara] called to tell me about the residency, my initial reaction was just to smile really big. I was so excited. It is really hard to find space and minds to create with. When a company of this stature contacts you and says here is a blank canvas to create on, that just doesn’t happen. It was really cool.
How was the Discovery Residency described to you?
David told me he had seen a few of my works at the last OhioDance Festival and that he liked the way I moved and the way I made other dancers move. He wanted me to come and make GroundWorks’ dancers move. That conversation ignited a fire within me and I went and bought a new journal and was ready to go.
Were you given any parameters?
No. David said that it was just for me to explore. I have never had that before.
Did you learn anything new about yourself as a dancemaker from this experience?
Yes. What I didn’t expect was to learn so much more about myself. I am a creator who knows what I want, but I am open to change. With this residency, I learned better who I am and how to navigate my creative process. I had not been in a space before where everyone was so eager in their own way to be a canvas for what I was doing. Figuring out how I play with and collaborate with other movers has been so thrilling.
You didn’t have to make a dance work during this residency, did you anyway?
Of course, I did [laugh]. I had a bunch of open-ended ideas I wanted to explore that turned into a start-to-finish thread of five ideas. Yes, I ended up creating a product. That is who I am. I know what I like and what I want.
What was it like working with GroundWorks dancers?
They are so kind and have such beautiful minds. They don’t just do what you ask. They do so much more. They make it theirs and take the idea and art to a different level. A level I wanted but didn’t expect. It was mind-blowing in a way to let them run with my ideas and see what came up with.
What are you hoping to do with this product you have created?
The idea I introduce in the work is near and dear to me, and I would love it if GroundWorks would bring it to the stage. If not them, it will definitely be set on another group of dancers to be performed.
What about what you have created is so dear to you? A lot of my work comes from my experience and what I see and feel. For this, I wanted to address questions about my experience in a trauma-ridden mind and body. How does that affect me and others around me? How does that affect what I want to do and what I actually do? The work explores this idea of what you see of us and what society asks of us on the outside versus what is going on with us on the inside.
How does a residency like this impact your choreographic career?
The phone call itself was a boost of confidence for me—that nod of feeling like I deserve space [in the dance world. I get to feel good about that and more positive about keeping going as a choreographer. The residency was inspirational for me and also something that I can proudly add to my resume, which is hopefully going to take my art to other places as well.
Photos: Morgan Walker with GroundWorks’ dancers during Discovery Residency. Photo by Ahna Bonnette. Morgan Walker’s headshot. Photo by Trosen Jones.