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New ‘Discovery Residency’ Initiative Welcomes Former GroundWorks Dancer Maddie Hanson 


By Steve Sucato


In Maddie Hanson’s brief time with the company during the 2021-2022 season, she left a lasting impression. None more so than on GroundWorks DanceTheater Founding Artistic Director David Shimotakahara. When he had the idea for a series of “Discovery Residencies” for young choreographers to work with the company on their skills as dancemakers, Hanson was the first person he approached.

Hanson, who now lives in Dallas, returned to Cleveland and her old haunting grounds at Cleveland State University’s Department of Theatre and Dance studios for a two-week residency with the company, October 17-27. I met her at CSU near its conclusion to discuss her return to GroundWorks and her residency experience.  

How was the Discovery Residency described to you? David described it as an open-ended exploration. Time that I could use to work with the dancers, however I saw fit, whether that was developing ideas or an actual dance piece. This kind of no-pressure opportunity is really rare and very cool.


What prior experience have you had as a choreographer? I developed my passion for choreography in college at Juilliard. After graduating, I looked for opportunities as a freelance choreographer. I was lucky enough to work with Washington, D.C.’s Company | E, and BalletX in Philadelphia and choreograph for several dance festivals. 

How was it being on the other side and directing dancers you used to perform with?

It was pretty seamless. I felt comfortable knowing the company so well, having been in it. Being in this building, working in these studios, knowing some of the dancers, and understanding the culture made it feel like I was coming back home rather than something completely new. Part of what I enjoyed as a dancer with GroundWorks is it is a highly collaborative company and culture in the studio. I value that, and although it is a creative residency for me, I wanted it to be for them and fruitful for all of us. 

Did you learn anything new about yourself as a dancemaker from this experience?

Totally. I was grateful this opportunity came up when it did. During the past year, I have had to step back from creating work on professional dancers. With this, I learned to trust my instincts more than I have and to have fun with things. The results grow more organically, and the possibilities are more interesting. 


You didn’t have to make a dance work but you did. What is it about?

I had two ideas coming into the residency and was undecided on which to do. How to Write a Love Letter was the more playful of the two ideas. I didn’t know if I should go for it, but this residency is for experimenting. I came across this wikiHow internet article on ‘How to Write a Love Letter’ that was so quirky to take something so personal and reduce it to a step-by-step process. I thought exploring that idea in a dance work would be funny and interesting. I use text and movement to interpret the steps and create relationships and intimacy between the dancers. 

Will the work be performed in the future? I hope there will be the opportunity to do so with GroundWorks or somebody else. The dancers have done such beautiful work, and it has been such a great experience. I am crossing my fingers to see it come to life on a stage somewhere.

How does a residency like this impact your choreographic career? Coming from a company and a director I really respect, having this opportunity shows there is belief in me as a choreographer. Having access to dancers of this caliber who are willing to go down a path and see what comes out of it broadens your possibilities considerably in bringing to life the ideas you have in your head. It is also something to add to my resume. Those things are great, but at the end of the day, being given time and space to create is the best because you grow and learn by doing.

Photo credits: Maddie Hanson headshot by Dale Dong. Maddie Hanson working with GroundWorks dancers Teagan Reed and Matthew Saggiomo on “How to Write A Love Letter.” Photo by Ahna Bonnette. 

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