Ah, New York. If you can make it there, you can make it anywhere, and that's just what choreographer & dancer Jenny Rocha has been doing. In 1996 after graduating from the Roger Williams University dance program in Bristol Rhode Island, Jenny packed her things and moved to that mecca of dance - New York City. She's danced with many companies, joined the Heidi Leiskey Dance Company and a few years ago formed her own company. There's been a happy buzz about Ms Rocha's choreography and her dancing is both nuanced and amazingly strong. You can take a look at the dancer and her choreography this weekend April 23 thru 25, 2004 at the Carriage House Theatre.

When and how did you get interested in dance?
I was interested in dance as a young child. I used to create dances for me, my sister, and two cousins and have us perform at almost every family event. I had no training at the time. It's funny that I was this young choreographer and didn't know it. I signed myself up for dancing school when I was ten (without my mothers permission). My first teacher was Cheryl McCormick from Ms. Cheryl's School of Dance in New Bedford. My sister danced, my cousins, but none were very serious. It was for pure fun. I think I just really enjoyed moving.

Did your family influence your interest in dance?
My family is creative. My sister is a painter, my brother was at one point an art major, now a computer technician. My two cousins are both sculptors. My Dad has his own small construction company. He doesn't believe he is artistic, but everything I have ever seen him build is a piece of art to me. My mother is a very creative seamstress. She makes a lot of the costumes for the company.

How did Roger Williams University influence you?
Roger Williams (RWU WEBSITE) influenced me in many ways. The progression of myself and classmates between freshman and senior year was inspirational in itself. The fact that intense study and training could change dancers as performers and technicians was inspiring. It made dance very exciting for me. I think its too bad that RWU doesn't provide the dance/theater dept with another dance studio. I don't believe they are given what they deserve. They don't even have a juice/water machine in the building. I think the program is terrific, the facilities are not.

When did you get interested in choreography?
I was always interested in choreography, but realized the potential career when I was a junior in college.

How did you get the nerve to go to New York City?
After graduating, I moved back home for three months, became very restless, called up another dance major/best friend Nadia, asked if she was going to come with me to New York. She called one day later, said "let's go!" We went. I sold my car for the first few months rent. It happened fast. It was easier because I had a sidekick and didn't feel alone. Instead of talking about it, we just did it.

Do you feel that being a member of a dance company makes you a much better dancer?
I am a member of Heidi Latsky Dance and yes I feel it makes me a better dancer. Heidi makes me move differently, and think differently about movement. She is also a good critic of what I have, what I need to work on and how to go even further. I can't do that for myself. Kelli [Kelli Wicke Davis head of the RWU Dance department] has also brought me to a level that I couldn't do on my own. Her solo has helped me become physically and performance wise - stronger. Just doing my own work makes me feel like I plateau as a dancer/performer.

When you go to a dance, what makes you sit up and take notice?
A dance makes me take notice when I see craft, surprises, risks, emotion, climaxes, wit, anything that makes me feel, or gives me something to take with me.

How do you warm up before a performance?
I meditate, stretch, do yoga poses, do a bar, jump, and then use some phrasing from the performance to make me very warm. I am usually very quiet and in my own world.

What is the dumbest thing that you see dancers doing?
The dumbest thing I see dancers doing is not focusing before a performance. I don't get it. How can they be in the moment if they don't prepare for it.

What is the dumbest thing you see choreographers doing?
Choreographers that choreograph with no concept, theme, or anything at all. If there is no reason then why do it???

Do you think an MFA is essential to today's dancer?
I don't believe an MFA is essential. I have seen many choreographers and dancers do just fine without one. However if teaching at a University is in the plan then I think it's a good idea.

Do you use labanotation? Do you think its important for a dancer to know? A choreographer?
I don't necessarily quote Laban during rehearsals but it's in the back of my mind and part of my studies. I do think it is important for dancers/choreographers to know.

What kind of music do you like?
I like a variety of music. In my social life, I listen to folk, indie rock, and classic rock. The music varies in my work. I have a lot of classical music(Eric Satie, Paganini, Schubert), drums with a voice over of Portuguese and English text, Nina Simone, to mention a few

As a dancer, what do you look for in a dance company or with a choreographer?
As a dancer, I look for choreographers that are going to teach me something within their process. I also have to believe in them as artists.

How do you improve as a choreographer?
I hope to improve as a choreographer by just continuing to refine my work aesthetically and through performance. I want to create purposeful art. I think it's about learning the craft and then staying true to my creativity. I feel that as long as I have mentors, watch lots of dance, and ask why, what and how, that I will progress as a choreographer.

how do you choreograph? Do you start with an idea? With the music? With movement? From improv?
I choreograph, then add music. I tend to know whether it's piano I envision to hear, or violin, or drums, etc. Then I research until I find the right thing. If I have a dance first, it's much more exciting to hear something that matches it after the dynamics are already created. It gives the dance a stronger element for me.

Do you have times when you can't get started? If so, what do you do about them?
I start with an idea, then movement vocabulary, then music. There are times when I get stuck. Those are called my uncreative days. You can't be creative everyday. I usually know whether I should create something new or review, edit other work or phrasing.

How would you describe modern dance for the vast number of people who are under the opinion that it is either boring choreography or dancers with little technique?
I describe modern dance as expressive, technical, and athletic. In today's world, there are modern dance companies with dancers that can do everything a ballet dancer can do and more. It has a sense of control and abandonment. It has no limitation.

What are some of your long term goals?
My long term goal is to keep emerging as a choreographer, to reach a place of ultimate performance skill and to continue working on the physicality of movement. I have a long term goal of gaining a larger audience and venue for my company.


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