An Interview with NY choreographer Nathalie Matychak
Jan.s: Nathalie, I met your father way back in the '70's when he was a sound engineer for the group 'Sha Na Na'. You are indirectly following in his footsteps ... having taken to the boards! Tell us about your training and your passion for dance....
Nathalie: Having a musical family has been an invaluable source for support and inspiration. I was always encouraged to express myself and think outside the box when it came to my interests and career path. I feel like a lot of my friends in the arts have had pressure from their parents to become doctors, lawyers, etc., but I never had that problem. You want to fingerpaint on Grandma's canvas? Okay! You want to record a song in Dad's recording studio? Cool! You want to move to Manhattan so you can pursue a career in dance? Let's do it! And that's exactly what happened when I was 15 years old. I had studied mostly ballet on Long Island, and had my sights on becoming a ballerina come high school. In an incredibly selfless act, my parents and I moved to New York City so I could attend LaGuardia Arts High School (the movie that “Fame” is based on). It was there that I discovered modern dance. I remember feeling like it was a good fit. I had always loved ballet, but longed for the creative freedom that came along with becoming a contemporary modern dancer. After I graduated from high school, I went on to attend New York University's Tisch School of the Arts as a dance major, where I fell in love with dance composition and choreography. After graduation, I knew that I had to start pursuing it – along with dancing professionally with a company. I know that I am rather young to be trying to establish myself as a choreographer, but I want to gain as much experience as possible.
.s: It is rare to have the support you've described Nathalie. When you first arrived in New York, what were the first challenges you faced?
Nathalie: The biggest change for me was leaving everything I knew and everyone I loved on Long Island and starting fresh in the city. I was 15, and starting to feel like I was settling into the person I was going to be, but I knew that I would regret not at least trying to make it in Manhattan.
The move was an incredibly selfless act on my parents behalf, but some things were also made easier for them - my Dad worked just a few blocks away from our apartment, and my Mom got a job working for the New York City Ballet- so it all kind of worked out. I also was a little bit on the shy side. Although I craved it, I wasn't used to being around wildly eccentric, artistic types that I encountered at LaGuardia. It wasn't long before I found my niche in the dance department along with another incoming sophomore, Shonelle Collins, who is one of my best friends to this very day, and is also a member of BANGdance. I credit her as being one of my major influences when it comes to how I view and approach dance and choreography. Another big challenge was making the switch from ballet to modern. I had dreamed of becoming a ballerina, but by the time I was a junior in high school, I felt as if I longed for the more contemporary route.
Jan.s: Your dream lands you on the doorstep of the most feted academy of the arts to gain a worldwide public profile due to the '80's film FAME. Auspicious circumstances lead you to be accepted as a student. Would you share the audition process with us Nathalie?
Nathalie: I decided to audition for LaGuardia at the last minute. I believe school started just a few days before I auditioned. I remember that it was pouring rain and I had never been scared so badly in my entire life! Once the audition started, I began to feel a little bit more at ease, and by the time the solo round started, I felt great. The only thing I remember being upset about was that they cut me off during my solo right before I was about to do something I had worked really hard to get down just right -- typical! I got the call later that night, and started school a few days later. The entire situation was all very last minute and whirlwindy!
Jan.s: Whilst studying at NYU Tisch School of the Arts who were your major influences Nathalie?
Nathalie: Tisch was an incredible learning experience for me. I had classes with some highly notable figures in the dance world, and I wouldn't trade that for the world. Besides my introductory classes to dance composition at LaGuardia with director, Michelle Mathesius, and musician/composer, Steve Weinstock, which enabled me to see that I had a love for making dances, I felt that I learned a lot from my composition classes at Tisch with Gus Solomons, Jr. and Linda Tarnay. Both artists came from very different backgrounds and had very different techniques, but they really encouraged me to be brave.
When it came to composition, anything was possible as long as it was my own, and I followed my gut instinct about it. The evening length piece I am about to start creating now was inspired by a comment given to me by Linda Tarnay in my freshman composition class. I choreographed a 2-minute solo to a piece of music I had randomly heard a few years prior. "If I don't encourage you to keep up with this," Linda pulled me aside and told me after the solo was done, "I will think that I robbed the dance world of a potentially extraordinary choreographer." Aside from my teachers, I found constant inspiration in my peers. We all came from such different backgrounds
Jan.s: Where else do you find your inspiration? In fellow dancers, choreographers, along with music influences...
Nathalie: Choreographically speaking, my favorites are Aszure Barton, Andrea Miller (Gallim Dance), Mats Ek, Lar Lubovich, William Forsythe, Twyla Tharp, and Pina Bausch. Quirky, yet sensually intelligent and athletic movers with unique voices. They create pieces that arrest you, and leave you feeling like you just went on this intense journey.
I remember I knew that I wanted to make dance one day after seeing American Ballet Theatre perform Twyla Tharp's "In the Upper Room" when I was 11 years old. I had never seen anything like it, and I just totally and completely fell in love with it. I wanted to make dances like THAT! I am really inspired to choreograph to minimalistic music along the lines of Philip Glass, Steve Reich, and Nico Muhly, but it isn't unlike me to go for something totally different. It's a gut feeling for me when I know that a piece of music will make for a great dance, so regardless of what it is, I usually just go for it; however, when I begin to choreograph I look to the dancers I've chosen.
I watch their mannerisms, the way they react to improvisational sessions I sometimes give at the beginning of rehearsals, and the way they interact with each other. My grandmother, who was a sculptor, often said that the rock she used told her what it was going to be, and she just took it from there. I am never one to take a shape-- I focus on letting the shape take me.
Jan.s: Nathalie, this has been wonderful to hear of your personal journey and your training.I'm looking forward to continuing this dialogue ...I wish you and your company great success!