Griffin choreographers debut at a prestigious competition.

The Ultimate Show

Griffin choreographers debut at a prestigious competition.

By Lea Kolb

Hannah Pritchett, 22, not only had the honor of being selected for the 8th annual San Diego Young Choreographers Showcase & Prize on March 3 at the Whitebox in Liberty Station, but also the honor of winning the heart of the audience.

Pritchett’s Choreography won the “Audience Favorite,” one of the three prizes awarded by a panel of judges and the audience at the show. The prizes, ranging from $500 to $1,000, also included “Most Original Choreography” and “Most Compelling Performance by a Single Dancer.”

This year, 26 choreographers entered but only 10 contestants were selected by Jean Isaacs, the artistic director of the San Diego Dance Theater, to compete in the show.

Pritchett as well as two others Grossmont dance majors, Carlos Sierra and Stephanie Vasquez, were among the 10 finalists selected by the San Diego Dance Theater to compete in this prestigious event.

The selection, made via an audition process, welcomes each year’s local choreographers between 18-35 years old to submit video footage of a previous piece of choreography they created, as well as a proposal of what choreography they wish to present at the show.

“It was very stressful,” Vasquez said. “We had to know the song we are going to use. We had to have planned out everything.”

Of the 10 finalists, Grossmont College was very proud to be the only community college in the competition. Kathy Meyer, the chair of the Dance Department and their teacher in her modern dance and choreography classes, is especially proud of the three dancers.

“They are all really talented,” Meyer said. “They are either currently teaching or dancing.”

Pritchett started dancing when she was 3-years-old. She went to the San Diego School for Creative and Performing Arts and had opportunities to work with renowned dancers. Last spring, she spent a season dancing for Philadanco 2, a professional dance company based in Philadelphia, as an apprentice.

Considered the technician of the three of them, according to Meyer, Pritchett loves contemporary and modern dance. She described dance as the best way for her to express herself. “I just feel at home when I dance,” she said.

She recently started choreographing, and is now enjoying the creative process of it. “I unlock little pieces of who I am when I choreograph,” Pritchett said. “I develop a bond with my dancers, and we push each other to become better versions of ourselves.”

Pritchett also described herself as a story-telling choreographer. Her family, friends and human interaction on the day-to-day basis have been her biggest inspirations.

Meyer said this shows in her dancing: “When she creates a piece, Hannah is looking at things that she personally going through and then she exhibits that in her dancing.”

It was Pritchett’s first time as a choreographer at the Young Choreographers Showcase. “I didn’t really expect to get in,” she said. “It’s a huge honor.” She said she was grateful to have been able to show something she created and to establish herself in San Diego’s dance community.

“It’s not a competition for me,” Pritchett said. “We are all kind of winners just by being in the show.”

However, as the showcase approached, so did pre-performance stress. “Sometimes I have to remind myself to take a breath,” she said.

To keep herself motivated, Pritchett reminded herself of her goals. “I cannot let one bad day get me down,” she added. For this reason, she said she is very grateful to have amazing friends and teachers here at Grossmont to support her.

Pritchett said she hopes to dance for modern repertory or contemporary dance companies in the United States, as well as internationally; she aims to have her own personal choreography show later.

When asked what she was looking for when selecting dancers for choreography, Pritchett emphasized the level of professionalism, willingness, open-mindedness and hard work.

Carlos Sierra, 24, is a current double major in dance and math at Grossmont College. He started taking dance classes when he was in high school, and has continued dancing since then for eight years now.

“Dance is the best way I know to express myself,” Sierra said. “Some people need yoga to de-stress; dance is that for me. It’s more than art, it’s a sport.”

Passionate about dance, Sierra has studied modern and ballet. He started choreographing two years ago for the Grossmont dance show. Through his years of choreography, he said his partner has been his biggest inspiration. This year for the showcase, it was his mother.

According to his teacher Meyer, Sierra is a storytelling choreographer. “He definitely conveys through his dance what is going through his life,” she said. “He exposes those kinds of stories on stage, and he even comes to a point where he has a recognizable style.”

Sierra was also choreographing for the first time in Young Choreographers Showcase and Prize. “I’m not really in it for the competition,” Sierra said. “I’m gaining the experience of what it is to be with San Diego Theater and to be able to showcase in such a huge space.”

A lot of pressure and stress have accompanied Sierra in the preparation of his choreography. Each choreographer has “pretty much one month to prepare for a show that has to be perfect.”

When creating choreography, Sierra said he is a constant thinker. “In my head, it’s always going on,” he said. “I’m constantly thinking about what I’m going to change. It’s like if I were going to a final exam, I’m thinking about it every day.”

When looking for dancers, Sierra looks for the sense of intention, confidence, and presence in addition to being beautiful movers and dancers. “I want them to be self-motivated to come dance and rehearse,” the choreographer said.

He said he hopes to later choreograph and dance for companies and one day choreograph his own show.

Stephanie Vasquez, 23, started dancing at 16 years old under the encouragement of a choreographer when she was in high school. “I tried dance and I just fell in love with it,” Vasquez said. She later auditioned at a local studio and got a scholarship there. “I was going five days a week,” added Vasquez. “It just became my life.”

Vasquez is currently working as the Performing Company Artistic Manager for Expressions Dance and Movement Center in Santee. She also has a credential in teaching acrobatic art.

“Stephanie is a very strong dancer,” said Meyer. “Her movements tend to be very dynamic and athletic.” Meyer also described her as a very-organized choreographer who likes to have everything planned.

Vasquez is an ardent dancer and choreographer. She loves the connection between the mind and the body that dance can bring as well as the connection that happens with others dancers, which she describes as “interesting.

“It’s like you can feed off of each other’s energy,” said Vasquez, adding that what she prefers is watching her dancers on stage. “I get so much of a thrill watching them doing my choreography,” she added.

This was her first year choreographing for the Young Choreographers Showcase, and she said she hoped to gain experience from it and recognition from the community. “I don’t think of it as a competition,” Vasquez said. “It’s just a beautiful experience, and it’s a blast to be given the opportunity. Thinking of it as a competition isn’t really my focus. The experience is amazing either way.”

For this showcase, her piece was called “Enigmatic,” meaning unknown or unsure. She describes her choreography as being more about “the art and the movement that create shape and design stage.”

To keep her motivation, Vasquez remembered how watching her choreography coming to life through her dancers is “so invigorating” to her. “I love the connection between my dancers, the piece and me,” she said. “I get very emotional watching them on stage.” When looking for dancers, Vasquez wants not only technique, but dancers “who exude energy” and can “create a story through their movement.”

She said she hopes to continue creating work and influencing dancers, especially teens and young adults. She described herself as a “teacher and choreographer at heart.”

The art of choreography can be very difficult, Meyer said.

“Choreography is like writing a song,” she said. “Sometimes it comes very easily, sometimes every little piece you’re struggling to put together.”

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