Pew Fellow of the Week: An Interview with Choreographer Nichole Canuso


Nichole Canuso, 2017 Pew Fellow. Photo by Ryan Collerd.

Our “Pew Fellow of the Week” series focuses on the artistic lives of our Pew Fellows: their aspirations, influences, and creative challenges.

This week, we speak to choreographer and performer Nichole Canuso (2017), whose work spans genres and experiments with the participation of audience bodies, personal narratives, and what she describes as “the kinesthetic intellect.” Trained in various performance techniques, including ballet, modern dance, contact improvisation, clown, and tai chi, she has dedicated much of her career to ensemble-generated processes. Canuso founded Nichole Canuso Dance Company in 2004. This fall, Canuso was awarded a residency through the Center’s ongoing partnership with MacDowell Colony, one of the oldest and most prestigious artist residency programs in the country.

Nichole Canuso Q&A: Content Block 1

How did you become an artist? Is there a particular experience that drove you to this choice?

I have always been dancing. It is one of the few things in my life that I have gravitated toward without question. I started dancing for my own pleasure, as a way of wrestling with the unnameable and processing big emotions. I was a small kid who didn’t like to speak in public, but when moving I felt powerful and ready to take up space. I studied dance and performed in recitals, but what I loved the most was improvising in my room and choreographing with neighborhood kids outside. My father is an actor and my mother loves to absorb poetry and music, so I was exposed to a lot of art early on. In college, my understanding of dance widened significantly, and I started working closely with sculptors, actors, and writers in pursuit of interdisciplinary exchange. For a while I was balancing this artistic pursuit with studies toward a medical career. What eventually drove me to embrace art-making wholeheartedly was the realization that I simply couldn’t feel whole without it.

What was the first work of art that really mattered to you? Did it influence your approach to your work?

As a kid I was an undiscerning dance enthusiast drawn to everything with moving bodies: musicals, slap-stick comedy, Solid Gold, MTV. But the first time I saw a live modern dance performance was here in Philadelphia at the Painted Bride Art Center. It was the Ellen Foreman dance company and I was probably 12 years old. The performers’ bodies varied in age and size, and the movements were grounded, powerful, subtle, and strange. In these bodies I was transported to something magical while simultaneously reminded of the dancers’ humanity (and therefore my own). This experience coupled with meeting the dancers afterward gave me a window into the life I wanted to pursue. I was also obsessed with Michael Jackson’s Thriller and Laurie Anderson’s Big Science and made endless dances to them throughout childhood. At Hampshire College, I discovered contact improvisation, which was a life changing experience. Around the same time, I was performing in the passionate, precise, and playful work of BeBe Miller who was a guest choreographer at the school. All of these experiences strongly influenced my trajectory.

Nichole Canuso Q&A: Content Block 2

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