Category Winning Works

Choreographer Taylor Carrasco.

Taylor Carrasco is one of four winners of the Joffrey Academy's 2022 Winning Works Choreographic Competition. His world premiere, Not Now, But Now, debuts March 18–20 at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago’s Edlis Neeson Theater.

How is Joffrey’s Winning Works program effective in promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion?

The concert dance world has been dominated by white cismale voices for so long. Joffrey’s Winning Works program seeks out voices that are anything but those voices. Just the fact that they’re seeking people that don’t look like the people that have controlled the narrative for hundreds of years is pushing for a more diverse and equitable art form.

Why is that important? 

The history of ballet is a little esoteric. It has traditionally been a wealthy, white art form. But the world is changing, it’s getting more interconnected, which means that more people can access the art form. With so many new audiences, we want them to feel like they can see themselves.

How did the pandemic change access for people who normally would be watching?

The pandemic completely shut it down. As companies across the world had to pivot, a lot of them started seeking out opportunities in the digital space to keep their dancers dancing and their audiences engaged. Finding that digital space opened the dance world to so many different audiences, with digital productions that were free or inexpensive to watch. Hopefully that will entice a lot of them to come through the doors once the doors are open again.

How does it feel to set a piece on the Joffrey Academy?

It feels incredible to be one of the choreographers for Winning Works. Set aside the fact that it’s really promoting diversity in the art form, just working with dancers of this caliber, and getting to see my work on such incredible dancers is great. And their transition from pre-professional to real professional—it’s a pivotal time for them and it feels great to have my hand in that in some small way.

What does this opportunity mean for you and your career?

My choreographic career is also in this transitional period. This is an exciting opportunity for my work to be seen outside of Cincinnati, where it’s been seen for a few years. But now, with the Chicago audience and then the wider audience with the digital release, others get to experience my work and hear my voice through my choreography. Hopefully, people from many different places can connect with what I’m trying to say.

Can you tell us a little bit about your piece and the inspiration behind it?

When I was thinking about crafting this piece for Winning Works, my mind started going towards feelings of anxiety that a lot of us have become accustomed to because of the pandemic. At first, I thought it was going to be a bit darker and gloomy than what it ended up being. Working with these young and talented dancers has morphed it. There is still a focus of anxiety in the work—the anxiety you get from feeling like you’re running from something and running towards something. It’s shifted a little to be more lighthearted and playful.

Does it have a title? 

As of now it’s titled Not Now, But Now, which is inspired by a book.

What’s it been like working with the students at the Joffrey Academy?

The trainees and the Studio Company at Joffrey are incredibly talented. They’re young and excited, they want to learn, they have a technical base that’s unmatched. Beyond that, they have a hunger to understand new qualities of movement. These dancers have never seen my movement before, yet they took to it immediately. They were excited to hear what I had to say and replicate what I was offering, and make their own choices, which has been one of the most exciting things.

How much of your process is a give and take?

My process in the studio is extremely collaborative. When it comes down to it, I’m the choreographer, and what I say goes. But they will make mistakes, or they’ll misinterpret something I said. They’ll make a choice and I’ll get excited about it because it’s even more exciting than what I was initially presenting. I’m never afraid to admit that something was more exciting than what I presented and find a way to incorporate it into the work. I feel like every dancer has a hand in the creation process.

What do you hope they take away from this experience of working with you?

I hope they enjoy working on this piece. I hope it gives them a taste of what it can be like to work with choreographers, to come in and then create a work with them. These dancers are right on the precipice of their professional career and will have to get used to performing a lot of works by different choreographers, who all have very strong opinions. So being able to shift from one to the other while also maintaining who they are as an artist, I think is a valuable experience for them going forward in their careers.

Winning Works is kind of like that—multiplied by ten.

Absolutely. And when you’re used to an academic environment, where you’re just taking class and doing exactly what the teacher says every time, it can be beneficial to hear other opinions and try other things, even if it is just for a couple of weeks out of the year.

What do you hope audiences take away from Winning Works and your piece?

Just the fact that they are getting to see four unique and diverse voices within the dance community. And for my piece, I hope they take away a sense of confusion and joy. There’s room for both of those things that can be surprising, but also joyful and exciting at the same time.

Winning Works Choreographer Taylor Carrasco rehearses at Joffrey Tower with members of the Joffrey Studio Company and Academy trainees.
Not Now, But Now, a world premiere, explores feelings of anxiety in the era of COVID-19.