Three winners named for ChoreographyXX

Nicole Haskins chosen for Oregon Ballet Theatre’s ChoreographyXX competitionIn January, Oregon Ballet Theatre (OBT) announced the launch of ChoreographyXX, a competition and performance project promoting female choreographers made possible by a generous grant from the Oregon Community Foundation’s Creative Heights Initiative. In the weeks that followed the company received nearly 90 submissions from incredibly gifted candidates.


On June 2, OBT Artistic Director Kevin Irving unveiled the three winners of the competition: Gioconda Barbuto, Helen Simoneau and Nicole Haskins. These talented women have each been awarded a commission to set a new work on OBT. The three world premieres will be presented free to the public on June 29-30, 2017 at Washington Park’s Rose Garden Amphitheater.


The competition’s winning candidates were selected by a jury of Northwest artists and arts producers that included Angela Mattox (Artistic Director of PICA), Paul King (Co-Founder of White Bird), local choreographer Mary Oslund (Co-Founder of Conduit) and long-time ballet teacher Catherine Levi (of Corvallis Academy of Balletwas). The jury was led by OBT Artistic Director Kevin Irving. Together the group sought applicants with work that reflected a creative capacity for unique, contemporary expressions of a classical ballet vocabulary.


“We were thrilled with the incredible response to this competition,” commented Irving. “With such a wealth of talent we couldn’t have dreamed up a better mix of choreographic voices than we have in Barbuto, Simoneau and Haskins.”


Gioconda Barbuto chosen for Oregon Ballet Theatre’s ChoreographyXX competitionEach of these talented women are accomplished dancers with vastly different choreographic styles and in different stages of their careers. Barbuto – a Canadian resident of Italian descent – was a soloist with Les Grand Ballets Canadiens de Montréal, where she danced for 16 years distinguishing herself in ballets by a range of choreographers including George Balanchine, Nacho Duato, Michel Fokine, José Limon and Jiri Kylián – for whom she later danced in NDT3. With such a rich background, Barbuto’s artistic approach is grounded in ballet in a manner that is forward looking.


“The root of ballet technique supports quality of movement with line and expression and it allows for new and interesting propositions in the ever-evolving development of dance,” she wrote in her artistic statement. “I am very enthusiastic about dance and its evolution.”


Barbuto’s style is highly organic. Using workshops, she takes a collective creative approach to find an honesty of expression in each dancer.


Southern Californian native Nicole Haskins currently dances with the Smuin Ballet, for which she has also created several works in addition to commissions for the Sacramento Ballet and Richmond Ballet. Her interest in choreography began early setting small pieces for fellow dancers in her hometown studio. She continued to hone her skills, eventually winning a chance to study choreography at New York City Ballet’s New York Choreographic Institute.


Helen Simoneau chosen for Oregon Ballet Theatre’s ChoreographyXX competitionAs with many choreographers, music is Haskins’ primary inspiration. “My choreography strives to connect audiences to the beauty of music and the artistry of the individual dancer,” she said. At the same time, Haskins is interested in groups, shapes and patterns taking almost a mathematical approach to her work. “I have always been comfortable with shapes and mathematics in my choreography, and tend to plot out the general outline of the music and formations of a piece, but the most satisfying results are when the dancers help inform the direction the piece should take and fill in the broad strokes I prepared in advance.”


Simoneau, originally from Quebec, holds a Master of Fine Arts in Dance from Hollins University in Roanoke, VA. She is currently based in Winston-Salem, North Carolina where she founded her company, Helen Simoneau Danse. In addition to its season in Winston-Salem, the eight-member collaborative ensemble has performed Simoneau’s works in New York City as well as internationally.


Over the years Simoneau has received many prestigious commissions, including from The Juilliard School, the American Dance Festival, the Bessie Schönberg Residency at The Yard, Springboard Danse Montréal and the Swiss International Coaching Project (SiWiC) in Zurich. In 2009, she took first place for choreography at the Internationales Solo-Tanz-Theater Festival in Stuttgart, Germany. She is thrilled to be working with the classically trained dancers of OBT.


“The gift of time and space with such exquisitely skilled dancers within a forward-thinking company like OBT is a huge opportunity for me at this point in my career!” exclaimed Simoneau.


Rehearsals for the three new works begin in May 2017. Each choreographer will be assigned a third of the company and will have a month to develop a fully staged ballet.


“It is such an honor to have these talented women enriching OBT’s repertory. And what more perfect setting to watch their new work blossom than in Portland’s one-of-a-kind Rose Garden Amphitheater,” comments Irving. “We can hardly wait for this exciting project to begin!”


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Photo (top): Smuin Ballet’s Nicole Haskins in performance. Photo by Chris Hardy. Photo (left): Gioconda Barbuto. Photo by Michael Slobodian. Photo (right): Helen Simoneau in her solo work Caribou. Photo by Peter Mueller.