Meet the 2023 Summer Course Choreographers

An exciting element of the SAB Summer Course is the Summer Choreography Workshop. In this two-week workshop, emerging professional choreographers are invited to create brand new, short-form ballets on the most advanced dancers at the Summer Course, which are then performed at the end of the program in SAB’s studios. The process is thrilling for participating students. It provides them with the invaluable experience of working with a choreographer, and a close-up view of the creative process, as well as the exhilarating pleasure of having an original piece choreographed specifically on them.

The choreography workshop is a highlight of the program for many of these students, but it’s also a meaningful experience for the choreographers as well. Participating choreographers are typically SAB alumni themselves, and while the program is a fabulous opportunity for them to workshop choreographic concepts, it also offers them the chance to pass along their expertise and inspire the next generation of dancers and dance-makers.

We spoke to this year’s choreographers – SAB alumni Houston Thomas and Christina Ghiardi – about their experience participating in the 2023 Summer Choreography Workshop and how working with SAB students impacted their work.

SAB: What made you decide to accept the invitation to choreograph at SAB’s Summer Choreography Workshop this year? 

Houston Thomas: As a new choreographer, I’m interested in working and collaborating with as many dancers as possible, whether students or professionals. I see every choreographic process as an opportunity to dive deep and discover my choreographic voice further. The School of American Ballet is like an artistic home for me, and it only feels natural to want to return. SAB played an essential role in my development as a professional dancer, and this feels like an opportunity to give back to the school.

Christina Ghiardi: The opportunity to create new works in the same studios in which I originally had my first opportunity to choreograph keeps bringing me back to the SAB Summer Choreography Workshop. As an advanced Winter Term student in 2010 and 2011, I was able to first experience choreographing in a professional setting through SAB’s Student Choreography Workshop. If it wasn’t for these opportunities as a Winter Term student, I don’t know when I would have discovered my passion for choreography. Returning to choreograph during the Summer Course allows me to reflect on how my choreographic voice has matured since my days as a SAB student with a sense of gratitude. I enjoy the opportunity to challenge the talented next generation of dancers attending SAB’s Summer Course via my choreography. It’s a full circle moment!

Ms. Ghiardi introducing her ballet.

SAB: What did you enjoy most about working with the SAB Summer Course students?

Houston Thomas: It’s always beautiful to witness someone so dedicated and passionate about something, especially in our younger generation. This only motivates and inspires me to do more. The students worked extremely hard during the process, and I’m so grateful for this because my job would not be possible without them. It’s an absolute treat to see your vision, stuck in your head for so long, finally come to life.

Mr. Thomas giving a few notes to his cast of dancers.

Christina Ghiardi: What I enjoy most about working with the Summer Course students is their eagerness to learn. When someone attends SAB, they come to be trained in the Balanchine style via exceptional classes and training. Additionally, the advanced students get to be immersed further by applying everything they have learned in their classes towards new choreography being created on them. Teaching the dancers and watching them take on and conquer new challenges in the choreography such as moving fast, taking up more space in their movements, and new partnering elements they have perhaps never experienced before is always rewarding to experience. Their eagerness, work ethic, openness to trying new ideas, and positivity make the choreographic process an absolute joy.

SAB: What was the inspiration for your piece this year?

Christina Ghiardi: My piece this year I titled Synchros and I derived that from ‘synchronized’. My piece included 24 dancers which allowed for many large ensemble moments of more than 12 dancers moving together at the same time. We spent a lot of time working towards the dancers becoming synchronized in their movements. Summer Course brings in students from different training programs from all around the world. Seeing these students dance in sync with one other through the choreography, musicality, and their execution made Synchros extremely powerful and exciting to watch.

SAB: What do you hope the students take away from this experience?

Houston Thomas: My intention for the work was to provide the dancers with a new perspective on dance while allowing them to encompass and adapt all the things learned during the summer program. Dance is a universal language; there is no one way of doing it. The beautiful qualities of the Balanchine technique can be used and translated to every perspective or style of dance. I hope this opportunity allowed them to challenge and develop their imagination regarding their capabilities and ideas on dance.

Thanks to Ms. Ghiardi and Mr. Thomas for sharing their talents with our students and making this year’s Summer Choreography Workshop so special!

All photos by Rosalie O’Connor. This conversation was edited for clarity and length.

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