Journey choreographed by Diane Coburn Bruning in performance with Chamber Dance Project, featuring Luz San Miguel and Davit Hovhannisyan. Photo by Eduardo Patino.

Project-Based Company Brings Together Dancers and Musicians

Choreographer Diane Coburn Bruning has a different kind of vision for her Chamber Dance Project. Though she relocated the project-based company from New York City to Washington, DC several years ago, her focus remains on creating collaborations between classically-trained ballet dancers and other contemporary artists to share in intimate venues with live music. This summer, the artistic director brings together dancers from Cincinnati, Kansas City, Milwaukee and Washington Ballets for a condensed period of time. The company's 2017 season show titled Ballet Brass & Song opens this weekend, and features works by Jennifer Archibald, Jorge Amarante, and a world premiere by Coburn Bruning herself. We caught up with her last week to hear more about her company's mission.


What's it like to bring dancers together from so many different backgrounds for such a short period of time? Do you work with the same dancers again and again?

Yes, because I think that's where you can go deeper. That said, we brought in two new dancers this year (Kansas City Ballet's Angelina Sansone and Cincinnati Ballet's Patric Palkens). I'm hoping to expand to about 10 dancers. As a project company, it's built into the model that we're bringing people together from all different classical ballet backgrounds to work with choreographers and musicians in a very synergetic way. To me that's of great interest, and I think to the dancers too, to not be with the same people and with taped music. This is a way for dancers to explore and bust out in the summer, when they would otherwise be on layoff. We employ them in the January layoff and then in the summer layoff.


Photo Courtesy of Tim Coburn Diane Coburn Bruning

If your company uses dancers only during their layoff periods, what do you work on for the rest of the year?

We have a resident string quartet—we're not a separate company, but dancers and musicians working together. So during the year we have different evenings and events and open rehearsals with the quartet. We hire dancers during their layoffs, but we have our own musicians who we utilize throughout the year. And we have workshops where we have audience members create things on the spot, with the musicians reconstructing. Any way we can get people to get into the process is of great interest to me, because I'm a creative artist.

Your upcoming show, Ballet Brass & Song 2017, includes the world premiere of your Songs by Cole, set to the music of jazz legend Cole Porter. How did you choose to work with Porter's music?

Working with Cole Porter music is a reaction to working with a very intense and dark contemporary score by Brooklyn-based composer Bryce Desner on my last piece. I realized that for my next project I wanted to use something lighter, and use the music of the 20s and 30s. It was just a desire to go to the other side of the spectrum of my work.

Your company's mission focuses on intimate audience interactions in small venues. This is not the mission of most ballet companies. How have audiences responded?

There are a lot of people doing great work in contemporary ballet. And we do not claim to be unique. What's unique is that we work with live musicians, and our dedication is on new and contemporary work and artists, which means composers, artists, choreographers, dancers and designers. Because all work that was created was once contemporary. When Petipa created Swan Lake or Sleeping Beauty, that was contemporary art. So where's the contemporary art of our time? We don't get it by reaching backwards, we get it by moving forward and working with the artists of our time. Sometimes that leads to sublime work and sometimes not, but my commitment is to the voices of our times.

Latest Posts


Getty Images

The History of Pointe Shoes: The Landmark Moments That Made Ballet's Signature Shoe What It Is Today

Pointe shoes, with their ability to elevate a dancer both literally and metaphorically to a superhuman realm, are the ultimate symbol of a ballerina's ethereality and hard work. For students, receiving a first pair of pointe shoes is a rite of passage. The shoes carry an almost mystical allure: They're an endless source of lore and ritual, with tips, tricks and stories passed down over generations.

The history of pointe shoes reveals how a delicately darned slipper introduced in the 1820s has transformed into a technical tool that offers dancers the utmost freedom onstage today.

Keep reading SHOW LESS
La'Toya Princess Jackson, Courtesy MoBBallet

Join Memoirs of Blacks in Ballet for Its 2020 Virtual Symposium

Memoirs of Blacks in Ballet, founded in 2015 by writer and activist Theresa Ruth Howard to preserve and promote the stories of Black ballet dancers, is offering three weekends of interactive education and conversation this month through its 2020 Virtual Symposium. The conference, titled "Education, Communication, Restoration," encourages participants to engage in candid discussions concerning racial inequality and social justice in ballet. While it is a space that centers on Blackness, all are welcome. Held August 14, 15, 21, 22 and 28, MoBBallet's second annual symposium will allow dancers to receive mentorship and openly speak about their personal experiences in a safe and empowering environment.

The first event, For Us By Us (FUBU) Town Hall, is a free community discussion on August 14 from 3:30–4:30 pm EDT via Zoom, followed by a forum for ballet leadership. The town hall format encourages active engagement (participants can raise their hands and respond in real time), but the registration invoice also contains a form for submitting questions in advance. The following discussions, forums and presentations include topics like company life as a Black dancer, developing personal activism, issues of equity and colorism in ballet companies, and more. Tickets range from free to $12 for each 60- to 80-minute event.

Keep reading SHOW LESS

Revisiting Pointe's Past Cover Stars: Adji Cissoko (August/September 2011)

We revisited some of Pointe's past cover stars for their take on how life—and ballet—has changed.

Keep reading SHOW LESS

Editors' Picks