Go Deeper

The A.W.A.R.D. Show! – Artist Profile: Zornitsa Stoyanova

Posted July 20th, 2009

Zornitsa Stoyanova, Philadelphia-based choreographer and founder of Here[begin] dance company, was never really into contests. She had two professional athletes for parents and played her fair share of sports growing up, but “was never all that competitive.”

In September, Zornitsa will challenge eleven other area choreographers in The A.W.A.R.D. Show! 2009: Philadelphia, but has mixed feelings about the show’s concept. How do you rank choreographers whose styles and goals are completely different? “I’m thinking of it as an opportunity to perform,” she says, “and a way to open up the dance audience.” And if she does snag the $10,000 prize, Zornitsa knows exactly where it will go: “I work with so many phenomenal people, and I want to pay them so badly. I’d pay my people first.”

Zornitsa’s formal dance education began at Bennington College in Vermont, where she enrolled after graduating from an American high school in her native Bulgaria. She began dancing at the relatively ancient age of fifteen, but by the time she was a college freshman she knew that “dance was the only thing I really wanted to do.”

“I never took any ballet,” she says. “I danced at an after school program . . . first it was drama club, then pantomime, but both those programs failed, actually. And all that was left was modern dance.”

After the jump: picking Philly over New York, dance on screen, and Zornitsa’s techie side.

After Bennington, Zornitsa weighed her options. “I knew a few people involved with dance in Philly, and a lot more in New York. But when I talked to the New York people, they all had three jobs, couldn’t afford anything, barely had time or money to dance . . . so time-wise and craziness-wise, that didn’t really fit my character. So here I am.”

It didn’t take long for Zornitsa to get several projects, as well as her own fledgling company, up and running. She identifies the name Here[begin] with her love of improvisation. “It’s so satisfying and opening to do,” she says, though she admits it is often dull to watch. “If you’re in the audience . . . it’s too self indulgent. The dancers are in their own little world. And I’m really into bringing the audience in and acknowledging that you’re all in the same space.”

She also likes the sense of perpetual rebirth that the name conveys. “At any moment, as a performer or choreographer. . . .” She pauses. “At any moment, I want to be so alive, that whatever happens, I’m reactive to it. It’s always beginning. And wherever you are, you’re here.”

Another of Zornitsa’s projects is curating the Dance Cinema Projects series, which screens dance films around Philadelphia. The goal is for half of each night’s pieces to come from Zornitsa’s personal collection, and the other half from local contributors. She started the series as a way to expand audiences and maybe even raise some money, but soon found that the latter was wishful thinking. “That’s totally fine, though,” she shrugs.

“The first one we did,” she continues, “there were three or four people there. And I consider that a huge success, and I’ll tell you why. One was a guy, pretty elderly, who knew nothing at all about dance. And he read about it, and he showed up.”

Zornitsa has now joined forces with the Filmtech School in South Philly, which she says has helped immensely. In the future, she’d like the project to be more of a festival than a series, with screenings on successive days instead of throughout the year.

When she’s not in the studio, and sometimes even then, Zornitsa’s inner technology geek reigns. “I love taking things apart and downloading programs just to see what they do,” she explains. She works as the web and technical director for Mascher Space Co-op, and can think of few things more fun than using Dreamweaver and creating websites. She is excited to include a video component with her piece for The A.W.A.R.D. Show.

The work she’ll present is called Side by Side, and has been performed before, though she’s planning an overhaul. She’s willing to divulge a few hints, though: “We play with lights. We smear paint on ourselves.”

“I’m interested in the line between the lighthearted, the hilarious, and the gory and really horrific,” she says. “Some moments are funny and some are scary. And I want people to feel those very different, but also strangely similar emotions . . . because they live very close to each other in the brain.” To Zornitsa, “dance is never just dance.”

With Side by Side, she plans to make us “laugh at our own fear.” So if you’re looking to leave a show skipping with glee, look elsewhere. But if you think experimental, evocative, and unapologetic choreography deserves a shot at glory too, then game on.

–Mara Miller

Photos courtesy Zornitsa Stoyanova