We had the good fortune of connecting with Alaina Wilson and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Alaina, what do you attribute your success to?
The most important factors behind the careers successes I’ve achieved as an experimental dance artist have to be persistence, determination, and an ability to learn in real time! As far as opportunities go, artistic talent isn’t always enough to build a career, and I’ve often had to harness my creativity into crafting opportunities to share my work from scratch rather than waiting for recognition that will lead to my next offer or commission. I’ve also found I’ve often had to be my own teacher in order to understand the business and management sides of operating as a working artist, strategically observing and learning on the job while working with other artists and organizations. Especially as a student in the arts, I never thought about how important administrative, logistical, and financial skills would be for sustaining a career, but cultivating these skills for myself has been the biggest help for moving my practice forward!
In terms of how I view my artistic successes, I’d say learning how to connect and communicate well with the dancers and other collaborators I work with has been the biggest factor that has allowed me to make work I’m proud of. Dancers are living beings with thoughts, feelings, and ideas of their own, yet they are the artistic material that enact my vision as a choreographer. To be a successful choreographer you have to develop the leadership skills to work with a cast of people, to connect with them, to inspire them, to draw out what you want to see from them, while also respecting them, listening to their ideas, and being open to their perspectives throughout the process of making the work. I’ve been most successful as a choreographer when I’ve been able to harness my role as a leader effectively in the creative process.
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
I am a choreographer, dancer, and visual artist, though I’m constantly wearing other hats within the dance field including teacher and arts administrator. My choreographic work is contemporary and experimental in nature, and I love to cross artistic boundaries with my projects—combining elements of visual art, film, and installation with choreographed dance movement to create totally encompassing performance environments. I often explore themes in my work that are personally significant to me including expressions and presentations of female identity. I am extremely interested in the experience of audience members during my dance performances, and often play with performer/audience dynamics. Some of my past works have encouraged the audience to move through the performance space while the dance is taking place, so they can view the performance from multiple perspectives. I have been able to create quite a range of works so far in my career, which, in addition to theatrical performances, have included large scale choreographed installations, site-specific works for outdoor performance, gallery performances, and multiple dance films.
Despite my love for multidisciplinary work and how often I bring in additional elements into my choreography, dance and movement always remain the most significant form of expression within my work. I see movement as central to how we as humans exist in and interact with the world, and this idea has always made artistic explorations in dance endlessly fascinating to me.
I am most proud of how far I have been able to push my creativity as a choreographer, as many of my biggest challenges as an early-career artist have been challenges of self-doubt. Coming from a training background in classical ballet I had very little exposure to more experimental forms of dance when I began creating my own choreography and very few connections that could help me break into the dance field. However, I took the self-initiative to seek out those artists and mentors who I thought would be able to guide me where I wanted to go in the dance field. It has been a long process of learning to trust myself and my own instincts that has allowed me to grow my artistry and clarify my unique artistic vision.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
Nature has been a savior for me during the past year and has provided me both inspiration and the chance for revitalization. I’d say take a risk and try a surfing lesson down at Santa Monica Beach (wet suits required summer or winter!), see what’s in bloom at the Descanso Gardens, and hit the Hollywood Reservoir for a casual hike. Some of my go-to food recommendations are Houston’s, El Portale, and Malbec’s, all in the Pasadena area.
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
As a female-identifying artist, I’d love to shoutout the other female-identifying artists and professionals who’ve personally supported me, mentored me, and emboldened me as I’ve built my career in the field of dance. I’ll give special thanks to Maranda Barry, Ana Dimas, Nathalie Jonas, Anna Savino, Julie Skrzypek, Bryanna Vargas, and Rourou Ye for the support they’ve provided me throughout my artistic journey. From these fellow experimental artists, mentors, and friends, I have learned how to take charge of any situation; I have learned how to be a teacher and a communicator; and I have learned to trust my artistic instincts and take risks within my work. They have formed a huge portion of the support system that has gotten me to where I am today. I believe all of these wonderful women share a fearlessness in going after what they want, they approach their work with a high level of intelligence and a high level of respect for their crafts, and they never lose site of the joy and healing that can be found in the performing arts.
Photography by Eli Percy and Stephanie Roberts.