Stefanie Nelson serves as the artistic director to her own company, a contemporary performance ensemble known as the “Stefanie Nelson Dancegroup” which is based in New York City. She is also the choreographer behind the new dance performance titled “A My Name Is...” that explores memory loss and the absurdities that come with it. Inspired by the creator’s experiences watching a family member struggle with dementia, the performance centers on disappearance, gravity, and repetition.

Stefanie is known for creating work that melds deep and personal ideals into very expressive – and often provocative – works of performance art.

Video, visual art, and other forms of multimedia have been incorporated into her choreographies which have been presented in many venues all across the United States and elsewhere such as Mexico, Italy, and Canada. In fact, Stefanie also founded a summer dance intensive in Italy called “Dance Italia” where she also serves as the artistic director.

Recently, Stefanie granted an exclusive interview where she discussed dance, performance, and her inspirations.

Dance, choreography, and dementia

Meagan Meehan (MM): How did you discover your love for dance and how did you break into the choreography industry?

Stefanie Nelson (SN): When I decided to quit piano lessons around the age of twelve, my mom suggested I come with her to a dance class.

I fell in love quickly. There was no moment when I felt like I broke into the choreography industry. The progression was more like dripping water slowly into a full bathtub. I started making dances, small ones at first, which were accepted into small local festivals. Over time, the pieces became longer, my CV grew, and my work became recognized and presented at some of the better-known dance venues.

MM: How many dance shows have you produced to date and what sorts of topics inspire you?

SN: I’ve produced six evening-length productions and a number of shorter works. I recently curated a series of performances at Triskelion Arts, in Greenpoint, Brooklyn under the title, How High is the ceiling in my Glass Castle (and other perceived limitations) in response to the blatant misogyny that surfaced as a result of the 2016 US presidential election.

Topics that inspire me generally revolve around the subtext of social interaction, often focusing on miscommunication, misunderstanding, and people in the margins.

MM: Your most recent work is called “A My Name Is...” and it’s about dementia. What were your experiences watching a loved one struggle with this illness and how did those experiences influence your performance art?

SN: It is a devastating disease, on so many levels, for the person afflicted and for everyone playing a supporting role. The tragedy of watching someone literally unraveling thought by thought over time is a lot to handle. Rather than focusing on the emotional and mental toll of dementia, I’ve chosen, instead, to focus on physical notions of gravity and repetition as a way to approach the absurdity of it all, forgetting everything you’ve spent your entire life learning and remembering.

MM: Can you tell us a bit about the dances in the show and what audiences can expect?

SN: The show consists of one piece, “A My Name Is...”, that runs about fifty minutes for four performers, featuring original music by composers Sahand Rahbar and Jonah Kreitner, with set and lighting designed by Solomon Weisbard, stop-motion video photos by Elisa D’Amico, with Special Project Advisor David Shenk. The piece was inspired by a series of Happy Birthday messages sent to me by a family member who didn’t remember having sent the previous ones. Each was poignant and quite heartbreaking. The audience can expect movement based on a vocabulary of eight gestures, to think about decay, to smile – maybe even laugh, and hopefully, to feel empathy.

They can expect to see four performers in an intimate, white space with moveable walls, a lot of apples, and deflating chairs.

MM: How did you secure staging for this work and what are the most exciting things about it?

SN: Theaterlab is presenting this work as part of its “Eat Your Heart Out” series. The most exciting thing about the space is its intimacy, and whiteness (which was very important to me), and the support Theaterlab has given to this production.

Workshops, artists, and advice

MM: What else are you currently working on and what subjects would you like to explore through dance in the near future?

SN: I’m organizing a series of Creative Empowerment Workshops, free of charge, to members of our local community starting this winter.

Girls Move Us (GMU) is a leadership program designed to socially and physically empower teenage girls, providing safe space to self-reflect, take risks, and use their voices. I dislike the term “now more than ever” but really, now more than ever in this vile, post-integrity and truth, Trumpistan currently masquerading as the US.

Stefanie Nelson Dancegroup's 'Everyone Can Dance' initiative addresses our city's disabled community, providing performance opportunities for participants. We are grateful for support from the NYC Department of Cultural Affairs to help us get these initiatives off the ground. SNDg will also be offering more support to young artists in terms of residencies and exposure both here in NYC and abroad at Dance Italia, as well as continuing to create new work.

MM: Have you any advice for aspiring choreographers and is there anything else that you would like to discuss?

SN: Be persistent, be confident in your ideas, as well as yourself as an artist, take risks, allow yourself to be vulnerable, find a mentor for support, treat everyone with respect, and don’t pay a lot of money to have your work presented, that is simply fundraising off the backs of aspiring choreographers.