Dancing Through the Regency Era with Ella Kooyer in Pride and Prejudice
The spotlight is on Ella Kooyer, a senior double majoring in Dance and French Studies, shares her experience as she takes on the role of Choreographer for the upcoming production Pride and Prejudice by Kate Hamill; a modern stage adaptation of a Jane Austen classic that is entertaining for all ages. Kooyer has an extensive resume, with performances in the Candy Box Dance Festival with Shapiro and Smith (2022), A Fool's Errand with Allison Wheeler (2023), and most recently the Portals Showcase with collaborative choreography with Vy Nguyen (2023). We reached out to Ella to ask her a few questions about her time working on this production and the importance of cross-discipline within the arts.
What was it like to choreograph a period play for the first time?
"Honestly, it was a lot of work. These are the kinds of dances that the Regency English would have already known. Trying to hop right in with my own perspective as a human in the 21st century was a big journey: I had no idea where to start. And yet, as I continued researching and playing around, I was surprised at how much of the movement I was familiar with as a result of some ballet training. Asking the cast to jump in and learn these dances was a big ask—but they absolutely delivered. Together, we learned more about the nuances of life back in that time, and their embodied practices in the realm of dance, like honorifics (curtsies, bows), class influence on dance (country balls versus upper class balls), and the techniques of the day."
The balls were a very important social event during the Regency era. How does the use of choreography in Pride and Prejudice by Kate Hamill enhance the stage adaptation?
"I think people often undervalue dance’s role in history. Dance in this play is not only a way to transport the audience to the setting in a more encompassing way, but is (hopefully) equally transportive for the cast. Learning the steps the characters would’ve danced regularly works as a sort of time capsule for those portraying them. This doesn’t only teach them a dance, but the way that Regency English would choreograph themselves in society, in the world. To me, the way of holding oneself, or the importance of the first simple touch between two characters is also choreography, and learning the steps to a dance can teach us enormous amounts about quotidian embodiment during this era."
How do you help the actors to see the intention behind each movement?
"To help the dancers with intention, there must be desire to be intentional. For me, this begins with cultivating an environment of wellbeing first and foremost. I tried to create a warmth in the studio that would lead to a willingness to take risks, ask questions, and make glorious mistakes. Once we have clarity in the priority of wellbeing, we can begin to hone intentionality. For me, this means discussing the movement with the dancers, and making sure I’m listening to what they’re telling me, so we can better understand one another and find intention together. I find that this way, we’re able to be clearer in an intention that’s decided upon collaboratively. I want my dancers to know that they are always free to investigate movement, or change it, or add in their own choreographies, as long as there’s communication."
Ella Kooyer is shown in the video above leading the cast of Pride and Prejudice through the choreographed ending sequence leading up to the final bows of the production.
What has been your favorite part of choreographing Pride and Prejudice? What was most challenging?
"At the risk of sounding cliché, getting to know the cast and crew, and watching them grow into this process has been incredible. I would say my favorite part would have to be working with the actors and seeing them exploring Regency Dance. I was there to witness their delight, confusion, and frustrations within the form. Together, we saw how important dance was/is, and how it reflected much of society at the time. We investigated and laughed and cried (okay, maybe only I cried) together during the process, and it was amazing. The most challenging aspect was trying to fit together all the puzzle pieces of dialogue, music, dance, blocking, etc. I definitely spent nights worrying about how it was all going to work! It was quite frustrating at some points, but getting to watch the scenes come together was unbelievably worth it, not to mention that the team I’m working with is phenomenal."
Did this experience inspire you to continue to explore more opportunities in choreographing for theatre?
"Absolutely! I am already looking for another gig! In reality, it was much harder than I imagined but in the same vein it was also so much more fulfilling and rewarding. This experience has cemented my desire to continue choreographing for theatre, and that it’s a type of storytelling that I find necessary and beautiful. I’d like to thank Lisa Channer and the crew for their support during this new process for me and the cast for allowing me to share this journey with them."
We cannot wait for opening night of Pride and Prejudice by Kate Hamill to see all of the hard work that Ella, the cast and creative team have put into this show. We will see you on the stage!
*Photos courtesy of Ella Kooyer*