When it came time for 18-year-old Madison Christmas to undertake her "May Project," a tradition at her school wherein graduating seniors complete an independent project over the month of May, her mind went to the concept she'd initially pitched as a part of the regular Hyde Park School of Dance Student Choreography Showcase.
"I thought it would be interesting to build on my choreography and turn it into a film," says Christmas, who was gracious enough to allow us to share with you the beautiful end result of this labor of love.
The film, For Us, is a fitting senior project for Christmas, who has been a student at HPSD since she was just three years old. Christmas describes the piece as "a celebration and appreciation for the experience of black women and black art," and it certainly is a beautiful one.
In it, six of Madison's fellow students from Hyde Park School of Dance perform her original choreography behind our main building and along the Midway nearby, accompanied by a medley that combines the music of Marvin Gaye and James Brown with the poetry of Maya Angelou. The movement, Christmas says, is "heavily inspired by Alvin Ailey's Revelations and Dance Theatre of Harlem's company repertoire."
"I've been dancing with many of the dancers featured in the film for years," explains Christmas. "There's something special about working and dancing with people who have been on this creative life journey with you. I've gone to many summer intensives, but its never the same as when you are with people you've shared so much with, in both dance and life. It only felt right to work with my friends, that share the experience of being a dancer of color and a dancer at HPSD, to create this project."
This year marks Madison's fourth as a choreographer for the biennial HPSD Student Choreography Showcase, but Christmas explains that she's "been choreographing at HPSD beyond that as well." Having begun her time at the school at such a young age, Christmas has experienced all the hallmark stages of a ballet dancer at Hyde Park School of Dance. From Creative Movement and Pre-Ballet, Christmas made her way on up through the lower levels, participating in performance workshops and taking classes until she was old enough to audition for the company. Her freshman year of high school, Christmas was cast as Clara in HPSD's annual production of The Nutcracker - a part she describes as having been one of her dream roles. Throughout, Christmas threw herself into all the school had to offer, and found herself learning the art of choreography in the process.
"I always enjoyed 'dress-up week,' a bi-yearly week where dancers choreograph pieces in place of a traditional class," Christmas explains. So when the time came, she says, it was only natural that she sign up for the Young Choreographer's Workshop, available to students aged 9 and up over the summers. [Limited spaces remain for this year's workshop; see hydeparkdance.org/register.]
"During the workshop, we created original pieces and learned skills to add to our 'choreographer's toolbox,'" says Christmas. It is this choreographer's toolbox upon which she has since drawn as a student choreographer for the biennial showcase. As Christmas explains, the practice of creating her own works has helped her to develop as a performer as well as in her role as choreographer.
"The student choreography showcase happens every other year, and students can adjudicate pieces to set on other dancers and show in the performance. I've always enjoyed both choreographing for the showcase and performing in other works. I love the showcase because you get to experience the full duality of being a dancer and choreographer. I believe that doing one furthers your perspective and understanding of the other. It's essential for all dancers to choreograph something at some point in their dance career because it helps one get in tune with their body and natural movement. It's always interesting to see the different pieces because you start to see the specific styles of each dancer showing up in their compositions."
Next year, Madison Christmas heads to Barnard College in New York City to study political science and dance. When asked whether her time at Hyde Park School of Dance has helped to prepare her for future plans, Christmas reflects "Over the years, practicing discipline has been one of the main things our teachers have instilled in us through dance. And I believe that the discipline I've cultivated through dance will prepare me well for the rigor of college."
It's easy to see how well-prepared Christmas is to take on her future. But as she waves goodbye to her mentors and friends at HPSD, she leaves behind, in both her impact on her fellow students and her beautiful film, a legacy that will live on well beyond her tenure in our studios. We'll let Madison's own eloquent words speak to its significance:
"Being a dancer or color has been a challenge at times. I've attended some summer dance intensives where I was one of the only black dancers, and it was isolating. But I think my experience at HPSD, which is a much more diverse dance environment, and the Dance Theatre of Harlem, a historically black dance company and school, guided and prepared me for that experience. Because I had exposure to black dancers and dance companies, I knew even though I felt out of place in that environment, that didn't mean that there wasn't a place for me in dance. And that is why I think exposure is so significant for young dancers of color. Although there are so many emerging dancers of color and diversifying companies, there is still a long way to go, so I hope my film can play a role, even if small, in showing young black girls at HPSD that there's space for them in dance."
See Madison's film here:
Congratulations on the film, Madison, and on all your accomplishments.
Thank you for sharing your insights and your creativity with us!