Spotlight on Erica Sobol

By Chris Bamford.

Erica Sobol is the founder and artistic director of LA based collidEdance, an ever-evolving professional dance company dedicated to blurring the line between dance and theatre. Erica has spent her life studying performing arts in both New York and Los Angeles. She has earned a BA in dance theatre from Barnard College at Columbia University and created, worked, taught and trained with the industry’s best choreographers and dancers. On her recent visit to Australia, Dance Informa’s Chris Bamford had a chance to speak with her in between her teaching commitments.

Tell us all about your teaching style.
“My teaching style is very unorthodox. It’s a little strange and off the wall. It’s been developed over the seven years I’ve been teaching. I used to ‘suck’ at it. I tried to model myself after the way my teachers taught me, but because I started dancing so late so much of what my teachers gave me was not natural to me, like trying to do a technical warm up. I tried so hard to incorporate it into my classes but it was so inorganic to me. But slowly I became more and more comfortable with myself and started realising the specialised things I bring to the dance world. I was able to let go and really start to explore. My teaching style is really about what come naturally to me. My style can be heavily infected by what’s happening around me, who turns up for class or if it’s sunny or wet outside. It all plays a role in what I teach and how I teach.”

Tell us about your dance company collidEdance?
“The foetus of collidEdance started in New York with Chris Hale, a really good friend of mine at the time. He is a contemporary choreographer based in New York. We had a really great first performance with sold out houses. It was very well received and the reviews were amazing. It was the first time for both of us to produce and create a company production and a great learning curve for us, but in the end Chris felt that the dance company side of things was not for him, whereas I couldn’t wait to tackle the next project. I knew for sure that this was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life, so we decided to part ways on a professional level. Our dancers started to scatter everywhere and I was moving from LA to New York, so I put it to rest for a few years. Then I moved back to LA and after a couple of years of teaching and  developing  a community that I was familiar with and inspired by, I woke up one day and thought “I think I have the right group of  dancers around me now”. It started in LA with ten men and five women and slowly built over time. I have now worked with 60 -65 dancers in LA. All of my dancers are strong individual dancers, but they’re part of a family as well.

It’s a love project at the moment – nobody is getting paid for their time or their work. I’m really lucky to have a whole lot of people who really believe in what I do who are willing to donate their time, energy and love to make something really wonderful. Hopefully in the future we’ll have more sponsors. We have this revolving door thing happening as people get work and can’t perform with us, but they then come back with these rich amazing experiences and training which is exciting for everyone.”

Eley May enjoys Sobol's class at Dance World Studios

Tell us about your time in Australia.
“Matthew Endycott from Ookina Management contacted me two months ago asking me if I was interested in coming out here. I have been in Australia before, but only as a tourist. I’ve never been here for work and never really had an opportunity to explore the dance community here. I was so excited to come here, so I accepted the invitation straight away. I have been to Brent Street, Dance World Studios and Ev & Bow. I’ve also been setting a few routines while I’m here and doing some private dance studio workshops. I have had a very busy schedule, but it’s been fun.”

You have worked with some amazing people, who have been your favourites?
“Kevin Maher, who is an LA choreographer, is my mentor and my everything. He has been the most influential in my dance life. He is, as far as I’m concerned, the best teacher in the business. He is the person that when I first started my training made me want to do this with my life. I have also worked really closely with Matt Cady, Tucker Barkley and Rhapsody James. Most of my great influences have been in hip hop. A new friend who blows the lid off my head whenever I see anything he does is Ian Eastwood.  He is only 17 years old and he is a genius. All of my company members blow the lid off my head. I am inspired all the time by so many incredible people.”

You have worked, trained and taught in both New York and LA.  In your opinion what is the difference in the dance scenes?
“There is more work in LA and more talent there in the choreography front in general, if you’re talking about commercial dance.  And even with the new wave experimental modern stuff, LA is where it’s at. I think if you want to do musical theatre or company work and dance with one of the large dance companies  like ABT and Alvin Ailey you need to be in New York, but all the music videos, the movies and all the real commercial work is mostly in LA.  LA’s become a mecca for really talented dancers to have a lucrative working experience. The lifestyle is a lot more relaxed and the people are a lot more supportive of each other. Maybe that’s because I have been living there for five years and I feel really at home in LA.”

So what’s in the future for Erica Sobol?
“I suppose the natural progression for me is to work in commercial work with artists and musicians. I’m dying to work with Florence and the Machine and Lady Gaga. I really want to work with the experimental artists who are putting their work out there, but I’m genuinely trying not to think too far ahead. I’m so happy doing what I do. I get to travel the world and meet the most incredible people. And I get to look at the difference I am making. I know people who make a huge difference and leave a huge footprint, especially in the dance community, but they don’t get to every day look at a child’s face and know that they changed his or her mind on something or left an indent on their heart. That’s really special to me.  For now I’m happy to have that and make a good living by doing it. I can’t imagine that it gets any better than this, so whatever the future brings, I’m sure it’s going to bright, beautiful and fantastic.”

See Erica’s work in action on youTube:

Top photo: Mark Barwald (Ookina Creative)

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