Photo courtesy of Gigi Torres.
The Capezio A.C.E. Awards are one of the premier competitions recognizing emerging choreographers. They have honored some now-familiar faces in the choreography scene while they were trying to break into this sector of the dance industry.
Some of the winners in past years include Al Blackstone, Melinda Sullivan, Talia Favia and Travis Wall. The Capezio A.C.E. Awards have become an indicator of who might be the next major player in the world of choreography.
This year's show is in Los Angeles on Wednesday, Jan. 15 at the historic Montalbán Theatre in Hollywood, followed by three more nights of dance as part of the MOVES at The Montalbán. The judges this year include Tessandra Chavez, Anita Mann, Marguerite Derricks, Tony Selznick, Vincent Paterson and Ray Leeper. The winner receives a $15,000 prize to mount an evening-length show of their work.
Dance Network interviewed two of the finalists in this year's show — Gigi Torres and Chase Haley Bowden. Gigi is a choreographer and educator for Hollywood Connection and Chase was on Derek Hough's 2019 tour and the NBC Holidays with the Houghs special.
Dance Network: You were a finalist in 2016, what made you decide to submit again to the Capezio A.C.E. Awards?
Gigi Torres: In 2018, I produced my show and it was amazing. It was only a one-night show and we sold out the seats — 150 people were there. I should've done multiple shows, but that's hard to do. I spent my money on doing this and I need some backing, I need some support. I think that's why I wanted to submit is because I think it would be great to have that support and backing and guidance to put on a 2.0 version of my show.
DN: You are not only choreographing this piece, but you are also dancing in it. Tell us why you made that decision.
Gigi: I was with my man for 11 years and we just ended our relationship. So I need to do this for me. I really want to be onstage to release and feel that again, because it's for my healing. The title is called "My Story of Healing." So it's vulnerable and it's about my process of healing through this heartbreak.
It's been good to create for this story because I know people will relate. We've all been through heartbreak and my girls who are in it with me — some of them have been with me for over a decade — are still my support system and my community and they are everything to me in this piece.
DN: Who has mentored you along the way when it comes to choreography?
Gigi: I've had two big ones — NappyTabs. I was under their wing and assisting them in my early years before ever choreographing. I was doing a lot of things on the backend with Napoleon, with music. So I feel like when I choreograph, that's the first thing — music. How does it flow? What are the beats in this? What lyrics can I accentuate? They took me under their wing and showed me what their process was. I feel like a lot of the process of what I do is because of them.
DN: What are the pluses and the minuses to being a female choreographer in the urban dance industry?
Gigi: Let's start with the challenges. As an urban hip-hop female teacher, it's pretty hard. When I go and teach overseas or even on conventions in the States, sometimes I am the only female on the roster. This is my responsibility. I am going to represent for all the females. The hardest thing is taking the responsibility to lead women into believing that they can be an urban, hip-hop choreographer/teacher/dancer and make it.
Another thing that's been hard is that as women, we have a lot of identity issues, where we think we're not supposed to be where we are because they're not a lot of us in the urban dance arena. It's tough because where do we get that mentorship to be able to do that? For me, with owning who I am, my mentors were Chonique [Sneed] and Lisette [Bustamante] for that specific thing. So it's not even about the dance, it's about believing in myself and what I offer.
The great thing about being a female choreographer in the urban dance industry is again, there's not a lot of us, so a little less competition. That's nice. I just love sometimes being the only person, the only woman there on the roster for teaching.
DN: What are your dance goals for 2020?
Gigi: This whole breakup happened at the end of 2019. It brought me a lot of clarity as to what I'm supposed to be doing or what I'm called to do. My theme of the year is consistency and I want to bring consistency to everything in my life, whether that means self-care or relationships like friendships and mentorships. I also want to bring that to my content. I want to be consistent with that and to show up for everything that I believe in.
Chase Haley Bowden
Photo courtesy of Chase Haley Bowden.
Dance Network: What inspired you to present your work at the Capezio A.C.E. Awards this year.
Chase Haley Bowden: This year, in particular, I feel ready to present my work. Now is my go time and I feel so inspired by my work with Tessandra [Chavez], NappyTabs and Rudy [Abreu]. I've been influenced by them and working with them every week and honing my craft. I feel like it's a great platform for me to put out my work and put out my choreography.
DN: Describe your piece to us.
Chase: My piece is about divorce because I grew up in a divorced family. There are three leads in my piece and the way I'm filtering this dance and the pictures that I'm creating is exciting because the cast is unbelievable.
This cast is living in that situation and authentically acting out the roles. They are putting light into a dark matter. You get the whole storyline and it's going to be beautiful.
DN: How would you describe your choreographic style?
Chase: It's evolved, that's for sure. It's turned more intricate and edgy and it showcases the word "dynamics" — tons of dynamics and tons of pictures. I think doing World of Dance with Rudy, a mentor of mine since I moved out to LA, has helped. He's just been a huge part of my career and opening these doors for me to walk through.
And working with NappyTabs. I was just in Saudi Arabia with Napoleon and learning the way he sees pictures and creates pictures for TV and the camera is amazing. It was so inspiring to me because I know that my piece for the A.C.E. Award could also look so cool on camera.
I am such an emotional guy, too. So you will also see a lot of heart and emotion in my style and my piece.
DN: You were dance captain on Derek Hough's tour. That was one of the cleanest shows I've ever seen and the Los Angeles stop was very late in the run. What was your secret?
Chase: We took a lot of pride in that. After every show, we all got back on the tour bus and we would watch the footage and everybody would take notes and I would take notes for everyone on what to work on. We didn't mess around and get comfortable with it. We always tried to better ourselves and it turned out great.
MOVES At The Montalbán runs Jan. 15-18 in Los Angeles.
Don’t miss Dance Network’s ‘To The Pointe’ interview with ‘So You Think You Can Dance’ choreographer and Capezio A.C.E. Awards judge, Ray Leeper: