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Nicole L. Olson: In Her Own Words
Sep, 21, 2021
Nicole L. Olson: In Her Own Words
Award-winning dancer and choreographer Nicole L. Olson explores the human condition through movement. The artistic director of the dance company NicoleOlson|MovementChaos, she’s presented work in alternative spaces across the Valley of the Sun for years, performing solo, with her dancers, and with other local artists and creators at places like Phoenix Art Museum, 9 The Gallery in downtown Phoenix, The Heard Museum, the Desert Botanical Garden, and other locales. She has also shown work nationally at the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C. and additional venues in Chicago, Portland, Los Angeles, Austin, Las Vegas, and more.
Olson began her training in ballet and classical jazz at Milwaukee Ballet School and graduated with a BFA in dance (emphasis in ballet and modern dance) from University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point. From there, she performed for Kirby Reed (Chicago), Bauer Contemporary Ballet (Milwaukee), and Emergence Dance Theatre (Chicago), before moving to Arizona in 1996. Along with choreographing for numerous Arizona theater productions, she is the director of dance at the Metropolitan Arts Institute in Phoenix and teaches intensives and workshops nationally.
We recently spoke with Nicole to learn more about her first inspirations, how her practice has evolved through the years, and the advice she has for burgeoning artists.
Here’s Nicole L. Olson, in her own words.
“Dance is my genre, and the human body is my medium.”
Nicole L. Olson. Photo by Ashley Baker.
PhxArt: Tell us about where you’re from and when you first knew you wanted to be an artist.
Nicole Olson: I am originally from Wisconsin, and I have always wanted to perform. I do not remember a formative moment—I just always knew, ever since I can remember, that dance was what made me feel “real,” alive, and in the moment. Even coming from a small town, with no access to a strong dance community until the age of 12, I just knew that dance is what I needed to do.
PhxArt: What are the media that you prefer to work in, and what topics do you explore through your art?
Olson: Dance is my genre, and the human body is my medium. Modern and contemporary dance is the modality I usually create within.
The human condition is what inspires me; I love to create stories through movement. I usually tell stories about women, either stories I’ve personally lived or ones that I’ve witnessed.
Photo by Rick Meinecke, “Cascade,” Canal Convergence ’19 (Scottsdale Public Art).
PhxArt: What is something about your process that might surprise viewers?
Olson: I think one thing that I do that is unique in process is that it varies from project to project. I don’t stick with one particular mode of creation. Sometimes, I create movement on the spot. Sometimes I have it all prepared in advance. Sometimes, I map it all out in my head before creating it on myself or someone. For one solo, I created the whole thing in reverse, starting with the end and proceeding to the beginning. The question I always ask myself stays the same—“What am I trying to say?” This question is what goes through my head in every rehearsal, every production meeting, every daydream about a piece. This goes for all my work, ensemble or solo.
PhxArt: How has your practice evolved through the years, and how does it continue to shift?
Olson: A shift in my practice occurred in 2012, when I created a piece for Ten Tiny Dances that was performed at the TBA Festival in Portland, Oregon. The festival is presented annually by PICA, and tiny dances are created for a 4′ by 4′ stage. It was the first time I truly engaged with an alternative stage format. Prior to then, I was primarily creating for the standard proscenium stage.
As I have moved into site-specific work and public art a lot more, the stories I create are much more tangible and relatable. I can work with subtleties and nuances that are sometimes overlooked on a large stage.
Photo by Sean Deckert, “Nomad,” Canal Convergence ’18 (Scottsdale Public Art).
PhxArt: Tell us about NicoleOlson|MovementChaos. What inspired you to begin this venture, and what is its mission?
Olson: NicoleOlson|MovementChaos is a dance company celebrating work on and off the traditional stage. The work is organic, athletic, and comedic, summoning real life stories and scenarios. Our mission is to bring dance to everyone, to dance everywhere. The world is our stage, and dance should always be present in it.
PhxArt: How does teaching inform your personal practice?
Olson: I believe that teaching makes me a stronger—and definitely more communicative—artist. Finding new and innovative ways to bring information to students, especially young ones, has made me a more thoughtful choreographer.
Photo by Rebecca Hollingsworth, “(M)used.”
PhxArt: As someone who has performed at Phoenix Art Museum on numerous occasions, do you have a favorite Museum memory?
Olson: My favorite memory of Phoenix Art Museum was the first time my dancers and I presented there in July of 2016. It was a piece inspired by Nathan Mabry’s Two Vessels (Unpacked) titled Dilute and Unknot. The theme for that Discount Tire Free Family Sunday was “Chill,” and I found the imagery of stillness, contemplation, and thought in Mabry’s work to be motivational for the performance. The work created was in the round, surrounding the sculpture. We examined and experimented with these images of stillness, contemplation, and thought throughout the presentation. We were so welcomed by the PhxArt staff and Museum patrons. It’s such a beautiful community.
PhxArt: Who are your greatest artistic influences?
Olson: I am probably most inspired by the work of Pina Bausch. Her choreography broke through barriers and brought women’s stories to the forefront of dance.
PhxArt: What are some works, series, or projects you’re currently working on or have recently exhibited?
Olson: Since the pandemic began, I’ve created work for exciting new choreographic venues; my collaborators and I thought “outside the box.” Local artist Rembrandt Quiballo and I created Cocooned, a dance film about light and shelter, in response to quarantine. It premiered at the Arizona Drive-In Dance Festival and has since been presented at several other film festivals. Then NicoleOlson|MovementChaos premiered In The Confines at Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art’s Virtual Opening in October of 2020. We also presented Valkyrie Part 2 as part of Dulce Dance’s Rooted In Movement in March 2020, followed by Elegy of Mamah at CONDER/dance’s Ten Tiny Dances at Taliesin West in April of 2021.
PhxArt: What’s some advice you’d give to artists just starting their professional practice?
Olson: Never be afraid of dust; you’ll be brushing it off yourself often. Just breathe and keep moving forward.
PhxArt: What can our community expect to see next from you?
Olson: There is a new dance film to be created and several other live, site-specific projects up and coming this season. More information coming soon!