Friend’s move inspires Abby McCaughan award-winning choreography.
When her close friend moved away, 17-year-old Ridgeland resident Abby McCaughan, a principal dancer with Mississippi Metropolitan Ballet (MMB) and senior at St. Andrew’s Episcopal School, channeled her emotions into award-winning choreography. Abby’s five-minute contemporary ballet “Chaotic Patience” won the Monticello Award for emerging choreography at the 2019 Southeastern Regional Ballet Association Festival held in Athens, Georgia. The award’s full scholarship to Regional Dance America’s National Choreography Intensive allowed Abby to hone her craft this summer.
Only five Monticello Awards are given nationally each year, one at each Regional Dance America regional festival. To qualify for the award, a choreographer’s work must be adjudicated by a Regional Dance America member company, selected for performance by the regional festival adjudicator, and chosen by a committee of dance professionals as the most outstanding choreography from the pieces that appear on the Emerging Choreographer’s Concert. Emerging choreographers must be at least 16 years old and may not have been commissioned to do a piece, for a fee, by a company other than the company with which they are affiliated.
“Chaotic Patience” was Abby’s first attempt at choreography. It began with ideas and images that she wanted to express following her friend’s move. Next Abby chose music, “The Winter” by Balmorhea, a six-piece minimalist band from Austin. “The tension in the phrases matched my ideas for my movement and concept,” Abby said. “After I found the music, I spent time in the studio listening to the piece and forming phrases.”
Abby’s mother, Hazel McCaughan said Abby spent hours over summer 2018 at Mississippi Metropolitan Ballet’s Madison studio practicing by herself. In the fall, under the supervision of Artistic Director Jennifer Beasley and Executive Director Crystal Skelton, “Chaotic Patience” was set on 14 dancers from Mississippi Metropolitan Ballet’s senior company.
The dancers first performed the piece for festival adjudicator Thom Clower in February 2019. Clower, artistic director for Ballet Ensemble of Texas, renowned ballet instructor and former professional dancer with Dallas Ballet, described Abby’s work as “powerful.” Clower chose the piece to open the Emerging Choreographer’s Concert on the first night of the festival in May.
Two nights after the festival performance, Abby and Hazel joined hundreds of participants at the festival banquet as scholarships and awards were announced. Abby remembers, “During the banquet, I did not consider the chances of receiving this wonderful award. I had known about it, but I wasn’t expecting anything considering this was my first experience with choreographing.”
Then Clower announced “Chaotic Patience” and Abby McCaughan as the Monticello Award winner. “When I heard the name of my piece, I was overwhelmed and truly grateful.” says Abby.
The winning of the award was not the end of Abby’s first choreography experience though. The scholarship which accompanies the Monticello Award sent Abby to the two-week National Choreography Intensive where she attended choreography classes and completed new choreography assignments each day. The national intensive was held in the state-of-the-art studios and theater at Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, Texas.
Abby found the daily challenge of new dancers, music, assignments and performances a wonderful learning experience that built throughout the program. Of the experience Abby says, “I absolutely loved this experience as a beginning choreographer and being able to attend National Choreography Intensive to challenge my abilities.”
Hazel and Abby credit Mississippi Metropolitan Ballet and Abby’s fellow MMB dancers in preparing Abby and inspiring her choreography. “I think my exposure to many different styles of dance and exploring my love for contemporary has allowed me to be able to move in a way that I feel confident. I don’t think I could be where I am now without my training at MMB,” says Abby. Of her fellow dancers and friends who helped her create and performed her piece she says, “This award gives as much honor to them as it does me.”
Mississippi Metropolitan Ballet is a pre-professional ballet company in Madison under the direction of Beasley. It is the only Mississippi ballet company accepted into membership in Regional Dance America/Southeastern Regional Ballet Association.