Ask A Choreographer! Val Caniparoli Answers YOUR Questions


We can’t wait for next week’s premiere of Tears, the new ballet by acclaimed choreographer Val Caniparoli. Val’s versatility has made him one of the most sought-after American choreographers in the United States and abroad, and we’re fortunate that he’s made SF Ballet his artistic home since 1973.

Ahead of the premiere of Tears as part of our Program 2 triple-bill on February 18, we asked Val to answer some of our Facebook fans’ questions about the life of a choreographer…


“What do you look for in a dancer when you are casting your pieces?” (From Ava Anderrson)

“I love the dancer that has a sensuous quality. I see life in their eyes and a commitment to the art form. I don’t always look at the stars. I love the underdog that isn’t given chances. The dancer that is in the back of the ballet class, the dancer that is committed to collaboration and has something to say and isn’t shy.”

“When you sleep, have you ever dreamed of moves/ sequences that are amazing, and then try them out on dancers?” (From Molly Spencer)

“Not really. My worst dreams are that I am an actor in a stage play and that I make my entrance and that I forgot to learn my dialogue. Weird, right?”

Sasha De Sola and Tiit Helimets rehearse Caniparoli's Tears. (© Erik Tomasson)

Sasha De Sola and Tiit Helimets rehearse Caniparoli’s Tears.
(© Erik Tomasson)

“How important do you think it is to study music for both the dancer and the choreographer?” (From Linda McAllister)

“I think that it is a necessity! Majorly important!”

“How do you keep your choreography fresh doing new pieces?” (From Jenifer DePatta Stouffer)

“My background is unconventional. I started dance at 20, having studied music and theatre all my life. I was lucky that my parents made me choose a life that was very diverse. This has helped me keep my choreography fresh. I have a lot to inspire me from all my education and life exposure. I am also interested in everything: I’m very curious and very observant. I talk less and listen more.”

Val Caniparoli's (© Chris Hardy)

Val Caniparoli’s (© Chris Hardy)

“How do you remember what you do? I find myself doing movements, but then when I try to teach them, they are gone! Even if I do them multiple times, then the next day I go to teach, and can’t remember.” (From Suzanne LaFond)

“I find that the more movements that I try to remember in advance, the more stuck I get. Now, I go into the rehearsal room with the dancers and start movement fresh with them. I know my theme, my music, my storyline or my structure in advance. I let the music take over and trust my instincts and the dancers that I’ve carefully chosen to work with me. It becomes a collaboration and the choreography flows. Trust in your instincts and your dancers.”

“Do your ideas start in your head or body?” (From Donna Bernhardi)

“In my head. It’s a constant.”

Ellen-Rose Hummel and Daniel Deivison-Oliveira rehearse Caniparoli's Tears. (© Erik Tomasson)

Ellen-Rose Hummel and Daniel Deivison-Oliveira rehearse Caniparoli’s Tears.
(© Erik Tomasson)

“How do you get dancers to understand how to feel what you’re feeling as they try to interpret the choreography you created?” (From Victoria Bolivar)

“It all depends on what your are creating. Is it a story ballet? Do they have specific characters? If it’s abstract, I give them as much information on my inspiration, whether it’s a poem, an article in the newspaper or pictures, etc. I share whatever initial research I’ve conducted around the new creation. The work takes a journey from there and may even depart from my original ideas as the rehearsals go on. I do movement that I call sentences, and I make the dancers start the sentence and then end it. It is in phrases not in just separate words. The dancers then take ownership of the choreography and make it their own. I ask questions: ‘How does this make you feel? What are you saying to your partner, or to the audience?'”

“Have you had a breakthrough moment in your development as a choreographer, and if so, what? For instance, Balanchine said his came from the score for “Apollo”, teaching him that he, too, could eliminate.” (From CiCi Houston)

“One of my most significant breakthroughs happened when creating Lambarena for San Francisco Ballet in 1994, and bringing in the African Dance Consultants, Naomi Gedo Washington and Zakariya Sao Diouf. It opened my eyes about African dance. There is meaning to all movement from the Earth, sky, or specific animals and nature. Even the eyes are choreographed. It woke me up in a major way about adapting this to my own style in classical and contemporary dance, and it was inspiring. I use this knowledge to this day and I have developed and integrated this to all my choreography to date.”

Lorena Feijoo rehearses Caniparoli's Tears. (© Erik Tomasson)

Lorena Feijoo rehearses Caniparoli’s Tears.
(© Erik Tomasson)

“When you create a new piece is it the music that comes first or a an incredible combination of movement that inspires the work?” (From Fredrica Gaffney)

“Sometimes it’s the music that inspires me. Sometimes it’s a piece of literature, a poem, a newspaper article, current events, politics, the environment or a specific dancer. It’s different for all my projects. Life in general inspires me.”

“How do you feel about the current “sports” approach to ballet? As opposed to an “arts” approach” (From Rosa Hopkins)

“Not sure what you mean by this, but dance is kind of a sport. It has a technique and takes many years of physical technique and concentration and learning to develop your body so that you can have the freedom to create your art. That learning and physical training never stops. Take note of the Ice Dancing category at the Olympics right now. That is  ‘artistic’ as well as a ‘sport.’ It can be beautiful as well as artistic, and it can make you think as well as be entertained and wowed.”

Ellen-Rose Hummel and Daniel Deivison-Oliveira rehearse Caniparoli's Tears. (© Erik Tomasson)

Ellen-Rose Hummel and Daniel Deivison-Oliveira rehearse Caniparoli’s Tears.
(© Erik Tomasson)

“How do you get ‘unstuck’ when you get ‘choreographer’s  block’?” (From Patty Escobar)

“Don’t allow it to happen. Just work through it, take a breath and move on. You will get your best choreography that way many times.”

“What are the steps to becoming a choreographer? For dancers who want to become a choreographer but aren’t sure of the steps to take to become one?” (From Vanessa Murillo)

“If you are interested in choreography don’y wait to be invited. Ask your colleagues to work with you. Try out movement with them and work on your craft. Work with students and student groups. Make your own opportunities. Don’t take no for an answer and work on your off time as much as possible. You can only work on your craft by doing and experimenting and failing.”


See Val Caniparoli’s Tears in our Program 2 triple-bill, February 18 through March 1! Buy tickets

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