Dancers Prepare: Capturing Creative Process Before ArtsCenter Performances

The view from outside the Ballet School of Chapel Hill into the dance space. From left to right: Mary Chandler Gwin, Killian Manning (back turned) and Meghan Antol at rehearsal. Photo by Pamir Kiciman.


By Pamir Kiciman

Killian Manning doesn’t want to say much about her company’s upcoming dance performance When The Stars Lose Their Light. “I am not in the habit of saying what the work says; that’s for the viewers to determine.”

Instead, she asks a series of questions: What can we do to emerge from the darkness, where do we turn, and how do we cope with isolation, alienation and fear?

Manning is an award-winning choreographer and dance teacher.

Her dance company, No Forwarding Address is in early rehearsals for the performance. Manning doesn’t even know exactly where a short segment of the dance at the recent showcase will end up in the final work.

For the following photo essay, The Local Reporter (TLR) attended a rehearsal and also the showcase, both with a partial company. The objective was to turn the camera’s lens on the creative process and get to know the dance being made, the people making it and bring an insider’s view to readers.

Evening-length performances of When The Stars Lose Their Light will take place at the ArtsCenter in Carrboro at 8 pm on April 7 and 8.

All original photos and photo collages, including creative effects, by Pamir Kiciman.

A moment from the showcase with a moment from rehearsal (inset). Large photo from left to right: Becky Straub, Meghan Antol. Inset: Center, Meghan Antol. Foreground, Kaitlyn Morrell and Becky Straub. Background, George Barrett and Sarah Bowdoin. Obscured, Trace Yeames and Mary Chandler Gwin.

The dance has several building blocks that repeat. One involves extensions that the group creates, as seen below first at the showcase and then at the rehearsal.

From showcase: Center, Meghan Antol. Foreground, Kaitlyn Morrell and Becky Straub. Background, Kevin Higgins, Mary Chandler Gwin and Sarah Bowdoin.

These sudden frozen pictures include a central hub: touch and connection between the dancers, but also distance. Manning explains, “In the dance, the steps we are taking involve contact/touch and vulnerability/trust.”

From rehearsal: Center, Meghan Antol. Foreground, Kaitlyn Morrell and Becky Straub. Background, George Barrett and Sarah Bowdoin. Obscured, Trace Yeames and Mary Chandler Gwin.

Another part that’s repeated involves single dancers breaking out solo moves in an area of their own in the space. With each one, a sense of freedom is felt. Two examples of this are seen immediately below, with two more further on in this essay.

Kevin Higgins during the showcase.

Sarah Bowdoin during the showcase.

Left: Company chatting before showcase. Top and bottom right: Beginning of performance (bottom includes Daniel Levin on cello).

Killian Manning’s dance company, No Forwarding Address, in various formations during the showcase. Bottom right includes J Evarts (narrator) and Daniel Levin (cello).

When The Stars Lose Their Light explores touch/non-touch and closeness/distance in some scenes by removing or adding space and/or physical distance between the dancers, together with presenting contrasting spatial relationships between dancers. In the first image below, the pile of dancers on the left are essentially merged into one body—space is collapsed, while the two figures on the right sit with their backs touching, but they don’t seem to be connected emotionally.

The “one body” formation on the left could be taken as a sense of suffocation too.

No Forwarding Address during the showcase.

A tentative version of exploring touch and closeness is seen in this next image.

No Forwarding Address during rehearsal.

Solo moves from Mary Chandler Gwin during the showcase.

Solo moves from Kaitlyn Morrell during the showcase.

Mr. Kiciman has a working relationship with Killian Manning for which he receives compensation. The editor’s decision to assign this story to Mr. Kiciman was made independent of that relationship, instead focusing on Mr. Kiciman’s abilities as a photojournalist and his regular coverage of arts and culture for The Local Reporter. 

Pamir Kiciman is a freelance writer, artist, photographer, healer, and meditation teacher. To learn more, visit or contact him by email:

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