Nicholas Leichter's name was (and still is) splattered throughout subway cars of New York this summer, as a participant in the 2009 River to River Festival, a sure sign that the choreographer has made a name for himself. Leichter's star has not suddenly shot into the sky, but has been on the rise for years. He first tested the choreography waters in high school, exploring more while at Connecticut College and diving in head first after graduating.
Leichter's work stands out among other current modern work, largely because watching some of his pieces feels more like seeing a party scene than viewing a modern dance concert. As the dancers groove onstage, it is tempting to join in, but as civilized theater-goers, most refrain.
His funky, energetic style has garnered much attention over the past few years, earning him a spot on Dance Magazine's "2002 25 to Watch" list, alongside such notables as Wade Robson and Akram Khan. He also received the 2006 Miriam McGlone Emerging Choreographer Award from Wesleyan University and the 2008 Choreographer Fellowship from NYFA and a National Performance Network/Network of Cultrual Centers of Color Artist-of-Color residency award from Sacramento State.
While Leichter has achieved much success in his time as a choreographer, he admits that there have been many challenges along the way, especially the fact that dance is not often "acknowledged financially."
"There are [also] many misconceptions about running non-profits..." he says. "...choreographers, many of them, are taken advantage of by administration, representation, board and sometimes even production." Many choreographers either know little about the administrative aspect or are discouraged by administrators from taking time away from the creative process, which makes maintaining a company incessantly challenging.
Still, though, Leichter presses on in order to create works that come from a personal place. He is interested in the community and the "what if" aspect of choreography. His background includes everything from breakin' to experimental and modern dance, and all of those elements are evident in his movement. His current work in progress, The Whiz, will definitely showcase Leichter's diverse past and interests.
"This piece is definitely NOT The Wiz," he explains, "however a reinvention and closer, deeper look into the cultural, political, sexual and even racial undertones of The Wiz and The Wizard of Oz." A collaboration with musician Monstah Black, who has redone some of the original music, the production is infused with references to icons like Michael Jackson, Prince, Merce Cunningham and John Cage.
The Whiz premieres in June 2010 at the Abron Arts Center in New York City. Leichter calls it "a kaleidoscope of imagery and fantasty!" If it's anything as epic as it sounds, or as enlightening as his past works, The Whiz is sure to be a crowd-pleaser.