Choreographer Eva Stone celebrates homecoming with Olympic Ballet’s ‘Debuts’ in Edmonds

Eva Stone

After more than 30 years showcasing her performances worldwide, dance choreographer Eva Stone puts on her first show at her hometown in Edmonds at the Edmonds Center for the Arts (ECA) on Feb. 17-18. Debuts features two shows:

Keep Me in Mind, performed by Olympic Ballet Theatre and choreographed by Stone with music by Peggy Lee

Luna, choreographed by Norbert de la Cruz III with music by Nathan Prillaman

“Since then, my work has been seen all over the world but never in my hometown,” Stone said. “This is a very special project for me, and a special homecoming having my work at the Edmonds Center for the Arts. When I moved here, the ECA was still a high school gymnasium.”

Keep Me in Mind explores the concept of seduction. Stone uses eight songs by singer-songwriter Peggy Lee. “The concept of seduction is embedded deeply in the songs that I’m using, using my imagination and building that concept throughout the art of these songs,” she said.

To start building a choreography, Stone said that she begins with a “seed of an idea,” then researches, thinks, writes and collects images of that idea. Over time, the seed grows and expands into the choreography that she creates. 

“I’ve choreographed pieces about love and loss, imposter syndrome, personal family history. It allows me to use movement as a language to share my opinions about those ideas,” she said. “The other way…I’ll just find music and make a dance out of it. I don’t like to do that because I want my audience to have something they can relate to or recognize themselves in.”

Stone described her journey of her dance career and creating choreographies “backwards” and “unorthodox.” 

“For most young women, they start dancing at the age of 3 or 5,” Stone said. “They may take ballet training until they’re 18 years old. If they’re lucky, they can transition to a company. They may end up choreographing. Through that experience, they might begin the choreographic process.”

But Stone did not start dance training until she was in high school, where she learned the basics of dance and choreography. 

“I was immediately attracted to that and I was making many, many dances a year,” Stone recalled. “But I really didn’t have any training. It’s a very backwards way to learn it. It’s like knowing how to write a symphony but not knowing how to play an instrument.

“It wasn’t until I went to college as a dance major at Arizona State University that I realized that this passion – this obsession – with dance that I had, I needed to actually learn to dance like properly,” Stone continued. “It was a rude awakening. I was far behind. There were other dance majors who had years and years of training. So I had to use every method possible to catch up and that was practice and imitating and stealing and borrowing and elaborating on and asking a million questions, failing and trying and failing again. But I love the journey of learning from the bottom to the top.”

After her undergraduate studies, Stone moved to London, England, to study choreography at Trinity Laban. After she earned her master’s in choreography, Stone and her husband moved to Edmonds in 1995. She started to teach, lecture, and choreograph while reestablishing her company in Seattle. Her first gig was teaching an introduction to modern dance class at Edmonds’ Frances Anderson Center in 1996. Eventually, she became a faculty member at the Pacific Northwest Ballet School.

In 2007, Stone and a business partner Lizzy Melton started Chop Shop: Bodies of Work in Bellevue. By 2010, it had started to garner national and international attention as a gathering place for various performing artists. In 2017, it celebrated its 10th year anniversary. Chop Shop has been on hiatus since 2021.

The Stone Dance Collective performing in semi-permanent at Chop Shop 2019. Choreography by Eva Stone. (Photo by Brett Doss)

Stone said she felt lucky and honored that Olympic Ballet School owners Oleg Gorboulev and Mara Vinson had commissioned her last year to work with their professional company. She said that female dance choreographers don’t get commissioned as often as their male colleagues, even though dance is a female-dominated profession. Data USA reported that in 2021, there were about 12,242 women and 3,423 men in the U.S. dance choreography industry. Women earned about $30,000 a year while men earned about $45,000 a year.

Eighty percent of those who are hired are men,” Stone said. “There’s an issue on where are all the female choreographers? Even I was lucky enough to receive a commission from Pacific Northwest Ballet in 2019. It was the largest commission in my career at age 54. I was only the fifth woman in 10 seasons to be commissioned by that company. Why are they not being equally represented and hired for larger commissions?”

Who gets hired mostly depends on several factors, including which names will draw the most ticket sales, Stone said. Male choreographers are more likely to attract a larger audience than female choreographers. 

In response to the gender-gap issue, Stone had started a program at Pacific Northwest Ballet called “New Voices: Choreography and Process for Young Women in Dance.”

Olympic Ballet Theater rehearsing Keep Me in Mind being presented on Feb. 17 and 18 at Edmonds Center for the Arts. Choreography by Eva Stone. (Photo by Katya Turnbow)

“It’s designed to educate and support the next generation of female choreographers, ages 14 to 18 years old,” Stone said. “It’s a course that I’m very proud of, and it’s in its sixth year. It’s gotten some national recognition. As a female choreographer, I certainly have struggled to get my work out there. The dance festival (Chop Shop) is to give myself and other women an opportunity. As a producer of Chop Shop, I have no problem finding outstanding, young female choreographers. They are definitely out there. They’re just not getting commissioned by mid-range to large ballet companies.”

During her commissioned work with Pacific Northwest Ballet, Stone sought out music composed by women, but it took her a lot of effort to find any.

“I thought the question of where are all the female choreographers was bad, don’t even begin to open the question of where are all the female composers?” she said.

Stone had used five female composers from the Baroque and Neoclassical periods in some of her choreographies. “Even the conductor at the PNB orchestra said that I had chosen some women composers whom he had never heard of,” she said. “It was shocking to me because this is his profession. Well, I found them and I’m using them. It’s a problem to get women’s work front and center. It’s a battle we are fighting, and we will continue to fight.”

Stone’s Keep Me in Mind will be performed with New York-based choreographer Norbert de la Cruz III, who choreographed Luna – a separate show as part of Debuts

“This young man is very talented and gifted in what he does,” Stone said. “I teased him, ‘You’re on Instagram every three days with something new. You’re in a different city, different group of dancers.’ I’m very honored to be sharing the show with him.”

“Being a dancer in a major New York company would never be a thing for me, but I knew that I had to be part of this art form,” Stone continued. “I’ve had the great fortune to be in the company of some great artists, and I still can’t believe that I’m here because I’m so backwards in comparison to so many people. Everyday in the studio is an absolute gift and I don’t take any day for granted. I’m thrilled to have my work presented here in my own hometown!” 

Tickets to Debuts can be purchased here

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