Making the Super Bowl dance

2002 JDHS graduate Genevieve Carson choreographing pregame performance

From the Grumpsicle to the Emmys, 2002 Juneau-Douglas High School graduate Genevieve Carson was, is and will always be a super talent.

 

So super, in fact, that she will be a major part of today’s Super Bowl pregame festivities inside the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona.

“It is a three-hour show,” Carson said. “It is for all the VIP guests that are coming in. It is a big event for them right before they go into the Super Bowl.”

The “Invitation Only” event caters to a who’s who of Super Bowl fans and celebrities.

Carson has choreographed and will participate in multiple dance numbers for William Close and the Earth Harp Collective, an America’s Got Talent finalist, in today’s NFL Super Bowl XLIX Tailgate Party along with musicians Dierks Bentley and Gavin DeGraw.

“I work with a girl that does aerial work for them. She told me they were looking for a choreographer and if I was interested,” Carson said. “I was like, ‘of course I would be,’ and that was basically how it worked.”

 

Background

For young dancers in Juneau, opportunities are slim. Carson first danced at age four with the Janice D Holst School of Dance, performing the Grumpsicle and learning instantly that she loved to dance.

“I knew at age five,” Carson said. “Dancing was what I wanted to do the rest of my life.”

Carson would dance anything her parents, Tom and Sherri Carson, her parents played: Tom Petty, Lindsey Buckingham, the Rolling Stones and the Beatles.

As her strength and determination grew, Carson became a top performer with Juneau Dance Unlimited, teaching there and performing in the Nutcracker and other shows.

Her natural and physical ability helped her through early dance years and she would often go to the JDU studio to dance alone. Her parents allowed her to attend summer intensive training sessions Outside as well.

In high school, Carson spent three years on the Crimson Bears dance team under the direction of Leslie Dahl.

Mix in the accomplishment of being a competitive nationally ranked Scottish Highland dancer, the social pressure of high school, homework and tests and even a stint as a Juneau skier, it is easy to see her dedication.

“Learning to juggle my time in order to excel in all these areas has been key in the success of my professional dance career,” Carson said.

After graduation she attended Chapman University in Orange, California on academic and dance scholarships. Carson earned a bachelor’s of Fine Arts in Dance Performance while being named “Outstanding Student Choreographer” two years in a row, graduated Cum Laude and was named “Most Outstanding Senior” by the dance department.

She moved to L.A., found a place with her current company in 2009, performing across the United States and choreographing for music videos, dance films and television shows. She also taught (and continues to teach) contemporary and modern dance at private arts high schools and studios throughout Los Angeles, studied in Tel Aviv, Israel with the Batsheva Dance Company (founded by Martha Graham), learned the Gaga method from Graham protégé Ohad Naharin, and, oh yeah, did I mention the Emmys, and the Super Bowl?

“I am totally looking at the Super Bowl as a huge learning experience for myself,” Carson said. “I am hoping there will be more big jobs like this and I did not foresee how insane this has been. I am enjoying it though. L.A. is a beast of a city. I miss Juneau so much but I just love what I do so much that I know I have to be here … it is an intense place.”

 

Super Bowl choreography

“This might be the most challenging thing I have done in my life and my career,” Carson said. “It has been a whirlwind.”

Hired in late November, Carson began her creative process with limited input from Close, who was wrapped up through December setting up a seven-year cruise ship show.

“I got to imagine a lot,” Carson said. “And wonder what I had gotten myself into.”

In mid-January, the two began to communicate more.

Carson, who just finished performing with the L.A. Dance Contemporary in New York and attending artistic directorial meetings, began receiving music from the band and they looked at her past videos. Aesthetics and movements were discussed.

“With any of these big shows, information always trickles in,” Carson said. “You can’t feel fully prepared until you are actually performing.”

Sets change, costumes are tweaked and ideas are passed through people associated with all participants.

For instance, Carson’s direct contact was bandleader Close and he answered to the Super Bowl producers. Carson first met the band members, based in Malibu, just over a week ago and rehearsed for four hours. When the meeting ended, they said, “See you at the Super Bowl.”

Carson arrived in Phoenix on Thursday.

“Everything is very quick-fire,” Carson said.

The two main dance stages are 100 yards apart, and during the performance thousands of people will be in between, making set transition more difficult.

Carson was also in charge of costuming the dancers, hiring designers and creating a look, on a budget. This involved, between rehearsals, many trips to the L.A. Garment (Fashion) District.

“We are trying to make this visual statement in this huge space,” Carson said. “For a venue like this, we probably should have had more dancers, but that is why the costuming is so important. I am super excited, but it has also been a learning experience. I had to be okay with not having all the information all at once … and I am a very organized person. I had to be okay with figuring things out as they came.

“We had to find a way to spend our money and look epic and awesome. We look like really badass warrior football goddess characters. The costumes had to be as epic as possible so we felt powerful. We have shoulder pads that are also wings and crazy goggles that make us look like warrior bug creatures. Everything makes us look larger than life.”

 

Dance and play

Carson was allowed to hire three dancers and will perform with them.

“It has been an awesome challenge because the place we are playing in is actually the size of a stadium,” Carson said. “It is massive.”

The performance will be inside the University of Phoenix Stadium as part of the pregame festivities. Pieces of the performances will be televised live as part of NBC’s pregame show.

Close is known for the world’s largest string instrument, the Earth Harp, which features strings that travel out over the audience, turning a performance hall into part of the performer.

Carson has set five pieces of choreography for songs ranging from five to seven minutes long. In other parts of the show, Carson and her dancers will participate in playing musical instrument creations.

“There are times we are dancing and times we are singing and playing instruments,” Carson said.

They have learned to play Close’s oversized instrument inventions including Drum Orbs, Drumbellas and Chime Swords.

Drum Orbs are huge orbiting drum pieces that the dancers spin and play; Drumbellas are spinning instruments the dancers hold while drummers play them and can double as the dancers parasols; and Chime Swords are large pieces with attached chimes that the dancers swing around.

“We all embraced that we also had to be musicians in a certain way as well,” Carson said. “When I was young I played piano … but it is funny, these past couple years I have been getting jobs like this where I have had to play instruments.”

In July Carson played harp and danced, at the Governor’s Ball at the Emmys.

“All of the guests at the Emmys, after they have won their awards, they come into the Governor’s Ball where we were playing,” Carson said.

In 2013, Carson choreographed, costumed and performed with the touring band Foster The People in North Carolina and Delaware. In those shows she danced on columns over 20 feet in the air, climbing ladders and harnessed into triangles in the air while more than 80,000 people watched.

Carson is proudest, however, of being chosen to take over as the Artistic Director for the Los Angeles Contemporary Dance Company, her employer since 2009.

“The biggest thing that has happened to me is the company is bringing me on as the Artistic Director next year,” Carson said. “So I will be taking over in 2016. It has been a big couple of years. I am kind of in the shadowing period right now with them … learning how to basically lead the artistic vision of the company. I will be curating all the shows and choreographing a lot and moving the company forward. The Emmys and the Super Bowl are huge, but I feel like becoming the artistic Director is going to be something I will have in my life for many years. It is a huge honor and my proudest accomplishment.

“That was always kind of the plan,” Carson said. “I always knew I couldn’t dance forever. I want to dance as long as I can but I have always been a choreographer at heart and it has always been my main goal. I wanted to transition smoothly from performing into choreographing and directing. I always knew to prolong my career in dance I needed to figure out that transition. It is actually starting to happen now, which is crazy. A lot of dancers, at the end of their dance career they feel a little lost. I don’t feel that way. I feel like I have security in my future and I am in the right place at the right time of my life.”

On Saturday night in Phoenix, the night before the big game, Carson was in the right place. Rain on Friday had allowed for just limited late rehearsal.

“We were finally able to rehearse with costumes,” Carson said last night. “And the band was able to play through sets. We could hear Gavin DeGraw sound checking on the stage next to us. We can’t wait to perform! And we will be watching the game at a private event afterwards.”

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