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Cecly Placenti, Artistic Director

  • Writer's pictureCecly Placenti

Spotlight Session: Joelle Antonia Santiago

What are the Spotlight Sessions?

I was the child who asked “why” 150 times in a row, to the dismay and occasional annoyance of the adults around me. That curiosity and need for discovery grew with me and became a guide on my artistic path. Determination, inquisitiveness, and the drive to connect with others led me to write, dance, choreograph, produce, and educate.

I started my company, Six Degrees Dance, with the mission of creating community. Embodying the theory that all people are connected through a social network of 6 or fewer degrees, we collaborate in an environment where the exchange of ideas is the building block for innovation and growth. We approach dance-making with the belief that the contribution of the individual benefits the group, and results in a body of work reflective of the sum of its parts.

To that end, we have developed several initiatives that connect artists with audiences and with each other, maintaining the idea of six degrees of separation as the foundation for those connections. Our annual showcase brings together national and international choreographers, most of whom have never met. Our Choreographic Commission series allows the dancers of Six Degrees to work with a variety of choreographers in different styles. In The Spotlight Sessions, I will present a different artist each cycle, and through interviews, short feature articles, previews, and capsule reviews, offer a behind-the-scenes look into their work and their process. I hope you enjoy getting to know these unique, talented individuals as much as I have, and continue to follow them on their creative paths.

Joelle Antonia Santiago sitting on a black stool with one foot on the seat. White wall, wooden floors.
Photo by Stephen K. Mack

Joelle Antonia Santiago is a New York-based artist. Her work spans dance, performance, and film.

Joelle has presented collaborative and solo work at the International Studio and Curatorial Program, through the Columbia Ballet Collaborative Workshop, with Blackbox Music Ensemble, at Shapeshifter Lab, Arts on Site, and CreateArt. She was awarded the Fulbright, Harriet Hale-Woolley Award for the Arts. Joelle directs the NYU Tisch School of the Arts Summer High School Dance program, where she will make a new choreographic work with the dancers, and design and lecture a dance history course titled "Mapping Our Bodies, Mapping New York". She has guest lectured at the NYU Tisch School of the Arts and the Peabody Conservatory at Johns Hopkins University.

As a dancer, Joelle has performed work by choreographers such as Maria Torres, Davalois Fearon, Caroline Fermin, and Jody Oberfelder, at venues including Jacobs Pillow Dance Festival and New York Live Arts. Joelle graduated Cum Laude from Barnard College of Columbia University (B.A., Dance), a nominee of the Bold Award honoring alumna Grace Lee Boggs. Joelle sang classical and contemporary American, Russian and French repertoire with the Barnard-Columbia Chamber Choir and Chorus, and continues to study voice.

1. How did your artistic journey begin?

I’m hesitant to name a beginning. It feels like I’m often starting from scratch, even week to week, though that must hardly be true. In reality, ideas and information have already been accumulating. But it's helpful for me to think this way.

2. What drives you as an individual artist? What do you hope to express/convey to the world through your work?

I’m motivated by conversations with my friends, and getting to watch them work and problem solve. I love them dearly and rely on them heavily. In terms of making, there is rarely a specific idea that I’d like to convey. I steer away from spokesmanship, and art that claims identity, but my sense of self and place in the world definitely leak into my work. I’m usually presenting some fractured version of myself.

3. When do you feel most powerful?

When observing. I think of the gaze as inherently compositional.

4. What has been your biggest challenge and your proudest moment during your artistic growth?

I struggle significantly to rest so that I can push when I need and want to– and enjoy it, and recover well. I’m proud that my friends and I are clumsily teaching each other how to do this. I hope that I haven't had a proudest moment yet.

5. Can you describe your creative process?

Right now, I start with fabric. I’m attracted to the pageantry of dramatic shapes, the way that fabric can morph a body, and the way that the environment can change a piece of fabric.

When choreographing, I want to know how the movement feels in the dancers. I ask them lots of questions and find the dialogue useful. Spoken and written language is vital and deeply pleasurable to me. I’m not a purist about movement as a stand-alone mode of communication.

6. What do you do when you are not creating? What things outside of the dance industry inspire you and fuel your creativity?

I’m reading a book by Yoko Tawada– it's translated, but the English title is “Where Europe Begins”. Her fantasies are haunting and so playful; they glimmer. I just started the “new” Sontag essay collection, “On Women”. I listen to as much live music as I can, and shoot street photography. New York is always arriving and slipping away.

7. What is next for you?

I have some shows coming up this summer that I wish I could share now. I’m moving to Paris in the fall. I need to practice my French.

A brief look at Joelle's work:

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