Spotlight Session: Tulia Marshall
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.
Tulia Marshall is a freelance New York based dancer and choreographer. She is interested in dance and choreography as a means of physical expression and human connection.
Tulia received her training from Laguardia High School while simultaneously studying at Manhattan Youth Ballet. She then attended The Hubbard Street Professional Program in 2019 under the direction of Alexandra Wells and worked with notable choreographers; Rena Butler, Peter Chu, Ryan Mason and performed works by William Forsthye. She was then accepted to the Conservatory of Dance at Purchase College, SUNY under the direction of Nelly Van Bommel and worked closely with Loni Landon, Amy Miller, and Jie Hung-Connie Shiau. During her Junior year of college, Tulia was selected as a finalist for Francisco Gella’s New Century Dance Project in Santa Fe NM and has presented work at Arts On Site, Battery Dance Festival, Bridge For Dance’s Uptown Rising, and Earl Mosley’s Dancing Beyond. In Spring 2023 she graduated from Purchase, Summa Cum Laude with a BFA in Dance (concentration in choreography), a BA in Arts Management, and was the recipient of the Conservatories Presidential Scholar Award.
Following her graduation Tulia received her first professional commission to create a work for Stars of American Ballet and joined Doug Varone’s Devices 8 Cohort. She is currently a guest artist with AthomasProject, Earl Mosley’s Diversity of Dance, and Reddick Dance Collaborative. During her career she has been fortunate enough to have performed at venues such as Bryant Park, Lincoln Center, The Joyce Theater, The Park Avenue Armory, and has performed repetoire by Jiri Kylian, Marco Goecke and Johannes Wieland.
1. How did your artistic journey begin?
My artistic journey began in a small town ballet studio in New Paltz, New York, where I grew up learning the Balanchine technique by my teachers Lisa and Peter Nauman, both former dancers with the New York City Ballet. If anything, those early years instilled in me an innate sense of musicality and strong focus on technique, while developing an emotional and expressive relationship to movement. I was also involved in my public school’s musical theater productions, which definitely developed a deep love of storytelling, performing, and a sense of dramatic flair.
Wanting to pursue dance more seriously, I moved to New York City in 2015 to join the dance program of the famous Fiorello Laguardia High School of Music Art & Performing Arts under the direction of Michelle Mathesius. During my time at Laguardia or (LAG) I was exposed to an array of new dance styles including Contemporary, Graham, Horton, and Theater Jazz (to name a few) which had completely broadened my horizons and potential as an artist. Through Laguardia, I discovered Earl Mosley’s Diversity of Dance and Manhattan Youth Ballet and the connections I made through these programs were instrumental to my development as an artist and to my entire career. I had never been more inspired and more excited to be a dancer than when I first moved to the city, and having made those connections at such a young age truly did transform my artistry as a performer.
After graduating High School and attending the Hubbard Street Professional Program under the direction of Alexandra Wells, I attended the Conservatory of Dance at Purchase College where I was pushed in the more creative and choreographic direction. I always made dances for fun when I was younger, but never saw choreography as something that I was passionate about or was particularly good at, that was until my Junior year of College. After being accepted into the Conservatory’s “composition concentration” and then mentored by Susan Bernard and Doug Varone, I started getting very impassioned about creating and wanted to develop my own choreographic voice. Through my own curiosities and determination, I started presenting work at Arts on Site, Manhattan Movement and Arts Center, Bridge for Dance’s Uptown Rising and was even selected as a finalist for Francisco Gella’s New Century Dance Project in Santa Fe, NM. I can’t really pinpoint a particular moment that sparked my love for choreography, but I was definitely inspired by my Purchase community. The rest is History I guess.
2. What drives you as an individual artist? What do you hope to express/convey to the world through your work?
I think what drives me as an artist is this curiosity and hunger for reinvention of dance as a form of expression, but also how the body translates, feelings, emotions, interactions and stories in space through nonverbal communication. At this point in my career, most of my work stems from myself or my unresolved feelings of a particular experience or situation I had or currently have. And through this research, I hope to find a deeper understanding of myself, but also create work that resonates with people from all backgrounds. As dancers and choreographers, especially in the freelance community, a lot of our work is solitary and individual, I hope to create work that connects people together, or evokes some kind of emotion that can be felt and understood by all.
3. When do you feel most powerful?
I’d say I feel the most powerful, when I'm in a creative space where I can be vulnerable. Or when I'm in a collaborative process where everyone involved is on the same page and has genuine trust and respect for one another. There’s something truly empowering about having everyone in a room challenging each other's ideas that are driven by the same goal.
4. What has been your biggest challenge and your proudest moment during your artistic growth?
My biggest challenge has been adjusting to the “professional field” post college. I’m used to hustling and being proactive, but being my own self advocate and navigating life outside of a set schedule and structure has been a challenge for sure.
My Proudest moment I would say was my first commission with Stars of American Ballet. Daniel Ulbricht, the company's Artistic and Executive director was my teacher at Manhattan Youth Ballet while I was a student there. He had seen my work as a student and said to me something on the lines of “you have a lot of potential as a choreographer, keep working and i’m excited to see where you go.” At the time, that statement alone meant the world to me, who would’ve thought that five years later he would be offering me my first professional commission. The whole scenario was very full circle since I had strayed away from my ballet routes. The prospect of creating a new work that would be toured nationally and created on world class dancers was definitely a “I made it” this is the dream moment for me.
5. Can you describe your creative process?
My creative process varies from time to time. I usually come in with a rough throughline or general concept of what I want to create and work from there. Typically, I'll come into the studio with a phrase and see how that material is received by the dancers. I’m very sensitive to different energies in a process, so I always try to start by making sure everyone involved feels comfortable and seen.
For me, the music or narrative (if any) is what guides the trajectory of a work. I often get overwhelmed with too many ideas so sticking to a score, or having to abide by a goal or a story helps me to keep on track and to make sure the work is always intentional. I’d say I'm a very “in my head” choreographer, so usually I'll be able to “see something” and then the process becomes actualizing that idea into space. I think the best part of a creative process is seeing how far you can push an idea and how that initial idea will change and evolve over time. Coming together and being able to utilize the ideas, and experiences of everyone in the room is one of my favorite parts of creation. I think I always try to allow myself to not set an expectation and let the process create the work.
6.What do you do when you are not creating? What things outside of the dance industry inspire you and fuel your creativity?
When I am not creating I really enjoy being in nature. Growing up in upstate NY, it genuinely relaxes me to get away from the business of the city.. I also love to travel and discover new places. I recently went on a road trip from Germany to Croatia and had the most wonderful time being a normal human and not an artist. Aside from that I love to cook! Rarely do I have the time, but I find it very soothing to be in a kitchen.
In the dance industry things happen so quickly and I know it is very easy to get caught up in the chaos. For me, taking a step back and just reflecting on my journey fuels my creativity.
7. What is next for you?
Having just graduated college, I know I'm still in a transitional period in my career. I’ve been freelancing and have had recent performances at the Park Avenue Armory and a recent commission with the New York Chinese Cultural Center. I'm still trying to figure out what fuels me, and what in the future will fulfill me, but am still eager to continue both creating and performing.
8. Is there a piece of advice you'd give to younger or emerging artists?
Some advice I'd give to young and emerging artists is that it’s okay to fail and to be patient with yourself. Don’t be scared to try new things, because you never know what will come from them. Every artist has a different path and a different trajectory, there is no right or wrong way to “success.” As artists, we put so much pressure on ourselves to be a certain way, or be involved in certain things. Find what's right for you!
A quick look at Tulia Marshall in action!