In The Spotlight: Choreographer Colleen Cavanaugh on Pippi


Tegan Rich as Pippi
Tegan Rich as Pippi. Photo by Zaire Kacz.

Festival Ballet Providence has had the pleasure of working with the talented Colleen Cavanaugh for many years, but one of our favorite ballets of her bold invention is Pippi. Originally created in 1999, it is a joy to bring this peppy ballet back to life for our youngest Providence audience this season. We sat down with Colleen to discuss her inspiration for the show, Pippi as a role model, and her advice for your dancers who may be interested in choreographing…

Did you read the Pippi Longstocking books growing up?

I absolutely loved Pippi Longstocking books growing up. She was another red haired, freckled face girl with pigtails and she had a boldly independent, adventurous life. There were always exciting scenes, lots of humor and of course her loyal friendship with Anika and Tommy.

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“As a young girl I loved the adventure and comedy. As a professional grown woman and mother I loved the boldly independent role model Pippi represents for young girls.”

What was your inspiration for Pippi?

Pippi is a fun loving inspiration. She is brave, loyal, kind and colorful. She certainly is no shrinking violet. When I created the ballet, my daughter Grace was 5. Already boldly independent, perhaps she was also a little of my inspiration.  Grace was the monkey in the original cast.

The sets and costumes are so fun. Can you tell us a bit about those? 

The sets and costumes were designed by a good friend Christine Huddleston. Chris was a RISD graduate and had designed toys at Hasbro.  She also had several small children. The creative process was so much fun. I remember sitting around looking at her beautiful sketches and brainstorming with her. I love the house structure. One side is Pippi’s front porch and when it’s turned around, there is the whimsical kitchen (the setting of the infamous pancake fight).
Both Chris and I had read Pippi growing up. Chris’s daughter Annie also played the monkey.

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Alex Lantz, Tegan Rich, and Beth Mochizuki rehearsing the “Pancake Scene” in Pippi.

That pancake scene is hilarious! We love sharing a ballet with a strong female lead, especially when it’s one created by such a lovely local lady. When did you start choreographing? 

I started to choreograph when I was in NYC dancing. Ironically when I returned to RI for medical school and residency, I started to choreograph more seriously. I found that choreography was a fulfilling combination of movement, music and spacial design. Sometimes music was my inspiration and often I chose important social and health related themes. Choreography was another way of delivering a message.

What advice do you have for a female dancer who might be interested in choreographing but is intimidated by the male-dominated field?

It’s true that it is a male dominated field but medicine was also a little like that. Although I’m a little reserved, I’ve always gone after what I believed in.

My message to dancers considering exploring this is that they just need to go for it. Don’t let others discourage you. I absolutely hate when other people tell me or others that something is impossible or that they will never succeed.

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Tegan Rich rehearsing Colleen Cavanaugh’s Pippi.

“Life is short and we only have one chance so if it’s something they are considering, try it. Gather a few friends to try things on. Encourage feedback from other and always keep your vision. Be like Pippi!”

That’s actually great advice for all daunting ambitions in life. How has this ballet changed each time it has been brought back to the stage?
It’s wonderful to see Festival Ballet Providence dance Pippi. Leticia Guerrero, the original Anika, is devotedly setting it. Each dancer interprets characters in their own way. There are always new comical nuances which are delightful. It’s a demanding ballet for Pippi but what’s really important is the acting and the development of all the characters.

What do you hope families will take away from this show?
I’m hoping families will be entertained, will fall in love with Pippi and will return home with a little more enthusiasm, humor and kindness.


 

This post was written by Kirsten Evans. The author is in her eighth season as a Company Dancer with Festival Ballet Providence. She is also the Company PR & Communications Assistant, as well as the writer of a personal blog, Setting The Barre.

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