A Teacher’s Journey: Meet Matthew Steffens

Photo by Jason River
Jason River Photography

Matthew Steffens is one of the nine uniquely brilliant artists choreographing BOUNTIFUL: A Teacher’s Journey. He also happens to be starring in the showHe has served as the Associate Choreographer for the Broadway production of Doctor Zhivago and as the Associate Choreographer of the Off-Broadway immersive hit Queen of the Night. He has performed on Broadway in Promises, Promises and Women on the Verge…, and has toured in West Side Story, CONTACT, and Beauty & the Beast. He’s danced on TV and in films, worked extensively with a diverse range of acclaimed choreographers and directors, and now he is sharing his experience and creativity in R.Evolución Latina’s 2016 Choreographer’s Festival.

Matt generously shared some of his journey with us, as well as his advice for young dancers and choreographers.

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What was the first dance performance you saw and how did it impact you?

The first dance performance I remember was a high school production of SOUTH PACIFIC when I was in 2nd grade and I would run around the house with my brother singing “THERE AIN’T NOTHIN BUT A DAME”. I wanted to be a dancing sailor. My father was a Navy SEAL so it was the perfect combination. Later in life, I vividly remember seeing a piece by Helanius Wilkins Edgeworks Dance Theater that really made me think about life, art, and challenged my system of beliefs. It was the first time I felt inspired by dance and wanted to make a change. That is the amazing power of dance. I was later blessed to dance with that company and continue to break barriers.
Speaking to the theme of the festival, how has your life been made bountiful through dance?

For seven years I worked in advertising and did not pursue what I love in life as a profession. It was a great job where I got to shoot all over the country and be creative making quality commercials, but it wasn’t what I love. I feel BLESSED every day to do what I LOVE for a living and to work with such AMAZING artists in this production is INSPIRING. Choreographing for BOUNTIFUL has been challenging, but amazingly inspiring calling on the experience of the Choreographer’s Festival from 5 years ago and that awesome cross cultural exchange. Creating this choreo has filled my heart with joy.
Where do you look to find inspiration?

Everywhere. It can be how someone walks down the street. I saw someone jamming on the corner with their headphones in today and it made me want to dance as I rode my bike by. Often I get inspired by the music, the beats, the melody. Also by collaborating with others and creating information together. Two (or three or four) minds are often better than one. Lastly, nature. The way birds move, trees sway, a river runs, a leaf falling to the ground. I often find myself trying to emulate the qualities that much of nature has when I build dances.
How do you overcome choreographer’s block when making a dance?

Oh wow. This is a hard one. Sometimes I will put on other music that makes me want to dance to try to flush it out physically. If there are words, i often look to the text to see what is the character really saying, or what are we trying to accomplish in that part of the dance. Where are we headed? And what is the HONESTY of that moment. Usually if you can figure out the honest intention of a moment you can dig out of that block. But sometimes you just have to bust through the wall and throw ANYTHING out and hope that something lands that is good. Every once in awhile, the best choreography comes out of that struggle.

Photo by Jason River
Jason River Photography

What do you hope to communicate to audiences viewing your piece?

Overall, I hope to communicate the vibrancy of the NYC streets and all that they have to offer. The many personalities. The pressure. The chaos. The constant restraint on time. It takes you longer to get a mile in NYC than anywhere else. Conversely, we are a culture that walks more than any other culture among crowds. We stand next to people we don’t know for a 40 minute subway ride, closer than some people will EVER stand to a stranger in their life. Lastly, I hope the audience feels the passion of the artists that live in this city, the amazing hearts they have, and all that they bring to the piece.
What advice would you give to dancers hoping to perform or choreograph professionally?

It’s never too late to start, and never give up. I grew up playing sports. I did theater and played music as well, but sports were my main focus. I didn’t start dancing until I was 21. I always dreamed of making it to Broadway, but never did I think I would be part of a Broadway choreographic team and be behind the table making the decisions. I feel blessed every day to have had mentors who challenged me to do my best and to never give up. Additionally, treat others the way you want to be treated. There are so many talented people in this industry that directors and choreographers want to work with people that bring light and love to the rehearsal room.

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Follow Matt on Instagram, @steffensmatthew, and to see his work live, join us for BOUNTIFUL: A Teacher’s Journey.