Photo by Gage Crismond, courtesy Cogliandro

Find Out What Inspires Choreographer Cat Cogliandro

Cat Cogliandro's genius is turning paradoxes into powerful art. In her gestural contemporary choreography, vulnerability becomes strength and imperfection is beauty. Born and raised in Houston, TX, Cogliandro earned a BFA in dance from SUNY Purchase before moving to L.A. Cogliandro now teaches in L.A. and nationally, and choreographs for her company CATASTROPHE!, which was the second runner-up at the 2015 Capezio A.C.E. Awards. Here, Cogliandro tells DS where she finds inspiration. —Helen Rolfe

Traveling with family (courtesy Cogliandro)

Three years ago, I went on this great cruise around Asia with my parents. It was the first time I'd really traveled with my parents as an adult. I wasn't with any dancers; I was just being a totally normal human. I remember looking off the back of the ship into the water and being so inspired. I'm a Pisces, so it's my calling to be by the water. That was when I started to create to the indie rock group alt-J. I made a piece right after that trip, called Esmeralda, that was in my A.C.E. Awards show. It was about drowning, and probably one of the most powerful pieces that I've ever created.

Usually, it's that first moment of 'This song is talking to me!' that convinces me to choreograph. Sam Melo, the lead singer of my favorite alt/indie band Rainbow Kitten Surprise, is a dancer, too. There's something about their music where I'm like, 'Yeah, I know what he's talking about.' That's the music I connect to most, where I feel like the artist and I have experienced something very similar, or like they're singing to me. I also love Regina Spektor and old-school Ani DiFranco—just anyone poetic who speaks to me.

With Mike Esperanza (courtesy Cogliandro)

My favorite choreographer I ever worked with as a dancer was Mike Esperanza. I love the way he treats his dancers, inside and outside the studio. I bring snacks for dancers now, because that was something he did. We worked harder for him because he cared so much about us as dancers. I don't like to scare dancers. I've learned I can push them without making them question who they are as people. I want to up their self-esteem as much as possible.

Rehearsing "RIPE&RUIN" (photo by Joseph Spelman, courtesy Cogliandro)

Comedy really inspires me. My favorite movie right now is Just Friends. I love how kooky and weird Anna Faris' performance is. And I actually made RIPE&RUIN right around when I saw Wet Hot American Summer. The movie's quirky humor fed right into the opening of RIPE, where they're chanting and running around in the birthday hats.

Assisting Sonya Tayeh (courtesy Broadway Dance Center)

I have to give so much credit to Sonya Tayeh for where I am today. She taught me so much about how to be a professional choreographer: how to prepare, how to treat and push your dancers. Watching how she'd talk to and prep herself during "So You Think You Can Dance" was really inspiring. Working as her assistant was definitely one of the hardest and most educational moments of my career. I'd never really seen the commercial world before because I'd never been to L.A.­—I was a born-and-raised ballet, modern, and jazz dancer. I love her so much for what she taught me.

A version of this story appeared in the December 2018 issue of Dance Spirit with the title "Choreographer's Collage: Cat Cogliandro."

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