Karen Gershowitz conducted this interview with Choreographer Danielle Diniz on Zoom. (11/30/22)
Living close to Lincoln Center in Manhattan as I do, many of the residents in my apartment building work in the arts. I think of them as neighbors until I learn about their accomplishments. Then I am awestruck.
At age thirty-one, Danielle Diniz is fast becoming a choreographer to watch, with recent commissions for new work from the Jacob’s Pillow dance festival, Columbia Ballet Collaborative, Performance Santa Fe, Avant Chamber Ballet, Ballet Hartford, Central Utah Ballet, and more.
Growing up in New Jersey, Danielle began dancing at a young age, taking both ballet and tap. She fell in love with it, though she confesses: “Unfortunately, I wasn’t very good.” She was a much better tennis player; so good, in fact, that her parents considered sending her to Europe at age five to study tennis (with the hope that she would become a professional tennis player).
Nevertheless, by the time Danielle was seven years old, she was spending time at the studio, six and sometimes even seven days a week. After dislocating both knees, she was told her body type wasn’t right for ballet. Because she loved to dance, she continued, switching her focus to jazz and Broadway – which she was able to do well. Fortunately, her parents were very supportive of all of her choices.
But instead of pursuing dance in college, Danielle became an English major. “I always took academics very seriously. I needed to go to an Ivy League school. It was non-negotiable for me.” She first started choreographing while studying Shakespeare at Cornell. “The great thing about Cornell is they have these amazing, state-of-the-art studios for dance, and no one used them because they only had a small dance program.” Soon Danielle discovered other students at Cornell with the requisite talent, and she set work on them. After Cornell, she became a professional dancer, appearing in the Rocky Horror Show, My Fair Lady, Spamalot, Addams Family, Young Frankenstein, and the national tour of Dirty Dancing.
Daniel Ulbricht – a principal dancer at NYC Ballet – encouraged Danielle to choreograph a piece for his company “Stars of American Ballet.”
Danielle met Daniel Ulbricht – a principal dancer at NYC Ballet and her future husband – almost as soon as she returned to New York, and Daniel encouraged her to choreograph a piece for his company “Stars of American Ballet.” She started by making a duet on the two of them. Lorin Latarro (a well-known and well-respected Broadway choreographer) saw the duet online. “Lorin said to me: ‘I’m pretty sure you should start choreographing. I said, that’s a huge compliment, but it’s just something I hadn’t considered.”
So, Lorin suggested a program called “Dance Break” which describes its mission as follows: “to identify and nurture talented early and mid-career musical theater choreographers and offer them an exceptional platform to showcase their work for an audience of the industry leaders who would be most beneficial in advancing their careers.” Danielle was accepted into the program and participated along with five other aspiring choreographers.
They presented two pieces at the Ailey studios… Then came the pandemic. “It was a horrible time, obviously, but a blessing in disguise creatively for me. It allowed me to step back from teaching and other obligations and just focus on making work.” Social media made her work more visible to a lot more people; and, during the pandemic – because they had fewer obligations – a lot of people paid attention to their email. “I had a couple of commissions come through that way because they could take the time to watch my work.”
As a dance enthusiast who goes to many dance performances, I’m naturally curious about the process, so, I asked Danielle how she goes about creating her work.
“First and foremost, I’ll hear a song, and I’ll know immediately if I’m going to use it. I’ll listen to it. I’ll probably listen to the same thing a million times. Then, I have to think everything out in my head. I have to hash out every detail before I even put it on myself. I’ll get a studio, put it on myself, and then I’ll transfer it to the other bodies and see what works.”
The range of music that inspires Danielle is wide, from musical theater (especially classics from years ago) to minimal music from composers like Philip Glass and Michael Nyman, to Latin rhythms. “I am half Latina. I love pizzicato rhythms and things with a little flare or a little spice to them. There are two guitarists from Mexico, who I love: Rodrigo and Gabriella. I use a lot of them, for ballet in particular. The propulsive nature of the music just pushes the movement forward.”
Danielle enjoys working simultaneously in ballet and theater.
Danielle enjoys working simultaneously in ballet and theater. “It keeps my brain a little sharper. You don’t get stuck in one mood. You can also integrate the styles into one another. I feel like it keeps me on my toes and hopefully, it keeps each work fresh.”
When I asked how she would describe her work to someone who hadn’t seen it, Danielle said: “Consistently among all my pieces, everybody knows it’s going to be very fast and very technical. Sometimes there’s a story involved if I’m making theater work. But it’s always under the guise of just pure joy.” Danielle told me she lives by the Maya Angelou quote, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
I can say – from seeing her work – that she succeeds at bringing joy to her dances. I’ve watched some of her videos multiple times, and I’ve shared them with friends because they always make me smile.
Besides her growing choreographic resume, Danielle assistant directs musical theater showcases at The American Musical and Dramatic Academy; she is on faculty at Kanyok Arts Initiative and Manhattan Youth Ballet; and has taught for Steps, Manhattan Ballet School, Montana Ballet, Ballet Hartford, Dance Conservatory of Charleston, NextGeneration Ballet and Dance Open (among others).
Danielle’s dream? To choreograph for Broadway, especially to bring back classic musical theater. So, watch out for Danielle Diniz. I have no doubt she will be on Broadway soon.
© Karen Gershowitz (1/9/23) Special for FF2 Media®
LEARN MORE/DO MORE
Enjoy Danielle’s Instagram feed.
Follow Danielle on Facebook.
Click here to learn more about choreographer Lorin Latarro.
Click here to learn more about the Mexican acoustic guitar duo Rodrigo y Gabriela.
View 3 video clips of Danielle’s Choreography:
- “Dance We Must” Daniel Ulbricht & Danielle Diniz are “Over the Moon with You in June” for Jacob’s Pillow.
- Daniel & Danielle in rehearsal, dancing to “Sing, Sing, Sing” by Benny Goodman.
- Choreography Reel by Danielle set to music from The Corpse Bride.
CREDITS & PERMISSIONS
Featured Photo: Danielle Diniz in the act of choreographing. Photo by McKenzie C. Poe.
Middle Photo Credit: Steven Rosen Photography
Bottom Photo Credit: Shawn Diniz
All images provided by Danielle Diniz and used with her permission. All Right Reserved.