Jae Man Joo’s route to professional dancer status in New York City is the stuff dreams and clichéd movie plots are made of. Only a month after moving to the city in 1996 from his native Korea, Joo was spotted in class by Complexions Contemporary Ballet artistic directors Desmond Richardson and Dwight Rhoden and offered a spot in the company. When Joo retired from dancing in 2006, he became Complexions’ ballet master. In 2011, Richardson and Rhoden again approached him, this time asking him to be their associate artistic director. When he started choreographing for the company in 2007, it made perfect sense—he already knew every dancer’s strength and weakness.
Because his choreography can be both intricately nuanced and full-blown, Joo usually leans toward music with some space in it, as you’ll see in his music recommendations below. “I don’t like too many textures happening at once,” he says. “Clean music gives me more room to create the movement and focus on how the dancers move.” DT
Song: Adagio piano pieces
“His piano music is so beautiful—unique, and sometimes very silent. Because the music is so pure, I use it when I’m creating movement. It gives me a lot of room to experiment.
Album: The Malady of Elegance
“He makes postmodern classical piano music. I use it for rehearsing, but I really wanted to use it for a piece and finally did—for my last Complexions piece, recur. I love it because it’s such tender music, with so much love in it. When I listen, it makes me think about where I came from, my past, my childhood.”
Album: Sonatas and Partitas for solo violin, as played by Vito Paternoster
“I guess everybody loves Bach, but I’m really crazy about his music. It’s so dance-friendly! It’s very deep, very soulful. You can listen to his music on a rainy day with a cup of coffee or use it for choreography—it makes everybody want to dance.”
Song: “Intermezzo,” from the opera Cavalleria Rusticana
“This is my favorite music of all time. I don’t think I can choreograph to it—everybody knows it—but I can always listen to it and feel amazing.”
Artist: Paul Giger
Album: Towards Silence
“It’s all about the power of the string. I want to choreograph to this music. I listen to the radio a lot, and I make sure to find out who the composer is if I like a piece. This music feels like it comes through my veins.”
Photo by Jin-Hwang, courtesy of Joo