Ingrid Nachstern: ‘I’m just at a stage in my life when I want to try new things’

Choreographer Ingrid Nachstern is stepping out of the classroom and on to the stage

Mon, Oct 14, 2013, 14:17

There are two Ingrid Nachsterns. One has a ballet school in a church hall in Dublin 4 and the other performs post-modern dances at New York’s Museum of Modern Art.

Except that there aren’t two Ingrid Nachsterns. Just one ballet teacher who has pushed herself as far out of her comfort zone as is imaginable: dancing in New York with great choreographer Steve Paxton, learning to sing and play the accordion for Irish dance company Junk Ensemble, and slowly building up a repertoire of works with her company Night Star Dance Company. That company’s latest production opens tonight at Dublin’s Project Arts Centre.

It poses an obvious question: is she dissatisfied teaching ballet? “No, not at all,” she says. “I love working with the children. I’m just at a stage in my life when I want to try new things.”

For Nachstern, trying new things doesn’t mean a half-hearted attempt to assuage a mid-life crisis. A voracious reader with a broad knowledge of other art forms, her tactic was to literally put her body on the line, and sign up for workshops in disciplines as varied as hip-hop and circus training. And it wasn’t just to learn new skills. Instead, she seems far more interested in learning how she copes when faced with difficult challenges.

Her first step outside the somewhat insular world of ballet teaching came after the death in 1999 of her father Arthur Nachstern, a violinist and former leader of the RTÉ Symphony Orchestra (now the RTÉ NSO). In response, she choreographed Bow Tie like Chioni , her first work. In the intervening years she has snatched time to choreograph other dances, but always perceived herself as a non-performer, armed with a stern notebook of instructions for her dancers.

That all changed in an instant; it was a throwaway remark two years ago during a workshop with New York dancer Michelle Boulé. “She said something like ‘Oh, I’d love to have you in one of my pieces’, ” Nachstern says. “That gave me confidence to create a solo, Who am I? [which features in Project tonight] and get a performance as part of a mixed bill in Dance Theatre Workshop in New York.”

The hours spent outside her comfort zone in different workshops paid off. “I think those experiences taught me to hold my nerve and stick with the challenges.”

She tackled a greater challenge last year when she flew to New York to audition for Steve Paxton, a leading figure in New York’s post-modern dance scene since the 1960s. Nachstern was one of more than 200 people auditioning and, typically for Paxton, it was an unorthodox process. As part of the audition the dancers had to sit, stand and walk as if nobody was watching them. Unlike regular scenarios where they’d be selling themselves to the viewer, they suddenly had to do the reverse.

“A dancer spends their whole life projecting themselves,” says Nachstern. “Even if they are not performing regularly, every class is spent moving in a way so that the teacher sees what you are doing.”

The resulting performance was a high on the critics’ lists for publications such as Time Out New York and the New York Times , but for Nachstern the highlight was the affirmation from the public.

“I remember one Wednesday afternoon at three o’clock and there were hundreds queuing to get in. Afterwards the cast were bowing alongside Steve Paxton to a standing ovation and I thought, I could die happily just now.”

Choreographer Sari Nordman invited her back to New York to take part in a filming of Nordman’s A Dadaesque Collage of Chauvinist Wisdom , which premiered at the FlicFest film festival in Brooklyn in February.

Throughout all of this she has remained committed to teaching children and is comfortable in her dual roles. In conversation, Nachstern grows animated when talking about the short sections of improvisation she gives her ballet students in their end-of-year performances. She hopes that they are inspired by her openmindedness. “My feeling is that I will say yes to anything that comes up. Who knows where it will take me? I’m still on the journey and there are still so many things to do.”

Who Am I?: Night Star dance triple bill is at Project Arts Centre until Satur day.