Jen and the Zen of Dance

by Lewis Whittington

On a frigid morning in February, Jennifer Laucella danced all morning in several works by MM2 choreographers, before directing a run-through of her own premiere. She moves to the side of the studio and is a little out of breath, but smiling and comments that her piece ‘All The Animals’ is literally universal.

“This is a theme that has always has been on my mind. It grew out of personal anxiety issues actually,” she intimates, “ Some days you feel so overwhelmed, it’s hard to breathe, but you have to remind yourself that many problems just seem big at the time.  So, yes this piece is about all the animals… and the stars and the people and the everything happening in the world, realizing that my individual problems are so small and I might have to work to keep them in perspective.“

To underscore such a big theme, Laucella chose the undisturbed utopian, musical world of a Bach cello solo performed by YoYo Ma for some sections and alternated it with a pulsing contemporary club groove by Glitch Mob.

“I tend not to follow a story, but for this piece I was going for a bit more of a narrative. I had an idea when I started the piece and that original concept is still loosely preserved. It is a story about anxiety and stress and how others can help you through it.  It is a reminder to oneself that you can deal with life’s obstacles.  As the piece unfolds, everyone is shown expressing their own anxieties.”

When Laucella started creating the piece, she didn’t give the dancers specific direction, “but I asked them to use their own moments of anxiety and express that. Then I incorporated their content with my own. Using phrases that they are comfortable with makes dancers look better and it makes my piece look better,” she said. One of Laucella’s methods is moving the energy around by “playing with physical angles of bodies against each other.”

Laucella grew up in the Philadelphia area and attended the Hartt School at the University of Hartford in Connecticut, where she studied ballet and modern dance. In addition to teaching dance,  Jennifer is enjoying the balance of being a dancer and creating dance. She says that she “definitely wanted to be part of the Philly dance scene. It’s not overwhelmingly big like New York. It’s very unique and the arts community seems to be growing. The dance community here is so interesting and diverse.”

As with other MM2 dance artists Jen likes to mix various disciplines and styles in her choreography even without directly thinking about it “I’m a very go with the flow choreographer, whatever comes naturally to the body is what I like.” Jenn started choreographing six years ago and said it was a liberating progression of her creative spirit.

Still, the life of a dancer-choreographer can be demanding and for alternate stress relief Laucella cross training sport is running and she competes at the half-marathon distances.  “My dad does full marathons and he got me into running,” she said.  She assures that it does not interfere with her dance training or dance technique. “I think running can be detrimental to ballet training. You develop muscles in ballet that you don’t really want to stress from other sports activity. But in modern dance, the style is more athletic for the whole body, so running is safer.”

“I don’t think I’d want to be part of any other kind of company now. The opportunity to choreograph and dance and to collaborate with others on this level is just so different.  Laucella said that her experience with MM2 has helped her grow in directions she didn‘t anticipate and she particularly loves dancing in everyone else‘s work.

“We try something different every time out. Last year we worked on very condensed choreography, trying to convey stories in three minutes and this time we are building much longer works, so I like that we have totally different challenges. “In college I was more focused on my dance technique, I struggled with it more, and choreography was definitely secondary, Laucella recalled. “Since I’ve been with MM2 I’ve had opportunity to focus more on choreography and that has been truly wonderful …to connect my own personal style.“

MM2 Modern Dance Company
Spring Preview of BREATH
Sunday, April 6, 2014 at 2:00 PM
The Performance Garage, 1515 Brandywine Street, Philadelphia, PA 19130
Tickets online on

Lewis Whittington’s articles on the performing arts have appeared in several print and online publications including The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Dance Journal, The Advocate, Dance Magazine, American Theatre Magazine, Playbill and Stage Directions.