Major Artists Make Creative Breakthroughs At Remote Ucross, Wyoming, Retreat

Filmmaker Damien Chazelle’s residency in Ucross led to the script for the 2016 film “La La Land," which won six Oscars, including Best Director. Much of the script and music for the 2017 film “The Greatest Showman” were also developed during a Ucross residency.

AR
Andrew Rossi

April 21, 20246 min read

Ucross residencies 3 23 24
(Cowboy State Daily Staff)

The creative paradise of Ucross, Wyoming, just got a little more spring in its step. In partnership with the Houston Ballet, the Ucross Foundation has made choreographer Jack Wolff the inaugural recipient of its Lauren Anderson Dance Residency.

Wolff is set to work in the state-of-the-art Lauren Anderson Dance Studio in the Koehler Performing Arts Center on Ucross’s 20,000-acre ranch in Sheridan County. The studio, named for the Houston Ballet's first Black principal ballerina, opened in December 2022 as part of Ucross’s 40th anniversary.

Ucross Foundation Director of External Relations Caitlin Addlesperger said Wolff will spend a full month in Wyoming. During that time, his creative process will be “completely undisturbed and uninhibited.”

“The way our residencies work, what makes them so special and renowned across the world is that when we say uninterrupted time, we mean that,” she told Cowboy State Daily. “There are signs on all the studios that say, ‘Do Not Interrupt.’ We don't want artists to have any distractions, and we take that seriously.”

Creative Freedom

Ucross offers residencies to "mature and emerging" visual artists, writers, composers, choreographers, interdisciplinary artists, performance artists and collaborative teams. The Lauren Anderson Dance Residency is a monthlong window open to performers and choreographers working with the Houston Ballet.

A Ucross residency is more than a state-of-the-art space with a gorgeous view of the Cowboy State. Addlesperger said every artist at Ucross, a maximum of 10 people at a time for two to six weeks, has their every need covered so they can focus on exploring their creativity.

“Somebody said that they feel like there are 40 hours in a day when you're out at Ucross,” she said. “We'll deliver sack lunches to their studio door. All of the housekeeping, individual living accommodations and dinners together in our beautiful dining room — all of that, all of that time.”

A professional chef cooks meals, each artist has personal attendants, and there’s unlimited access to the ranch’s studios. With all distractions removed, the artists have all the time and resources they need to explore their creative instincts.

Since its founding in 1983, Ucross’s goal has been to create the most conducive environment for the creative process to flourish — and the results speak for themselves, Addlesperger said.

“Dancers complete these beautiful pieces,” she said. “Writers will finish the first or final drafts of their novels. Symphonies and Broadway musicals have been written here.”

For a recent testament, filmmaker Damien Chazelle’s residency led to the script for the 2016 film “La La Land.” The film was nominated for 14 Oscars and won six, including Best Director for Chazelle.

Addlesperger also said that much of the script and music for the 2017 film “The Greatest Showman” were developed during a Ucross residency.

“It’s really special how much of the nation's arts and culture has been impacted by work that started here,” she said. “All we do is support the artists and give them what they need to bring out their inner creativity and creative genius.”

  • Jack Wolff of the Houston Ballet is the first recipient of the Ucross Foundation's Lauren Anderson Dance Residency.
    Jack Wolff of the Houston Ballet is the first recipient of the Ucross Foundation's Lauren Anderson Dance Residency. (Courtesy Photo)
  • The state-of-the-art Lauren Anderson Dance Studio at Ucross will be home for Jack Wolff of the Houston Ballet for a creative residency.
    The state-of-the-art Lauren Anderson Dance Studio at Ucross will be home for Jack Wolff of the Houston Ballet for a creative residency. (Courtesy Photo)
  • The campus in remote Ucross, Wyoming, has been built and improved to be a haven, retreat and inspirational space for artists in all genres.
    The campus in remote Ucross, Wyoming, has been built and improved to be a haven, retreat and inspirational space for artists in all genres. (Courtesy Ucross)
  • Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling in "La La Land," a 2016 film that was nominated for 14 Academy Awards and won six. A Ucross residency led Damien Chazelle to create the script for the film.
    Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling in "La La Land," a 2016 film that was nominated for 14 Academy Awards and won six. A Ucross residency led Damien Chazelle to create the script for the film. (Warner Bros. Studio)
  • Hugh Jackman in 2017's "The Greatest Showman," which was developed during a Ucross residency.
    Hugh Jackman in 2017's "The Greatest Showman," which was developed during a Ucross residency. (20th Century Fox Film Corp.)

Choreographic Project

The Houston Ballet is the fifth-largest company in the United States. In 2022, it partnered with the Ucross Foundation to create the studio.

Jack Wolff, who’s been working with the Houston Ballet since 2018, made his professional debut in Bulgaria and received training and accolades in New York City and elsewhere. Lauren Anderson and Ucross President William Belcher praised him highly.

“Excited doesn't begin to describe it. I am thrilled to announce Jack Wolff as the first fellow in residence at Ucross,” Anderson said. “His creativity and commitment to having art reflect life promises an inspiring fusion of movement and emotion. This residency marks a significant milestone in fostering artistic expression and collaboration between Ucross and Houston Ballet, and I am honored to have my name on this residency."

During his two-week residency, Wolff plans to develop the choreographic project he submitted to Ucross.

He said he hopes to “create and explore movement inspired by events from my own life: modern-day issues within family dynamics, such as infidelity and divorce.

“I will be using Rachmaninoff Piano Suites, which have such drama and have augmented my inspiration for the work. I will be working with one male dancer and one female dancer, who will be asked to explore classical ballet language, gritty contemporary movement and more.”

Artists are welcome and encouraged to bring any collaborators they’d like to work with. Houston Ballet dancers Aoi Fujiwara and Eric Best will work with Wolff during his time in Wyoming.

“I’m excited to find the relationship between the dancers, the music and ideas of familial issues,” Wolff said. “These modern conflicts have become more common in society, and I find it important to bring representation of such events to the ballet stage.”

The Special Recipe

A Ucross residency might sound like paradise for artists, but it’s highly competitive. Applicants “must exhibit professional standing in their field," so applications from students are not accepted.

But even mature and emerging artists have to stand out in their field. Amid hundreds of applications, Addlesperger said that only 6% are offered a Ucross residency.

“It's a very competitive application process,” she said. “Most of our artists come through this open application process twice a year. We wish we could have more, but we only want 10 artists in residence at once.”

And getting a residency isn’t a vacation. These artists do nothing but work at their craft while at the center.

That’s one of many reasons Addlesperger said artists across the globe are clamoring for a few weeks on a ranch in Sheridan County. During their brief stay at Ucross, artists have everything they need to reach their highest potential and share it with the world.

“There is just some special recipe at Ucross,” she said. “Our guiding principle is offering this excellent experience to artists, and we all care about artists, their work, and their creative process.”

Andrew Rossi can be reached at arossi@cowboystatedaily.com.

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Andrew Rossi

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