Saturday, May 3, 2014

See. Site. Dance: A talk with Tom Pearson

Tom Pearson
(photo by Darla Winn)

See. Site. Dance. 
A talk with Tom Pearson of Third Rail Projects

by Melanie Greene

See. Site. Dance.

Site-specific work is never that simple, yet those words--See. Site. Dance.-- instantly come to mind whenever I recall my conversation with Tom Pearson, Co-Director of the award-winning Third Rail Projects.

Site-specific work takes dance or movement exploration out of traditional proscenium spaces and into the world. This practice expands the possibilities for dance presentations to reach a larger audience and spurs us to question who dance is for and where can it live and breathe. These days, in an ironic turnaround, artists are even coming back to conventional theaters as site-specific spaces.

How will the artist(s) interact with the space? What information does the space offer the performer and the work? How will the audience witness the work in the space? What legal permits (if any) need to be acquired, and how long will it take to get them?

These and many more questions run through the minds of Tom Pearson and his Third Rail Project partners and co-directors, Zach Morris and Jennine Willett, as they make art for the public sphere in a multitude of genres--dance-theater, performance, video and multimedia, and installation.

Left to right: Zach Morris, Jennine Willett and Tom Pearson
at the Bessie Awards 2013
(photo courtesy of Third Rail Projects)

Their masterfully crafted, immersive theater work, Then She Fell, won a 2013 Bessie Award for Outstanding Production Performed in a Small Capacity Venue.

“Lots of things were going on [at the time], and things were happening quickly in our company,” Pearson remembers. “The company went from 13 to 30…but now I can really reflect. If I had time to think about it as it was happening, I’m not sure I would have been able to do it.”

This was Pearson's second Bessie; he and Zach Morris first received a Bessie for choreography in 2008 for a production that ran only three days. He felt gratified to know that Then She Fell, at the time of its honor, was celebrating a run of one year.

"It feels right [to receive recognition] for something in the present,” he told me.

Receiving the Bessie proved to be excellent publicity, and now more people will get a chance to catch the work. Then She Fell's run has been extended through August 31, 2014--two years from its launch.

“The work was first embraced by the theater community, but it’s great to get recognition from the dance community where we attribute our history and roots,” Pearson notes.

Then She Fell is a cleverly curated work that takes each audience member on a unique journey. Audience members are shepherded from one room to the next, slowly piecing together fragments of a broken narrative. As you go around, you split off from familiar groups and join up with new ones, but sometimes, you're left alone to figure out and experience what comes next. You leave with a unique perspective all your own. (Here's mine:

In February 2014, Then She Fell was running 12 shows a week. The show can only support about 15 audience members per performance, which encourages intimacy. "It may not be a big money-making model," Pearson notes. "But it’s successful and keeps itself going and us all working.”

Photo courtesy of Third Rail Projects

How Site-Specific Works

There is no set formula for site-specific work. It's hands-on, a process full of trial, error, and discovery.

“It can get tricky," Pearson adds. "Depending on where you stand, it can be the difference between needing one permit [for use of a site] or five.”

When producing site-specific work, flexibility invites possibilities. It encourages an artist to see the potential in the chosen space.

In 2007, Pearson told an interviewer for China's TVB8 that site-specific work involves “investigating the architecture, the history, the cultural ideals that are inherent in a particular place and bringing that into the work." [See]

My conversation with Pearson sparked my curiosity about how such hands-on, learning-by-doing can be taught to students of dance and emerging artists. I mentioned reading Site Dance: Choreographers and the Lure of Alternative Spaces, edited by Melanie Kloetzel and Carolyn Pavlik. Pearson was familiar with the book, and our conversation of it spiraled around the promise of generational history and future enterprise.

Kloetzel and Pavlik's book, a good resource, documents site-specific dance events through images, interviews, and accounts from practitioners. For Pearson though, the book's discussions seemed tilted towards a West Coast and historical approach to site-specific dance. We agreed that this geographical exclusivity didn’t feel intentional—just likely the product of publication deadlines and accessible material.

I joked with Pearson about the release date of his hypothetical site-specific book as future generations would benefit from his experience and knowledge.

“Who knows?” he replied. I'm convinced that this idea is merely waiting for the right time, when there is time.

Tom Pearson
(photo by Rick Ochoa)

Having Sights on International Sites

The way Pearson's career is going, time to write about his process might not be that easy to come by. Site-specific projects have taken Pearson to many parts of the world, like last year's visit to Almaty, Kazakhstan .

“I take on a lot. We all do. It can appear overwhelming, but we take on these projects and choose to do them. Maybe I should have not have gone abroad... with other Third Rail Projects works happening at the same time, but how could I not? And fortunately, there are three directors, so we do sometimes have the ability, not only to collaborate, but to fan out.”

In April 2013, Pearson and Morris worked with young artists of the Capacity Building Foundation during a workshop and performance in Kyrgyzstan in an abandoned Soviet mall. Participants helped clean the space. Nearly 300 people showed up for the performance. Due to this success, Pearson had little reservation about heading to Almaty in September for the ARTBAT Festival, along with Third Rail’s Associate Artistic Director, Marissa Nielsen-Pincus.

Pearson recalls the ARTBAT Festival as an “amazing experience…one of my favorites so far.”

“We find a site, find a partner or the partners will find us. We like to work with local people and look beyond the traditional scope of parameters to unlock the potential for engagement and success. This goes back to being able to look at a space with a sense of flexibility that expands the possibilities of how to exist in the space. ”

Even with several projects on his plate, Pearson values taking time off to rejuvenate. He enjoys camping and scuba diving but also likes to participate in conversations and other explorations that can inform his work. Inspiration can manifest from the most unlikely places and spark ideas for the next project.

“Immersive theater is having a huge moment in conjunction with site-specific work,” Pearson reflects. Artists are experimenting with new ways to curate experience for their audiences, and Pearson continue to wonders, “What is the next part of that conversation?”

For Pearson, the conversation, most recently, involved eggs--two rather big ones--with dancers inside.

A scene from Yolk
at Grace Plaza
(c)2014, Eva Yaa Asantewaa

In April, Third Rail Project curated lunchtime for office workers and tourists with a new site-specific project commissioned by Arts Brookfield. Yolk, an outdoor dance installation, premiered at midtown Manhattan's Grace Plaza with Roxanne Kidd and Jessy Smith slipping around inside human-sized eggs. Critic Eva Yaa Asantewaa called Third Rail Project's fantasy duet "meditative and beguiling" (

You never know. Third Rail Projects could turn up next at a site near you. Find out here.


Tom Pearson is a Bessie Award-winning artist and the Co-Artistic Director of Third Rail Projects and co-creator (with Jennine Willett and Zach Morris) of the hit production, Then She Fell. He works in a variety of media that includes contemporary dance, site-specific and immersive performance, film, visual art, and large-scale installations. Each work introduces its own movement and/or visual vocabulary, defined by the parameters of the subject and performance environment. Through the lens of a contemporary movement vocabulary, he creates dense, evocative worlds that illuminate the transient and the transformational, using movement abstracted from and coupled with everyday action. Paired with this is a fierce percussive abandon, often complimented by meditative nuance. Likewise, Pearson uses art installation to achieve rich, multi-dimensional environments, and site-specific explorations seek to mine public spaces for hidden meaning and to capture and engage unwary and unsuspecting passersby.

Tom has been commissioned to create original works for Danspace Project; Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts; the Hong Kong Youth Arts Foundation; Arts Brookfield; The Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian, and the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council (LMCC), among others. He has served as an adjunct faculty member of the Florida State University School of Dance (FSUinNYC), The Florida School of the Arts, and through master classes at a number of colleges universities, and arts-in-education programs including the High School of the Performing Arts and New York City Opera. He is also a writer whose work on performance has been published in Dance Magazine, Time Out New York Kids, Dance Spirit and as the Editor of the Public Theater’s Native Theater Journal online and in filmed interviews for NYU’s Hemispheric Institute. Tom holds an MA in Performance Studies from New York University.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Dance chose me: choreographer Stephen Petronio writes his life

Above: choreographer and Aries, Stephen Petronio
Below: Stephen Petronio Company dances
I Drink the Air Before Me (2010)
(photos by Sarah Silver)

Confessions of A Motion Addict
by Stephen Petronio (self-published, 2014; 288 pp.)
ISBN-13: 9781492736547

reviewed by Eva Yaa Asantewaa, InfiniteBody

I should not have been surprised to learn that Stephen Petronio self-published his memoir, Confessions of A Motion Addict. While the dramatic arc of this world-famous artist's life and career--not to mention the literally boldfaced names he can and does drop, sometimes scandalously--should make any publisher salivate, I can't imagine Petronio having much patience for any middleman or woman dictating how he should tell his own story. The book, all 288 pages of it, is Petronio, through and through. As Spike Lee would say, it's his joint.

The first sixty or so pages, dense and filling, plunge readers deep into childhood and teenage history: richly remembered Italian-American feasts, furtive sexual experiments, rollercoaster drug experiments, precocious insights into the personalities orbiting him, scary dreams, passion, restlessness and, always, a sense of outsider status. By page 67, his artistic fate is sealed when Contact Improvisation makes a serious pass at this newbie Hampshire College student. He subsequently forgets all about taking pre-med. "Inner motor" revved up, mind blown....
I look down my body, and I's there. I have a body and it is mine. I have a body and do not understand its power or potential or the invisible stories pressing at my skin. I desperately want to move.
Next up? Judson Dance Theater's Steve Paxton, a guest artist at Hampshire. "I am the bastard child of Steve Paxton and Trisha Brown," Petronio will tell us later on, citing his two greatest influences. Brown is, after all, the woman for whom he harnessed up and walked down the wall of a 14th Century French monastery (Man Walking Down the Side of a Building), a feat he repeated a few years ago at the Whitney Museum.

But there's still a lot of getting there until he's there. Petronio takes us along on an adventurous hitchhiking trip through Canada and the West Coast. The young man, exposed to the rigors of nature and the unpredictability of the human animal--enjoyed unexpected kindness of strangers along the way, the occasional minor bummer and one hugely, hugely major one. He's headstrong and lucky and an Aries, and maybe only an Aries would attempt this type of trip in this type of way--"Like all good Aries, I must try to try on every possible lifestyle as my next incarnation"--and get through intact.

Petronio made it through a lot of stuff intact--personal losses, the early years of the AIDS crisis, displacement, along with a lot of other artists, from a gentrifying SoHo, 9/11, a sex-and-drugs lifestyle that could make a rock star look like a rank amateur.
You see the dancer leap and bound, defy gravity and press the boundaries of human movement possibility, yet the mechanics and sensations of these efforts are for the most part concealed. In the mainstream forms of dance, artists often paint a smile over the top of Herculean efforts, but their soul is gritting and grimacing for dear life. The dancer has come to represent the ethereal, outside the law of physics, but we live on the earth and the pull of gravity is definitive. We work with it, attempt to defy it, and yes, we eat real food, pant, smoke, drink, eliminate, copulate, get married, divorced, addicted and healed. We are human. We sometimes break. And it all hurts at some point or another. And we all do something to deal with that pain. Some more than others.
He has chosen to reveal the pull of gravity and the mechanics of living, to conceal nothing, whether it be a personal lapse or a controversial opinion. And with it all, his story provides the kind of energetic rush one comes to expect from his work on the stage.

Learn more about Confessions of A Motion Addict here.

Eva Yaa AsantewaaInfiniteBody

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Kazu Kumagai: Catalyst of Tap [UPDATE]

Kazu Kumagai
(photo by Leslie Kee)

Kazu Kumagai: Catalyst of Tap

by Eva Yaa Asantewaa

It’s no small matter when a tap expert like Tony Waag, American Tap Dance Foundation’s Artistic and Executive Director, feels comfortable agreeing with The Village Voice who hailed you as “the Gregory Hines of Japan.”

“Kazu Kumagai is not just a great tap dancer,” Waag says. “He is also a very kind, conscientious and devoted advocate for tap dance and knows how important the art form is internationally.”

Kumagai--who lives in Park Slope, Brooklyn with his wife Mari, a singer, and his four-year old daughter--happens to be one of my favorite dancers of any kind. After last year’s Tap City festival, where he appeared in Waag’s popular Tap Internationals evening at Symphony Space, I noted that Kumagai “channels dissonance and passion, taking tap to a stormy place beyond the familiar sunshine,” and I included that solo performance, Journey to the Soundscape, in my list of “most memorable arts experiences of 2013” (InfiniteBody, December 24, 2013).

Born and raised with his older sister in Sendai–a moderate-sized coastal town, a little less than 190 miles north of Tokyo–Kumagai took an early interest in the arts. His parents owned what was then a rarity in Japan–a coffee shop, serving a Japanese clientele–and he played there, as a youngster, around what he calls “unusual people.” These were mainly artists, poets and musicians. But, then again, his parents were also, he says, “kind of unusual.”

“My father was the first person who started roasting coffee in Sendai, a pioneer in the café business, about 40 years ago.”

Kumagai saw his first film footage of tap dancers thanks to jazz musicians he met at the café. He started tap dancing himself at 15 but, he says, didn't have a session with a live musician until he came to New York at age 19.

Of all the arts, what drew him to dance?

“I think I liked physical movement. When I was 5 or 6, I saw Michael Jackson on TV, and that had a great impact on me. I loved how he expressed himself–not just singing but the whole energy. When he got the Grammy, he mentioned the great dancers that he was influenced by--Fred Astaire and Sammy Davis, Jr., and that was a first, small introduction for me. I wanted to tap, but I couldn’t find any tap class in my hometown. My mother called several schools, but there was no tap class. I kind of gave up.

“Then I started doing some martial arts and soccer, football. I was serious about those things. But when I became 15, I saw Gregory Hines's movie, Tap, on TV.

“I carried my passion for tap dancing since I was little and started looking again and finally found one school that included tap. It was impressive. Every student was older–maybe thirties or forties, most of them women.

“I was fortunate to meet a good teacher, in his twenties, who had studied in Tokyo and come back to Sendai. He also loved the style of Gregory Hines, but he couldn’t teach that style because no one wanted to do it at that time.”

Theatrical tap, such as we would see on Broadway, was more readily accepted.

“Students went for exercise but were not really serious about it. I was really serious from the beginning, and he saw that. We became close. I went there all the time, even when I had regular school. I just went to dance school!”

A new home

“My hometown was like.... Have you seen the movie Billy Elliott? A man was supposed to be a banker. Or you have to go to university. Now it’s looser. But when I was growing up, you had to have a certain image. Tokyo was more open, but Sendai was more suburban with an intense social pressure within neighborhoods. My sister went through a tougher time, being compared with other kids. But, somehow, I grew up more open. I was kind of lucky.

“I was in a strict school. One time I was in a meeting with my teacher, and I wrote which school I wanted to attend, and I wrote tap dancing as my hobby. The teacher really couldn’t understand what I was doing. ‘You’re not supposed to dance; you’re supposed to study.’”

The teacher gave him an ultimatum: quit dance or quit school. But then he asked him to dance “right now.” Kumagai did as he was told.

“He looked impressed, but he was a stubborn man. ‘You have to go to college, but maybe you can dance as a hobby because you can’t make a living as a dancer.”

Kumagai lacked role models for his dream. But through his determination, he would go on to serve as a role model for many up-and-coming dancers in Japan. The key? A decision to come to New York despite lack of any connections to the dance world here or much information about how he could get hooked up. He discussed the matter with his parents and told them that he felt ready to search for what he needed.

Acknowledging his love of tap, Kumagai's parents knew that Sendai could not support his goals. “I told them, ‘I’m going to college in the states.’”

He started with learning English in a language school on Long Island, not quite the New York City of his imagining. “Totally different from what I expected,” he says, laughing.

Moving into the city, then, and beginning studies at New York University, he started looking around for a tap school, finding ads for Steps and Broadway Dance Center, still not exactly what he had in mind. Little by little, he began to find his way.

“Charles Goddertz and Barbara Duffy showed me rhythm tap. I met Buster Brown--a legend in the field--when I was hanging out with other tap dancers in a restaurant, and we talked." At the time, Brown was launching his Sunday night tap jam at Swing 46, a jazz and supper club on Manhattan's West 46th Street.

"Gradually, I started finding the community," he says. "I went to National Tap Day and met Peg Leg Bates," who had been a celebrated tap dancer and Catskills resort owner. "I met Savion [Glover] on the street when Bring in 'da Noise, Bring in 'da Funk was running.  1996 was a great year. I was very lucky, a lot of things started to happen, an era of the rise of a new style of tap.

"Gregory Hines was doing a workshop, and I studied with him. I had met him at Fazil’s, a home for tap dancing, and he invited me to practice with him. That was amazing, and we became close. It was an adventure, discovering something new every day. We didn’t have cellphones or Internet back then, but it was much better!”

Young Kumagai's immersion in the New York scene did not permit time for much homesickness. He does remember crying for hours upon leaving Japan but, as soon as he landed in our city, he was ready for a new life. And, it seems, that new life was ready for him.

Kazu Kumagai
(photo courtesy of Kaz Tap Studio)

“There was a workshop called Funk University, a workshop for new dancers for Bring in 'da Noise, Bring in 'da Funk. Ted Levy was teaching, and he was amazing. It was basically for African American dancers because it was their history. But I went there because,” he says, laughing, “I didn’t know!”

“They were young African American dancers, but Ted saw me and gave me an opportunity to study. I started working with them at Fazil’s for three months, every day for seven hours, in the summer without any air-conditioning. But it was great education because it was so different from other schools. He showed not only steps but also history and culture. He spent so much time talking about how tap dancers carry years of struggle, and he sometimes cried because of the prejudice and the painful history.

“That’s when I discovered the meaning of the tap dancer. They danced from their own roots, and I am not from here. I felt a little distant, a little different, but they treated me the same, as a brother. Ted called me Sole Brother. S-O-L-E!"

Although one of the show's producers felt it wasn't appropriate for Kumagai to be in the school and asked him to leave, Levy invited him to continue taking classes.

Kazu Kumagai
(photo courtesy of Kaz Tap Studio)

"Kazu is an amazing musician," says Derick K. Grant, famed tap artist and one of Kumagai's early teachers in New York. "He tends to work twice as hard to be accepted and taken seriously, and it has paid off. He learned as much about us--African Americans--as a people as he did about us as dancers, and that gave him a level of respect for our people and our journey that is unique."

In return, Kumagai was so warmly accepted by Grant and his colleagues that they bestowed a "Black" nickname upon him: Kenyon.

Kumagai, Grant says, took what he learned back to Japan and offered his homeland's dance students an alternative based in authenticity.

"Following his return to Japan in 2002, we started to get an influx of students coming from there who were well prepared and already sound in their foundation." Grant says. "There were a lot of them, which led me to believe that he was inspiring many. That was great for us in tap. He was also very gracious in pointing students in our direction. I, and others like myself, had a great hand in the development of tap dance in Japan--something we are very proud of. Today, they are some of the strongest, most technically sound dancers in the world."

The artist who had persevered despite the lack of local role models not only became a brilliant one for his compatriots; he opened a pathway for them to get the kind of excellent training he had found in the US. Grant acknowledges that Kumagai's "new" style, while exciting the youth of Japan, put him at odds with established teachers there still promoting a lightweight, musical theater approach to the art.

Hank Smith, a tap performer-choreographer and educator, remembers Kumagai from the late 1990s as one of a number of Japanese dancers coming to Brown's jam at Swing 46. Something shifted, though, during the subsequent time Kumagai spent back home in Japan.

"I could tell he'd really developed, not only as a dancer but as a person," Smith recalls. "There was a maturity in his presence. Kazu just seems to be a committed artist and human being who uses his gifts to try and make a difference."

"Tap can be more than just hitting the wood as loud or as fast as possible," Smith says, citing Kumagai's solo work last year in Journey to the Soundscape, an intense, expressive piece that embodied his feelings for his hometown and the Tohoku region where, in March 2011, an earthquake and tsunami caused devastation and massive loss of life.

Devastation in Sendai, Japan, March 2011
Photo: Reuters/Yumiori

When Michelle Dorrance--Bessie Award winning tap artist who also won a 2014 Alpert Award in the Arts--recently danced with Kumagai in Japan, he took her to visit Sendai. It was his way to share with a friend what he had seen and experienced at the time of Japan's disaster.

"It was important for me to share this feeling with her. I hope she will talk to other people about it. My goal is to make a bridge from New York to Japan, to Tokyo and Sendai. People are still suffering in Tohoku district, and I want more people abroad to know this fact."

His parents stayed on in Sendai during the crisis and, like many people who have made a home in a risky environment, want to remain there. Luckily, they live in Sendai's inner city, away from the heavily impacted coast, although they did have to go several months without gas. Another ongoing concern for the region and nation--the only country that has ever suffered the devastation of atomic bombing--is radiation leakage from damaged nuclear power plants.

"And still they want to keep the nuclear plants," he says. "It's hard to understand."

Kumagai, present in New York during our own crisis, 9/11, draws a saddening comparison between Japan and the US, noting that disasters can swiftly turn people and their governments away from the ideals of peace. Japan's historic non-nuclear weapons policy, imposed by the US after World War II, could end soon, he says, as tensions grow between the nation and its regional rivals in Asia. There isn't yet enough of a vocal, coherent movement to divert Japan's conservative government from a proactive buildup of nuclear arms.

Kumagai, as his career unfolds, chooses to remain mindful of his homeland and hometown. "A lot changed [for me] after March 2011," he says. "What happened in Sendai, it has become myself. As an artist, everything I do becomes dedicated to my hometown--also dedicated to the [tap] masters. These two things are now the most important to me, and I want to keep doing positive things."

The challenges of coming home

After Kumagai's initial, life-opening training in New York, the return in 2002 to Japan's limited scene did not flow easily.

"When I went back, not much was happening in the tap community. However, a conflict between old and new was happening both in the tap community and in Japan in general. They didn’t know what tap really was. It was difficult to readjust. There was no place to practice."

"I had to start from the beginning. I had a part-time job and did street performances. There were some good small jazz clubs, and I started dancing there, a small community in Tokyo where musicians get together. It’s growing in popularity. People hear a rumor and come to see us. At first, many artists were interested in tap: musicians, DJs who liked to have tap dance at their parties or in their performances."

Japan's great jazz trumpeter Terumasa Hino, who had learned tap from his musician/dancer father, caught one of Kumagai's performances and invited him to appear in his shows.

"He saw that, in the past, most Japanese tap dancers couldn’t work with jazz musicians because the style was different. However, he felt a connection with me and knew that jazz musicians and tap dancers share a culture. We toured together in 2004 and 2005."

The exposure from touring with a star of Hino's magnitude drew attention and offers from others in Japan’s music industry.

“I began dancing everywhere–from small hip-hop clubs to concert halls," says Kumagai. "I collaborated with many different kinds of artists.”

A growing appreciation for the intricacies of music affected how Kumagai saw himself as an artist.

"Jimmy Slyde, Buster Brown, Savion Glover, Dianne Walker, they all have their own sound," he says. "I was inspired by their sound, not so much by the visual. Image is important, but always I connect to the sound. For me, that is the greatness of this art form.

"The first time I saw Gregory in Tap, dancing in the jail, he danced for himself. Not so much for performance. And that particular scene still influences me a lot.

"I've heard criticism that the way Gregory danced is not really beautiful, but to me, it’s so beautiful. Jazz musicians, when they play, it’s beautiful. Same as athletes like Michael Jordan. They don’t try to look nice. It’s not about their looks. They devote themselves to their art, and that’s a beautiful thing. I don’t try to impress with how I look. What I love about tap is that a lot of masters can show what’s inside through their dance.

"Tap is a language. When I go to Europe, I don’t speak to the audience, but they can understand. When I went to Senegal, we could communicate."


How to stay serene amid the busyness of business

"I tour a lot...Japan, Singapore. This month, I’m going to Milan. When I’m in Japan, I go to my studio [KAZ Tap Studio] everyday and practice and teach classes. Here in New York, I go to American Tap Dance Center and practice. But before I do, I take my daughter to school, and that becomes my ritual–an everyday morning walk with her. It gives me a peaceful moment. So many things I can learn from my daughter.

"She dances a lot. She was in my most recent performance. The last night (of a three-night performance), I wanted her to be on stage somehow, because I was showing my life. I just wanted her to walk around, but she started dancing!" Kumagai chuckles at the memory. "It was real nice!"

Perhaps she'll join in again when he finally manifests his next big dream, an evening-length show for New York, his first--to which I say:

Right on, S-O-L-E brother! It's time!


I have just received the following announcement from Traci Mann, Co-Chair of The New York Committee to Celebrate National Tap Dance Day:

The New York Committee to Celebrate National Tap Dance Day is proud to Honor Kazu for his talent and his contribution to the health and welfare of his tap community in Japan. Much like the late great Bill Bojangles Robinson, Kazu is helping people with his talent. He is helping them to over come the Fukashima Disaster with his tap dancing and teaching. I can't think of a more noble thing to do on his part and we hope that he gets the recognition he needs as it will up build what he has accomplished and continues to work at. 

Norman Thomas Auditorium
Park Avenue
New York City
May 24th, 2014
7 pm - 9 pm


Kazu Kumagai was born in Sendai City, Japan. He started tap dancing at the age of 15 and came to NY at the age of 19. He trained in FUNK UNIVERSITY, the training workshop for the big hit Broadway musical Bring in da' Noise, Bring in 'da Funk. He studied with Ted Levy, Buster Brown, Gregory Hines, Barbara Duffy, and Derick K. Grant.

Since then, he has performed in many New York City downtown clubs, such as The Knitting Factory, Tonic, and the Puppet Jazz Club.

From 2002 to 2010, he performed in Tony Waag’s Tap City, the New York City Tap Festival nine times and was dubbed by The Village Voice as the "Japanese Gregory Hines." In 2006, he was selected as one of Dance Magazine's "25 to Watch."

After Kaz went back to Japan in 2002, he made numerous solo appearances all over the country and collaborated with many artists and musicians, and appeared in several television commercials, such as SONY CYBERSHOT. He also performed in a MIHARAYASUHIRO fashion show in Milan, Italy, where he succeeded in opening up a new field of the arts. In 2008, he opened his first tap dance studio--KAZ TAP STUDIO--in Japan, and has subsequently taught throughout Japan including in his hometown of Sendai City, site of severe damage in the 2011 earthquake and tsunami.

Kaz dedicates his passion and love for the art of tap dance to the great masters such as his mentor Buster Brown, Jimmy Slyde, Gregory Hines and others, as well as to the people of Sendai and the Tohoku region where his family and friends live.

Visit Kazu Kumagai's Web site here.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Wendy Perron: Capturing Movement in Words

Dancer/dance journalist Wendy Perron
(photo by Cliff Roles)

Wendy Perron: 
Capturing Movement in Words

by Melanie Greene

You can’t beat a book.

I know you’re reading this from a computer screen or smartphone, and I thank you, but nothing beats the tangibility of a good ol' fashioned book. Flipping the pages of progress…feeling the weight of the words…supporting the contents bound within a strong spine, the center, the glue holding everything together.

We read books and scan blogs, websites, brochures, social sites, reviews, journals--and talk to people--because we are curious about what’s going on in the world. In the dance world, there are several go-to sources of information, and one of those knowledgeable sources is Wendy Perron.

I recently sat down with Wendy Perron on a rainy day on the Upper West Side. It was the day before Thanksgiving, with people intent on last-minute grocery shopping. Perron and I sat in a cozy restaurant, talking about her book and life as the movie-like scene scrolled by the large glass windows.

Although Perron spends a lot of her time writing these days, she did not know, early on, that she would become the writer in her family. Before finding her voice on paper, she found it through movement as a dancer.

Perron's new book,
Through the Eyes of a Dancer: Selected Writings
Wesleyan University Press

Over the years, Perron's extensive participation in the dance community--as a performer, critic, editor and educator--has made her a valuable source of knowledge on contemporary dance. Her eloquent writings capture the imagination of movement through words in her new book Through the Eyes of a Dancer.

The book surveys Perron’s writings—dance reviews, feature stories, essays, and blog posts—spanning from the 1960s to the present. It offers dancers, dancemakers, and dance enthusiasts a living history of the art. Huffington Post writer Jennifer Edwards comments that Perron’s book “flows like a choreographic retrospective. The reader has an opportunity to witness both the writer, and the work, evolve.”

Scanning its pages, readers are invited to take an intimate look into dance culture’s continuous influence over artistic, political, and social movements.


Since I had never met Perron, our meeting was a blind date so to speak. In these situations, I always feel, one's face takes on a distinct look of anticipation--a cocktail of anxiety and excitement sprinkled with the illusion of composure. There's an unspoken protocol of what to do if you are the first to arrive, an insecure voice that wonders "What if they don’t show up?" or "What if I got the date wrong?"

I arrived shortly before Perron as the restaurant opened for lunch. The first women to arrive after me shared my look of uncertainty, but I was sure I would recognize Perron once I saw her. I imagined her with those wild tendrils of hair she described in her book.

I was carefully negotiating glances between my phone and the hazy rain outside when Perron arrived, warmly bundled up, small grocery bags in hand. She had stopped in a grocery store to pick up the last ingredients for cranberry sauce for a Thanksgiving repast.

“I am always in charge of the cranberry sauce," she said. "People know it’s what I bring."

After unbundling and settling in, we ordered lunch, and I asked Perron how she was feeling.

“In general, I wish I could sleep more than two hours at a time,” she responded. “I’ve just traveled from Japan. Traveling changes my sleep patterns.”

Perron had just returned from Japan to judge the Youth America Grand Prix competition. In her Dance Magazine blog entry My Week in Japan, Courtesy YAGP, she details the competition and dedication of the young artists she met during her stay.

“I’ve always wanted to travel to Japan,” Perron stated. “I tasted this plum wine there and brought it back for Thanksgiving.” Coaxing pleasant feelings of nostalgia, the taste of this wine reminded her of the thoughtful designs of Japanese gardens and the beautiful architecture.


Back in the US, Perron remains in the thick of the New York dance scene. Witnessing and participating in the transformation of dance criticism and reviewing over the past 40 years, she has seen dance writings repurposed to accommodate evolving technologies and the need for instant information.

More blogs, social media outlets, and self-produced videos are popping up to cover what was once tackled by expert writers and critics. Magazine and newspaper reviews have become obsolete. As the needs and expectations of the dance world change, so must the ways we write and talk about dance.

“This does not mean that respect is lost for traditional critics and those who have been around a long time. Publications like The New York Times and The Washington Post still wield so much power,” Perron offered. Perron has been writing a dance blog as part of for over 6 ½ years.

Today, information is just a click away. To reach the largest audience, dance writing must appear on the Internet and be user friendly. While many sites still support longform articles, others—like Twitter—prefer it short and sweet. Perron's blog posts and articles serve the in-depth reader, while her Twitter feed offers audiences quick links back to substantial information.

“There is something interesting about the challenge of saying something in 140 characters,” she says of tweeting. Within this new medium, you must choose your words carefully, saying just enough to entice the reader to want to know more.

“I see so much and there are people in New York and the world who don’t get to see what I see, so I like to be able to say something about it,” she says. Twitter challenges her to say it creatively and quickly.

Perron today, at right, with Olsi Gjeci
in Vicky Shick's Everything You See
(photo © 2013 Anjolo Toro)


Whether you write serious criticism, lively reviews, blog posts or tweets, the new digital media can offer space for your purpose: assessing dancemakers' aesthetic choices, uncovering the history of a dance form or its cultural relevance, examining how the art fits into the current political climate, and more.

“Ultimately, the responsibility lies with the writer,” Perron said. “The role is to respond honestly with your whole self on many different levels—not just thumbs up or down.”

“It is our responsibility to provide context…to say what the roots are…how [these artists] emerged, and what they have done before,” Perron added.

It’s important to open one’s eyes to the present and not become, as Perron would say, trapped by one's past.  Even in repertory companies, dance works will change. Things will not look and feel as they did five years ago. We have to be open to that evolution. 

The night of our meeting, Perron was going to see Chéri, a dance-theater piece by choreographer Martha Clarke, starring Alessandra Ferri and Herman Cornejo. “I like to see incredible performers challenged with something new," she said.

She also talked about how she continues to be excited about the fusion of forms in dance.

“Some people don’t like that word, fusion,” she said. “I’m not sure why.”

This sentiment possibly stems from conversations Perron has had with artists like Akram Khan, a British choreographer of Bangladeshi descent. His work combines contemporary dance elements and kathak, a form of classical Indian dance. In a 2008 blog post entitled Excited. Touched. Stimulated. Taken aback. Revved up. Honored., Perron wrote, “Khan likes the word confusion better than fusion, and to allow different stories to overlap or intersect. Somehow a lightness and a heaviness at the same time. A western-ness and an eastern-ness at the same time.”

“He is exciting to see," Perron told me, as we continued our conversation. "I can see both aspects of style and form so strongly” in Khan's East/West fusion.


I asked Perron if she had a daily meditation practice or ritual approach to writing.

“My practice of writing is very haphazard, but I do have a daily movement practice,” she said. “I do exercises in the morning in my bed and in the afternoon. These exercises help to center myself in my body. I still see myself as a dancer first.”

Although she considers her writing approach haphazard, she likes to start writing early. Write a few sentences, then write a few more and print it out.

“I also show it to my husband. He’s extremely helpful,” Perron added. “Once I print it out, I lie down on my back and mark it up with a pencil.”

Perron attributes the effectiveness of this practice to the fact that “when I lie down, it’s closer to my heart, and I want to make sure it’s coming from my heart and not in there for just [arbitrary] reasons. If there is something I don’t feel strongly about, maybe I’ll take it out.”

A lot of her daily exercises and writing postures, she said, derived from her chronic back problems. Lying down helps relieve the stress on her back. This gesture, to me, speaks to the wealth of information that our bodies hold, how we exist in our bodies. We function as a result of the choices we make. If we listen, our bodies will inform new choices in movement and on paper.


“It never occurred to me to write a book,” Perron confessed, “but as you get older, you think about what you leave behind.”

Perron with Harry Sheppard,
students at Bennington College in the 1960s
(photo by Josef Wittman)

Whether intentional or by a marvelous accident, Through the Eyes of a Dancer became a way for Perron to reconnect with herself. Her writings propelled her back to memories of dancing with the Trisha Brown Dance Company, spending time in SoHo, and teaching at Bennington College, the Vermont liberal arts college that attracted Martha Graham, Doris Humphrey, Hanya Holm, and Charles Weidman, all pioneering legends of American modern dance.

We get a glimpse of Perron's dancing/writing ritual: how she would stay up late Thursday, stalling to work on final details until around midnight. After a pint of Haagen-Dazs coffee ice cream and a dose of procrastination, she would resolve that “there was nothing else to do but sit down and write the damn thing.”

She remembers dancing and choreographing a lot in the 1980s. “When I did more writing, I danced less, and when there was more dance, there was less writing.”

Perron talked me through her process of scanning old documents and articles into a machine as she prepared to write Through the Eyes of a Dancer. Like magic, her past would travel into her technological present in the form of Word documents.

“The scanner enabled me to edit my writings from 40 years ago. It was an interesting project for me because of the time travel aspect.” Something about words and digital documents provides something close to permanence for a famously ephemeral art form.

Parallel to preserving her writing, Perron once started a project to transfer 1970s dance works from their old, unstable formats on VHS and beta tapes to DVD. However DVD proved equally unstable. Discs would become corrupt and, just like that “all those years went up in smoke," she said. "There are tons of video, but there is nothing stable. I couldn’t save the choreography, but I could save the writing.”

Dance happens and then it’s gone. Recorded artifacts are not the same as live performance, and this, partly, drew Perron to writing which presented its own distinct challenge.

“How do you write about something that disappears?”


After lunch, I mentioned to Perron that I was looking for yarn store, and she kindly walked me to one that she’d passed only hours before. As we said our goodbyes, she left me with a thought that will guide my own intentions as a writer.

“Writing should lead the reader. I don’t want it to just be information. I want it to make a statement of some kind.”

A statement can come in the form of insight, approval, objection, or total rejection. Some notable statements appear in two of Perron's Dance Magazine blog posts--Blogging about the Process of Choreography—Ugh! and Is There a Blackout on Black Swan’s Dancing? In each of these posts, she ignited heated dialogues that drew a range of reactions in the dance community, from outrage to satisfaction.

Perron is a strong advocate for the arts and artists. Through the Eyes of a Dancer provides rich insight into dance within an historical framework. Moreover, it captures the essence and virtue of living a life through both movement and words.

Wendy Perron danced with the Trisha Brown Company in the 1970s and has performed with many other New York City choreographers. Her own group, the Wendy Perron Dance Company, appeared at the Lincoln Center Festival, the Joyce Theater, Danspace Project and other venues in the US and abroad from 1983 to 1997. She was one of eight choreographers profiled in the documentary film Retracing Steps: American Dance Since Postmodernism. She has taught at many colleges including Bennington and Princeton, and was associate director of Jacob’s Pillow in the early ’90s. In addition to contributing to Dance Magazine as editor in chief for almost 10 years, she has written for The New York Times, The Village Voice, and Ballet Review. In 2011 she was inducted into the New York Foundation for the Arts’ Hall of Fame, and she still performs occasionally with Vicky Shick and Dancers. She was artistic adviser to the Fall for Dance festival and has adjudicated for Youth America Grand Prix, the American College Dance Festival, and New York Live Arts. Her new book, Through the Eyes of a Dancer (Wesleyan University Press), is a selection of her essays, memoirs, and reviews spanning 40 years. Read more about it here.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

At the turn of the year....

Thanks for reading and supporting Dancer's Turn in our inaugural year. We look forward to bringing you interviews with more exciting dance artists in 2014. And we wish you a happy, healthy, creative New Year!


Troy Ogilvie
Jazzmen Lee-Johnson
M. Soledad Sklate
Evan Teitelbaum
Jaime Shearn Coan
Anita Gonzalez
Melanie Greene
Isabelle Dom
Komal Thakkar
Amanda Hameline
Alejandra Emelia Iannone
Sarah Elizabeth Lass

Friday, December 20, 2013

Jookin’ in its Prime: A Snapshot of Ron Myles

Ron "Prime Tyme" Myles
(photo courtesy of the artist)

Jookin’ in its Prime: A Snapshot of Ron Myles

by Alejandra Emilia Iannone

He told me I could call him “Ron,” but he’s probably better known as “Prime Tyme.” Dubbed Ron “Prime Tyme” Myles by a friend from his hometown neighborhood  of Orange Mound, in Memphis, Myles admits that he has always been one looking to “shine in front of a camera.” Now based in Los Angeles, he is a Bessie Award-winning dancer and choreographer, and an ambassador for the mesmerizing dance form called jookin’.

Smoother than buckin’ (a dance characterized by explosive, wide movements and spins) and similar to glitchin’ (where sporadic, sharp movements are interspersed within other slow movements), jookin’ developed on the streets of Memphis. With roots in the gangsta walk, a dance popularized in the late 20th century, jookin’ was initially done to gangsta rap exclusively. Nowadays, however, one might see jookin’ performed to all sorts of music--including R&B, pop, classical, and dubstep--and in a variety of contexts. As Myles sees it, it doesn’t matter what kind of music is playing when one is jookin’, as long as some music is playing.

“Gangsta Walk”
danced by Ron “Prime Tyme” Myles
Music: “Gangsta Walk” by Young Jai

Fundamentally, jookin’ consists of a step and a glide of the foot. These movements are punctuated and ornamented with remarkable feats like toe stands, toe glides, and torques onto the inside of the dancer’s ankle. As Myles explains, since there are so many directions and many ways to step, one could even write an alphabet using these movements. Myles tends to glide in patterns that reflect whatever is going through his mind as he dances, using his feet to write his thoughts out in cursive.

Much of his movement is improvised, but, he points out, jookin’ need not be pure improvisation or personal expression. So jookin’, like any dance form, requires flexibility, strength, focus, and practice. Also, the shoes matter. The dancer must wear shoes with a sturdy toe tip. For Myles, some of the best options out there are Air Jordans,  Nike Air Force Ones, and his favorite--Prada sneakers.

Myles became acquainted with jookin’ eight years ago while watching some friends from school dance. At the time, he thought they looked a little crazy, but he found himself wondering how his friends could move that way. Eventually, his curiosity deepened. Could he learn to move that way, too? Lucky for Myles, there was a dancer in the family.

Memphis-born street dance prodigy and world-famous jooker Charles "Lil Buck" Riley is Myles’ cousin. Bonded by family and their common love for dance, the two would practice together at home or in the streets of their neighborhood in Memphis.  Myles also trained with other teachers to learn hip hop and ballet. Yet, he identifies Riley--who taught him the fundamentals of jookin’, included him in performance opportunities, and collaborated with him--as a playing a key role in his own development as a dancer.

Together, Myles and Riley have already achieved great success, even receiving a 2013 Bessie Award for their performance at New York's Le Poisson Rouge--an evening fusing music and movement, and featuring composer Philip Glass, cellist Yo-Yo Ma, new wave string quartet Brooklyn Rider, Galician bagpiper Cristina Pato, and jazz trumpeter Marcus Printup.

Myles learned of their Bessie nomination while performing at the Vail International Dance Festival. Surprised and honored, he says he had a good feeling about their chances. But, he also remembers thinking that “the chance was 50/50 because the other nominees had produced great work.” When the award citation was read and Myles heard the phrase “intricate footwork,” however, he knew. 

At the award ceremony at the Apollo Theater, he was overwhelmed by the audience's supportive, energetic response.  Receiving the award affirmed that he and Riley "had put together a great piece that could go a long way," Myles said. Indeed, he aspires to "spread jookin’ all over the world, show what it is, where it came from, how it has evolved, and what one can do with it.”

And he is certainly making moves to achieve all of this. Myles has made his mark on stage, screen, and in studio--dancing in the 2011 film Footloose, starring in commercials for Pepsi and Adidas; headlining performances at the Vail International Dance Festival, and teaching hundreds of youth through Colorado’s Celebrate the Beat program.

When he isn’t dancing and choreographing, Myles spends his time acting and making music. Currently, he is developing a mixtape of original music, and just finished working on the film Frank and Cindy (coming to theaters in 2014) in which he plays the role of Dwight. Someday, he hopes to have a principal role in a major motion picture that incorporates jookin’.

Ron "Prime Tyme" Myles
(photo courtesy of the artist)

When in California, Myles regularly performs on the streets of Venice Beach and on Santa Monica's 3rd Street Promenade and gives indoor performances at Hollywood club Boulevard3. As he sees it, both environments have their perks--a captive audience at Boulevard3, expansive audience on the streets. He enjoys both.

In 2012, Myles and Riley collaborated with YAK to create a dance film set in New York City’s newly renovated Lincoln Center. Beautiful movement, striking imagery, and creative use of space aside, the last ten seconds of their film invite critical thought about the relationship between artists and arts institutions.

As the film shows, the filmmakers and dancers were asked to cease filming and leave the grounds since they had not received permission to use the space. Myles wasn’t inclined to comment on this experience but, when pressed, he thoughtfully replied, “I can understand. But we are making something beautiful here. We are making dance. So, why not let us do this--dance where art is?”

Frankly, I can't think of a satisfactory reason.

Lincoln Center is an oasis of artistic creation, education, and preservation. It seems counterintuitive to have to ask permission to make a work of art in a space that self-identifies as being dedicated to art.

One could argue that, regardless of its mission, Lincoln Center is private property and ought to be respected as such. But is an arts institution ever really a private organization? Is the space it provides ever exclusively its own?

Might arts institutions serve as official representations of the artistic community and illustrate the creativity and industry of the artists whose work inspired their creation? Might these institutions serve as a safe haven for makers, or at least a reminder that art still has a place of significance on this ever-changing planet?


Ron “Prime Tyme” Myles was born and raised in Memphis, Tennessee, in a neighborhood called Orange Mound. Growing up the only dancer in the area, Myles described his friends and family as his greatest inspiration and motivation during this time. In 2009, Myles moved to Los Angeles with his cousin and close friend Charles “Lil Buck” Riley, and since then has become one of the premier interpreters of the style of dance known as Memphis jookin’, often in partnership with Riley.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Helen Simoneau: Movement Across Borders

Helen Simoneau in rehearsal
for among the newly familiar
Photo: Rachel Shane

Helen Simoneau: Movement Across Borders

by Melanie Greene

Leaves rustle and gently connect with the scratchy pavement. The air whisks a cool crisp breeze underneath the lining of my jacket, while I mentally negotiate the best combination of layers to complement the changing season. The sun’s rays warm the molecules of cool air around us....

One modest October afternoon, a pleasant chat with artist, performer, and entrepreneur Helen Simoneau became a welcomed addition to an otherwise normal day. We discussed dance, art-making and her December residency at Baryshnikov Arts Center (BAC). Simoneau was in New York for business meetings and performances, and I caught up with her during a brief intermission between engagements. Somewhere between a showing, a meeting, and a quickly-approaching plane ride, we managed to steal time to relax outside a small café in Williamsburg. We sat on a wooden bench that stretched the length of the café window, while the afternoon sun fought with vigor to penetrate my Canal Street sunglasses.

Before we began our conversation, a quick shuffle of our movement cleverly hinted at our lives as dancers. To prevent the relentless sun from blinding Simoneau, we gathered our belongings and switched places. Stepping through the strap from a bookbag here, avoiding the spill of a drink there, we settled on opposite ends of the bench while my shades served as a brown barrier between the sun’s rays and my retinas.

After an exchange of greetings and light conversation, I began by asking Simoneau how she felt, to which she replied, “I’m feeling good because I just performed last night. I feel in my body and grateful that I’m able to reconnect with my dance community here in New York.” This sentiment illustrates one piece of an interesting puzzle that roots Simoneau’s work and practice in both New York and North Carolina, where Simoneau currently resides.

I was first exposed to Simoneau’s work in North Carolina where I grew up and attended graduate school. During a North Carolina Dance Festival, she presented a solo, the gentleness was in her hands. Surrounded by three golden anchors of light, Simoneau moved as a lone figure within a triangle of light, completely mesmerizing. She moved in angular, awkwardly isolating ways complemented by soft, delicate extensions and undulations. Her head and torso would snake through space supported by long lines that journeyed from her hips into her feet. She was enchanting and, ever since, I’ve been excited to see and hear about her work.

Having moved to New York, I am fascinated by how other artists navigate across interstate lines. Simoneau’s dual state, as well as her international presence, situates her work and company--Helen Simoneau Danse--in an interesting state of mindfulness that radiates throughout her work as an artist, performer, and choreographer.

Here and below, a trio of scenes
from Simoneau's among the newly familiar
Photos: Steve Davis

Residencies                       Process                       Work/Time Separation

   Precious                 Movers              Thinkers               Community/Core

Boundaries                               Borders                              Limitless limits

Simoneau's three-week residency at BAC landed on her radar because she was familiar with artists affiliated with the organization and, from them, heard about the supportive nature of its residencies. This opportunity offers Simoneau a platform to invest in what her work needs without the pressure to produce a polished final product.

“BAC is meeting me where I am with my process,” Simoneau said. “Sometimes performance expectations hinder the creative process because you simply try to get to the end too quickly at the expense of exploration.”

For three weeks, she, along with several New York-based artists, will call BAC home as they work on two dances in different stages of development and process.


For many artists, the process is a very important component of choreographic practice. Simoneau realizes that her works often reflect something that is currently going on in her life. Certain themes and ideas just develop subconsciously. “It is not usually my intention, but I noticed that I tend to work out things in my life through my work."

Interestingly, these findings reveal themselves over time when one has a chance to step back from the work, which explains Simoneau’s advocacy for work/time separation. Establisihing some distance from the work allows you to reexamine your choices as a choreographer. The work becomes not so precious and lends itself to a quizzical, choreographic eye.

Simoneau in performance
Flight Distance III: Chain Suite
(photo: Steve Davis)

Work/Time Separation

Time also helps you see the potential and possible evolution of a work. It can offer clarity and create an opportunity to witness the fact that a work doesn’t stay fixed. It is an ongoing process informed by decisions made in the past and present. “I am there and present [in the work],” Simoneau added.

Once time has past, this clarity and participation makes it possible to seek avenues back into a work.  With the luxury of time, she believes, “you begin to see patterns and unconscious choices." You can also make space to entertain the divestment of labor involved in a work that can make it easier to edit away unnecessary material.

Delving more into the process of creating work, Simoneau spoke of her gratitude for the women and men with whom she works and performs. “I work with dancers who understand me and my process. They are invested in the work, therefore are invested in the process.” Among many things, this process involves seeing and being with dance works over time. Dancers also contribute in the creation of material. “I’m excited about the dancers I work with,” Simoneau said. “I am inspired by them and confident that I can let go of material and trust that they will continue to inspire me as movers and thinkers.” 

For the BAC residency, Simoneau will work with a group of dancers who she hasn’t seen in nearly nine months. “It is a pleasure to work with this particular group of dancers and, when we don’t meet, I miss it. We are a community, a core.”

from Paper Wings,
developed at American Dance Festival
(photo: Grant Halverson)

A Company With Many Homes

I’ve seen Simoneau’s work in several North Carolina venues, and I'm fascinated to witness how her work translates and transforms within New York spaces. When asked about creating and presenting work in both locations, Simoneau admitted “Every year, I’m more clear…I realized [years ago] that there were several resources in North Carolina that I was not utilizing.”

Booking studio space in New York can be expensive. In North Carolina, there is a community that really values the arts. Resources and rehearsal space that may be more difficult to obtain in New York are more accessible in North Carolina.

She knows that reaching out to people for support is key. “Ask for what you need,” Simoneau suggested. “Be willing to bring your ideas to the table and prepared to offer suggestions about how to get there.” Instead of imitating the journey of others, Simoneau found it more advantageous to figure out what she needed and devise her own plan to get there, stepping outside the box to see past traditional models. 

For instance, Simoneau’s residency at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts (UNCSA) brought dancers in for three weeks and gave them access to free studio space and classes. One big "Yes" later, Simoneau is in her fourth year working with UNCSA.

“I think [UNCSA] said yes because there is value for them in having professionals take class and interact with their students. We usually end up having students peek into rehearsal, sometimes understudying. We also end up having an informal talk with the students about life after graduation. They always have tons of questions.”

Traveling, especially overseas, and sharing work are important components of her aesthetic. “It’s scary to be in a vacuum," she notes, "because there is nothing to push up against.” 

Presenting and experiencing work widely seems vital to growth as a performer and artist. You might ask the same questions, but get different feedback. “Work is relative to the context in which it exists," she says. "It will be different in every place, but it should still find relevance in different contexts as well.”

After my conversation with Simoneau, I realize that as artists we often see and create opportunities out of necessity—a way to reconcile living and breathing the work we want to create and nurturing the individuals we want to be in this space, in our communities. Our intersecting paths are diverse and intricate from end to end, but it is possible to live what you love, love what you live, and, along the way, meet inspiring people who help to make your journey more clear.


Helen Simoneau is a native of Québec, Canada. Her company, Helen Simoneau Danse, is based in both North Carolina and New York City. She had the honor of winning The A.W.A.R.D. Show! 2010: NYC with her solo the gentleness was in her hands. This work was also awarded 1st Place for Choreography at the 13th Internationales Solo-Tanz-Theatre Festival in Stuttgart, Germany. She returned to Germany as one of three finalists for the Kurt Jooss Prize 2010 in Essen for her quintet Flight Distance I.

Simoneau has been selected to choreograph for the Swiss International Coaching Project (SiWiC) in Zurich, the Bessie Schönberg Residency at The Yard, Bates Dance Festival’s Emerging Choreographer Program, and the American Dance Festival’s Footprints series. Her choreography has been presented in Austria, Brazil, Canada, France, Greece, Italy, Spain, Switzerland, and has toured throughout Germany and the United States. Her work Flight Distance III: Chain Suite was recently presented in a nine-performance tour of Montréal, Tokyo, and Busan, South Korea, marking the company’s debut in Asia. Simoneau is a Bogliasco Fellow, a North Carolina Arts Council Choreographic Fellow, and a Fall 2013 resident artist at the Baryshnikov Arts Center in New York City.

For more information about Helen Simoneau and Helen Simoneau Danse, visit Also, see Simoneau's choreography reel on YouTube.

Upcoming: DraftWork at Danspace 
Saturday, Dec 14, 3pm (FREE)
Click here for information and tickets.