From dancer to choreographer, the leap can be made when you seize opportunities, when you overcome your hesitations and when you access your own artistry and creativity.
In this 2-part series, we learn how Kenneth Walker emerged as a choreographer…
Part I – An emerging choreographer.
The running joke is that I started choreographing because I couldn’t learn any of the steps in class, so I’d just make it up as I went along. That’s only partially true. I would often blank out in petite allegro, even though I loved it, and just kinda wing it.
My first choreographic vignettes were done in college at UCLA. Most of my classmates dreaded or hated choreographing, but I didn’t. What I hated was improv – most of my teachers at the time will say it’s because I hated being put on the spot. I don’t remember many of the projects I did but I remember doing a duet to Elvis Costello and I made a solo that turned out being done in silence. I think my training up to that point made me lose my fear because I didn’t know to be afraid or didn’t acknowledge that I was creating “new art”. Most of the dances I appeared in as a young dancer were new. I think my teachers had too much respect to tackle the classics with a small group of student dancers.
My first dance in front of an audience was also at UCLA. My professor let me expand a chair dance I did for an assignment and perform it for prospective students (we all had to get the chair dance out of our system!) It was some bizarre stuff. The background dancers had underwear on their heads and the music was Pink Elephants On Parade from the movie “Dumbo”. It was the Sun Ra version from the “Stay Awake” album. The album was in interpretation of Disney songs from Pop artists.
My first dance performed for the general public was done while I was training at Pasadena Dance Theatre. As part of Regional Dance America, they had an emerging choreographers night and I did a dance that we adjudicated to get on that program. It was accepted and I got hooked on making dances. Years later, “Savage Grace” would be the closing dance of the closing night of performances at RDA and I was proud to complete that circle.
These were all pre-professional flirtings. It’s one thing to do a dance under the auspices of a school or even on other dancers, which is what I continued to do while I danced at Sacramento Ballet. Ron Cunningham the Artistic Director allowed me to continue to do dances for RDA festival adjudications. He even allowed me to begin working on professionals as part of their Beer and Ballet program.