From dancer to choreographer part, 2

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 the second of this 2-part interview series with Kenneth Walker, we learn that collaborations make a choreographer.

So when did I feel like I was a professional choreographer??

Turns out…pretty quickly.

I was still a student when I started gaining steam as a choreographer. I was asked by my  former colleague Paula Vreulink to come make a dance on her company for a choreography competition she was holding. They had several people adjudicating the event and one of the adjudicators was my first pas de deux teacher, Dan Berney. He recused himself but everyone else deemed the dance worthy of winning winning.  I was shocked and excited.  Maybe I had something to say in the ballet thing, something people wanted to see..

I first started feeling like a professional choreographer when I received one of my first commissions. I had recently left Sacramento Ballet and on a return visit my friend Thomas Bell, told me he would gladly recommend me to a school he worked with which was looking for a choreographer. I met Debbie Jorritsma and begin a long relationship of creating work for Chico Community Ballet and their program Keeping Dance Alive. Around the same time I was also selected to compete in Sarasota Ballet’s choreography competition. I was one of four finalists. The other finalists were Alan Hineline who has done just about everything you can do in ballet, Stephen Mills who is an award winning director of Ballet Austin, and Colin Connor who just became only the third director in the history of the Jose Límon company. I was in way over my head as a twenty-something kid.

I’ve now been doing this choreography thing a long time and I’m still creating, still editing, still putting up new dances. Hopefully I’ll get it right eventually.

By the way, I rarely ever enter competitions anymore. They just seem narrow in scope and focus. George Balanchine never entered a competition.

 

From Dancer to choreographer, Part 1

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.

My thoughts on Kenneth Walker Dance Project

We just found this student review from the last time we performed at El Camino College.

“El Camino College Center for the Arts presents Kenneth Walker Dance Project at the Marsee Auditorium. They were celebrating the 10th year anniversary as a company.

My friend and I are taking a online dance class. We have to critique the the performances. I’m not really into style of ballet but their performances were fantastic. I think they did such an amazing job on their costumes, music and most important their dance.”

 

Read more here:

What’s it all about?

I’m often asked what my works are about:

That’s the $50,000 question. What’s the dance about?

There is a deep need and desire to understand what we are witnessing.  We want you to know that your perception of what you saw is as important as what we intended the dance to be.  Your viewpoint is just as valid as the statement in any synopsis that you might read about a dance.  So often with modern art, dance, etc.  we want to be entertained and release our responsibility of understanding to someone else, “Just do it to me”.  In reality we all have a responsibility in the art making process.  We are responsible for bringing our own ideas and sentiments to the process.  You have a greater understanding of art than you realize.  You know what you like and can interpret things without someone telling you what symbols and metaphors mean.  The story you create of the abstract art is just as valuable to your understanding as the one the artist came up with.

Read a rare in-depth interview with the AD

Marisa Johnston a board member for Kenneth Walker Dance Project recently sat down with Kenneth to ask about his start as a choreographer and the start of the company.  The result is this rare in-depth interview.

 

When you were young, were you surrounded by a family that embraced dance?
Kenneth: I think I was inadvertently surrounded by art when I was young.  I come from a dancing family. They all danced at parties. Plus my aunts and uncles on my mom’s side were involved in local musical theater productions and we went to watch them. My family would take me to the Hollywood Bowl when I was young. I was surrounded by an appreciation for film and a wide-ranging enjoyment of music. From my parents, I got a diverse love of music, which shows up, in the type of dances we make for the company.  From Bugs Bunny I got to hear classical music as a child.

How old were you when you decided you wanted to take dance lessons?
Kenneth: I think I was 11 or 12 when I started to dance. It was all unintentional. My cousin Kim was taking ballet and I would tease her about it. I think one day she had had enough and said something like , “If you think it’s so easy you come done and do it.” Not wanting to look like a wuss, I did.

Was there anything that held you back? Or made you doubt yourself?
Kenneth: In high school I didn’t take enough classes. I wanted what everyone my age wanted.  I wanted to try different things like sports and going to dances and the like. So I would take the fall off and participate in a sport. At first it was football and then once I realized I wasn’t going to progress very far, I switched to cross-country. I was far more successful at that. I don’t recall possessing any doubts about pursuing dance, but I knew there were far more talented guys out there doing it. I had seen them at festivals and summer programs.

What inspired you to start choreographing?
Kenneth: The first pieces I choreographed were part of my classes at UCLA [Kenneth has a B.A. in World Arts & Cultures from UCLA]. I had wanted to do something before then but never got a chance. It didn’t seem like something that required me having to train in or study.  I had seen so many people making dances it just seemed to be a natural thing to do. My first dances were duets and solos and not really dances but more like vignettes. My first group dance was for Pasadena Dance Theatre. I asked if I could make an “emerging” choreographer dance. The music was by Ravel. It was actually a project I started when I was studying for the summer at Pittsburgh Ballet Theater. I remember loving the genre-exploding movement of Gerald Arpino (co-founder of The Joffrey Ballet). That was back when the Joffrey had a second home in Los Angeles. I also saw of a lot of modern dance choreography, which inspired me when I started creating my own dances

 

What inspired you start your own company?
Kenneth: That was one of those crazy happenings that change the course of your life.  I had been working as a freelance choreographer and I submitted to have my work performed at a festival.  I received a call and they said they wanted me to bring my company.  I, of course, covered the mouthpiece and said to my friend, “Dude we need to get together a company.”  I told the caller, “Sure we would love to come!” Then I hung up and immediately started getting in touch with everyone I knew who might be available to see if they wanted to join in! As it turns out, the audience was so receptive we decided to try it in Los Angeles to see how we would fare.  The following year we sold out our performances and we have been chasing that high ever since!

Do you model your career or your artistry or your path on anyone?
Kenneth: At this point in the arc of our company I don’t think we can say were are mimicking anyone.  We are a single choreographer company but I don’t think any other single choreographer has the diverse repertoire we do.  We’ve been called not contemporary enough, too pandering, etc.  But there will always be critics. I’m committed and my dancers are committed to the style we have created.

This is what I know.  We have a voice.  We have dances of great emotional depth, we have dances that are just fluff but damn, they are fun and have a sense of humor that is not easily replicated in modern ballet! We have esoteric modern dances. We have dances that resonate with many and some that resonate with only a few but we are who we are and we are always trying to give the audience a damn good show.

 

Who or what told you “no?” at any point in your career?
Kenneth: “No” is something every dancer experiences.  You hear “no” more than “yes.”  Every audition is an opportunity to hear “no” and yet affirm to yourself that their “no” isn’t a statement against you.  It is also a moment to assess what you are doing and to see if there is room for improvement.  When I was working as just a freelancer, I would send out my reel to dozens of companies.  More often than not I got no response.  Sometimes I would get “you’re talented, but we can’t bring you in.” I even tried to get into those big choreography workshops that NYCB sponsored, but no dice.  So while there some words of encouragement most voices were silent.

Did you have a mentor?  Someone who told you or showed you that you could have what you want? 
Kenneth: Yes and no.  I always thought a mentor was someone who took you under their wing and showed you the ropes.  No one did that for me.  I did study how my directors managed people and their companies.  I was studying for the day I’d have to do the same.

Ronn Guidi, the founder of Oakland Ballet was almost a mentor that way.  He was someone who forged “a little company that could” in the shadow of San Francisco Ballet.  He would advise me on how to treat the people that worked for me.  He would dust off old choreography just for me and would almost treat me like an equal.  I still send him videos of our choreography sometimes.

I talk to Mr. Alonzo King [founder of Alonzo King LINES Ballet] from time to time.  He is not a touchy feely mentor.  He challenges me.  He has always challenged me.  He pushes me to not stifle the dancers with my demands and to always be honest with the work.

In choosing to start KWDP and dedicate yourself to creating new ballets, what did you want to achieve?
Kenneth: I’ve made dances for individual dancers, I’ve made dances to music that I loved, I’ve made dances that I felt were an reflection of the emotional psyche of society.  Throughout it all I’ve wanted to make dances that reflect my wide-ranging tastes that were distinct from each other, that either challenged the dancer or made them love dancing.  That love of dancing is so important for dancers.  Without it we feel stilted and without a voice.

December News

December 15, we are performing in Temecula.  The company will be performing at Old Town Temecula Community Theater.  Tickets are only $5 and you get to see this up and coming company in Hum and the solo Tuesday.

Come study with KWDP this December!  Kenneth Walker Dance Project will be conducting its first ever Winter Intensive December 21.  This event will be hosted by CSU, Dominguez Dance Department.  Take classes in Ballet, Modern, Repertory, and more from the artists of Kenneth Walker Dance Project.

10 years of KWDP

Movement Theatre CoLab Summer Intensive

Come to Dance Creations and enjoy a couple weeks of dance master classes with such notable teachers and choreographers: Wendi Baity, Ken Datugan, Beth Megill, Kenneth Walker II and more.

Kenneth will be teaching ballet and creating new material at the Movement Theatre CoLab Summer Intensive in Simi Valley  June 26th and July 3.  Classes are open on a drop-in basis.  Contact us at ken@kennethwalkerdanceproject or Movement Theatre CoLab for more information.

Dance History Project of Southern California

The Dance History Project’s goal is to observe and preserve the history of dance making and performing in Southern California. The focus is on those events and artists, past and present, whose work has been important to the field of live professional dance in Southern California. It includes the contributions of dancers, companies, educators, presenters, artistic collaborators, historians, and critics.

Kenneth Walker and Kenneth Walker Dance Project have been added to this roster showing the company’s importance to the advancement of ballet and dance in Southern California.

To view Kenneth’s and the company’s entries click the links below to head over to the Dance History Project.

Kenneth Walker

Kenneth Walker Dance Project

 

 

Tickets now onsale

Tickets are now onsale for our August 10, 2013 show.

Kenneth Walker Dance Project presents Trajectorie Martha B. Knoebel Dance Theatre at 7:30PM.

Trajectorie will feature world premieres, company premieres, and the return to repertoire of audience favorites.

The dance “Savage Grace” will make its company premiere. Savage Grace was commissioned by South Bay Ballet and was the closing ballet at the Regional Dance America dance conference when it was performed. This highly regarded dance is finally making its way into our rep with the help of the Los Angeles County Arts Council which is supporting the season in part and our performers who are coming to us from companies such as South Bay Ballet, Utah Regional Ballet, and Boston Ballet.

KWDP is also world premiering a new ballet with new music co-produced by Robert Malone and Kena Raquel Rohi Custage (the composer of the music for our dance Focus on the Middle Distance.

Are you ready for a little winter in August? We are doing a contemporary version of the Snow Scene from “The Nutcracker”. We call it Snow Day. Don’t worry this version will bring a smile to your face.

The program will also include the return of the dance Gate with music by Mario Salvucci, Hum music by former KWDP dancer Candice Glass Davis, and Purgatory.

Student and senior tickets available at the door. To purchase student/senior tickets early contact us. To purchase group tickets for groups larger than 7 please contact us.

Donate to the new ballet

indiegogo2Come help us raise funds for the newest ballet.  KWDP is creating a new ballet with costumes by Michael Pacciorini, music by Kena Rohi Custage (the composer of Focus on the Middle Distance), and choreography by Kenneth Walker.  Your donations will help make the newest work happen.

Amber Ajluni

AmberAmber began her training at Ballet San Jose with Donna Delcini, Lise LaCour, and Dalia Rawson, where she danced in various school and company performances. In Southern California she has danced for Anaheim Ballet, performing in the works of Laurence and Sarma Rosenberg, including The Nutcracker, The Awakening of the Flora, and A Midsummer Night’s Dream. She has also danced with Santa Monica Contemporary Ballet. This is her second season with Kenneth Walker Dance Project and her repertoire includes Groove Juice and Focus on the Middle Distance.

Meet our other dancers:

Dominika Pietrzyk

Dominika Pietrzyk began her dance training at Steps in Rodeo, CA at the age of 3. At age 13, she decided to pursuit a professional ballet career. She joined Western Ballet where she trained under Eric Bourman, Alexi Zubiria, Linda Rickert, and Kai Davis. Here, she performed in many ballets, such as The Nutcracker, Swan Lake, Don Quixote, Sleeping Beauty, as well as many original works by Yanis Pikieris. Dominika furthered her studies by attending summer sessions at American Ballet Theater, Alabama, City Ballet of San Diego, and Western Ballet. Currently, she is a Dance major with an Accounting minor at the University of California, Irvine. This is her first season with KWDP.

 

Meet our other dancers:

Yelena Zerkovska

Ms. Yelena Zerkovska began studying ballet and character dancing in Ukraine at the age of six. After moving to America at the age of 12, she continued extensive studies and intense training in ballet. Her pursuit for excellence led her to the University of the North Carolina School of the Arts, where she majored in dance and received her Bachelor Degree of Fine Arts.

Trained primarily in Russian Method, Ms. Zerkovska has invested herself into studying Balanchine and RAD styles of technique, as well as contemporary, jazz, modern and pilates.  She has performed experts from many classical and neo-classical ballets including: Swan Lake, Raymonda,   Nutracker, Paquita, Don Quixote, La Bayadere, Sleeping Beauty and Who Cares? She is currently a guest artist for the California Riverside Ballet Company and a company member of the Pasadena Dance Theater.  This is her first season with KWDP.

 

Ms. Zerkovska is also a very passionate and dedicated teacher, capable of delivering the utmost amount of energy and individual attention to each of her students regardless of their age or level of training.

Meet our other dancers:

Master Class

We have huge news for us!  June 22, 2013 from 3-5:15pm in the rehearsal halls of the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion at the Music Center of Los Angeles we will be having a master class taught by Arturo Fernandez, Ballet Master for the World Famous Alonzo King LINES Ballet.  A native of California, Mr. Fernandez has choreographed for James Sewell Ballet, Inland Pacific Ballet, among others.   For more than two decades he has been an integral and part of Alonzo King LINES Dance Center.  He has staged Mr. King’s work world -wide, most notably for the Royal Swedish Ballet.  His complete biography is available at LINES Ballet.

To attend you have to be preregistered and prepaid. To pay simply purchase an event ticket at Brown Paper Tickets.
We’ll need your address to keep you posted on location updates and the like.

 

Not a dancer?  You can donate the registration for one of KWDP’s dancers to attend this rare event.  Donations will be processed through PayPal.  A PayPal account is not necessary to make a donation.

 

Upcoming Performances

KWDP is back at the Pasadena Dance Festival.  We are performing our latest work, Soft Ambient Pulse, on February 16 at Lineage Performing Arts Center at 7pm.  For tickets visit, http://lineagedance.org/festival/feb-16/

Performances

Kenneth Walker Dance Project is pleased to announce its 2012 and 2012 seasons are supported in part by a grant from the Los Angeles County Arts Council.
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Experience KWDP

While there’s no better way to experience Kenneth Walker Dance Project than to attend a live performance, we invite you to browse quotes from many of the dance community’s most respected professionals and critics. We are delighted to share with you here a selection of what others are saying about Kenneth Walker’s choreography. Read more

Our Mission

Kenneth Walker Dance Project is a contemporary ballet company dedicated to the expression of the modern condition through the lens of the classical vocabulary.

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Donate to KWDP

Every gift counts. Whether large or small, monetary or in-kind, your tax-deductable contribution ensures the survival of KWDP in our community. Read more

Special Thanks…

To Google, the City of Long Beach, and Arts Council for Long Beach for their generous continued support.  Without their support and yours, KWDP could not continue our mission.