My favorite dance

One of my adult students asked what my favorite dance to perform was. I didn’t have many starring roles in my career, but the first dance that came to mind was Con Amore. It’s a dance by Lew Christensen, one of the founding fathers of ballet in the West. It’s a silly dance about Amazons, thieves, and a wife with too many suitors. I was fortunate to play two roles in this dance, the Sailor and the Thief. I received many compliments as the Sailor. Someone even said I reminded them of Gene Kelley (he was my idol, so I was over the moon). The Thief was my first solo outside of The Nutcracker and I’ve I done many solos in The Nutcracker. I loved every second of it from the nerves before the curtain to the post performance talk in the lobby. I’ve been in some great works including Serenade and Allegro Brillante by Balanchine, Double Contrasts and Unknown Territory by Choo-San Goh, and many others, but that one holds a special place for me.

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.

Ballet classes with Kenneth

Kenneth has ongoing classes

Monday, 7pm San Pedro City Ballet, 1231 S Pacific Ave

Tuesday, 9:30am Peninsula School of Performing Arts, Peninsula Center, 700 Silver Spur Road, Rolling Hills Estates

Wednesday, 9am Peninsula School of Performing Arts, Lunada Bay, 2325 Palos Verdes Dr. West, Palos Verdes Estates

Friday, 10am San Pedro City Ballet, 1231 S Pacific Ave

 

Contact us for more details, ken@kennethwalkerdanceproject.org

Classes with Kenneth Walker

Looking to take class from Kenneth? You can take class with him at:

Peninsula School of Performing Arts

Tuesdays, 9:30am
Peninsula Center Studio

700 Silver Spur Road
Suites 106 & 107
Rolling Hills Estates, CA 90274

San Pedro City Ballet

Mondays, 7pm

Fridays, 10am

1231 S Pacific Ave, San Pedro, CA 90731

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.

MTC -New Works Project 2014

MOVEMENT THEATRE COLAB
NEW WORKS PROJECT 2014

“Spring, choreographed by Kenneth Walker II with music by Vivaldi and Max Richter was both literally and figuratively a splash of light and color upon the stage. Unified intricate hand gestures, technical balletic lines/movements combined with the dancers’ radiant smiles and fiery attire make this piece sear into the memory.”

Read more

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.

Alumni Stories

Kenneth was just interviewed by UCLA’s alumni department. Read about his decision to start KWDP and his favorite day at UCLA.

Kenneth Walker, Artistic Director

Kenneth Walker

Kenneth Walker is Artistic Director of Kenneth Walker Dance Project (KWDP) and a 2007 Lester Horton Dance Awards Nominee for Outstanding Performance by a Company for its program, Sheer Force of Will. Read more

Nichole Beeks

Nichole Beeks was born and raised in Long Beach California. She attended the Los Angeles County High School for the Arts where she trained in ballet, modern, jazz, lyrical and contemporary dance as well as musical theatre and film. Read more