Kenneth recently sat down with a few of the dancers with KWDP for a Q&A session. Here’s the result.
Q: What is the reason you started KWDP?
A: I was looking for an opportunity to work on a more regular basis with some of the people I had been working with on a few freelance projects. There seemed to be a desire from early audiences to see more of what we were doing so we took the plunge.
Q: Which is KWDP longest performed piece?
A: Do you mean the oldest dance in the repertoire? That would be “All that Glitters”. The dancers and the audience both seem to enjoy that one so it stays in the repertoire.
Q: What are the goals KWDP has for future seasons and integration into the dance community and the communities surrounding?
A: We’re always hoping to get back on the road but we want to serve our community first. We’re looking to do more repertory and master classes around town. By around town we mean the greater LA area including Orange County and the Inland Empire. We want to go back and revisit The Ballet Project. It was a festival dedicated to new ballet choreography. All of this takes money and time. We, of course, have the long-term goals of building the rep using masterworks but we just needed to build our fan base and internal repertoire first.
Q: How many tights does KWDP go through in a season?
A: Not as many as you would think. We have a lot of dances that don’t use traditional pink tights.
Q: What made you decide to start a company?
A: We had our first show on the road and we received a standing ovation. The next thought was to do something in LA. We sold out each of our shows. From there it became, “Well I guess we better start a company.”
Q: Where do you teach?
A: I currently teach at The Wooden Floor, it’s an after-school program for at-risk youth in Santa Ana. I also teach Ballet and Dance Appreciation at CSU Dominguez Hills. On top of that, I teach adult ballet at Peninsula School of Performing Arts and San Pedro City Ballet.
Q: What are your favorite classes to teach?
A: I enjoy working with lots of different types of groups. I especially like working with college students that have negative connotations about ballet. The kind of students that have invariably had a bad experience with ballet or had training that was cursory at best. Finding ways for them to enjoy this form and want to know about it is something I hope to do for many of my students. I also like teaching partnering and working with young people in general.
Q: What’s the biggest class you’ve ever taught?
A: I once taught a class that was about 75 students. It was an outreach class given through Oakland Ballet Company. They were working with another arts organization to teach dance to at-risk kids. It was a challenge but we did it and the kids had a great time.
Q: Which ballet was your favorite to perform? Will you ever recreate it through your choreographic kaleidoscope?
A: I enjoyed doing modern masterworks. I never had a great time doing the classics. I was always in the back. I enjoy the way some choreographers have redone work like Giselle, Swan Lake, and even Romeo and Juliet. Will we do the same? Who knows? Nothing is planned because the scope of doing those works in any capacity tends to be rather large.
Q: What was the inspiration for Soft Ambient Pulse?
A: It’s the second collaboration I did with my friend Kena Rohi Custage. She was a professional DJ after she was a professional ballerina. The movement I feel is vintage KWDP, we take the ideals of ballet (line, vocabulary) and tweak them. We take the centuries-old form and show that it can still be relevant to the needs of a modern audience. The dance is inspired by high fashion, the melding of the styles of music in the dance, and our vision of Contemporary Ballet.
Q: How do you choose costumes?
A: I work with the costume designers and explain any concepts I may have. I also share the music and movement we have up to that point if we have any.
Q: What’s a rehearsal day like at KWDP?
A: We start will a shortened company class. Not every company does that. It takes time out of the day we could use for setting choreography but I’ve always felt it was important to get the dancers warm and keep them in shape to do the work. After that we spend time learning the repertoire we’ll be performing or we’ll get to work creating material for any new work we’re doing
Q: In a day, how long are KWDP rehearsals typically?
A: We have a pretty full rehearsal day usually. Company class followed by at least 3-4 hours of rehearsal.
Q: Who are some of your favorite ballet choreographers?
A: I appreciate the classics but to see live dance I generally go seek out modern choreographers like Mats Ek, Alonzo King, Jiri Kylian and others. I’ve been enthralled with Matthew Bourne lately. He’s telling stories better than most ballet companies.
Q: What are some of your inspirations?
A: I’m inspired by the work of other artists and choreographers. Sometimes I’ll just look at another choreographer’s work and think, “I wish I could create work like that.” But I have my own voice that is trying to push ballet forward to the current century. I think cinema inspires my work more than other art forms (except for music). The choreography of light and cinematography and even stunt choreography, when done well, informs me. It’s hard to dance for me, sometimes. I don’t always choreograph linearly. I approach the work the way that film gets made sometimes. I’ll work on different sections they way that a director works on scenes. It’s very confusing for newbies in the company.
Q: What’s happening next season’s performances?
A: We’re hoping to continue our open company class series. We’re also doing our first every story ballet, “Carmen”. There are other things we want to do, but it all depends on time and finances.
Q: How do you choose your dancers?
A: At the beginning of the company it was either people I was already working with or recommendations from dancers in the company. Once dancers started reaching out to us unsolicited we needed to begin asking people to come to take company class to see if there was a fit.
Q: Will KWDP have auditions for Carmen?
A: Yes, we will be holding auditions for Carmen. Keep an eye out for announcements or shoot us an email to get notified personally.
Q: What do you look for in a dancer for KWDP
A: I think we’re looking for excellent movers in either ballet, modern, and/or jazz but more than that I’m looking for inquisitive dancers. Dancers that are looking to do more with their technique than look pretty. We need dancers that will help push me as a choreographer and that are smart. We don’t have as much time as we’d like in the studio so they need to do their homework. They also need to be adaptable to changes in the choreography.
Q: Can you explain your choreography process?
A: I would say that most of the work starts with the music. For most of my career, there was a backlog of “I want to make a dance to this one day.” Even when we work with musical collaborator the music comes first. We talk about music that I enjoy working with or music I’d like to have manipulated or remixed in some way. Once I’m sure about the music we’re going to use for the new dance I listen to that music for hours. Sometimes I’ve already listened to it for hours before I even decide that it’s something I’m for going to create to. Next, I cast the work and we spend time developing material and figuring out what that dance wants to say. During this time there is a lot of editing going on. Sometimes a phrase I’ve created for one section just doesn’t work or fit where we thought it would and I put it in another place where it works better. But these are all generalities. Every dance has it’s own maturation. Some dances in the rep have come about because I wrote a poem that I wanted to see as a dance. Some dances have come about as a specific request from an outside commission that was brought into the company.
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.
Kenneth Walker Dance Project will be performing Hum and Soft Ambient Pulse as the guests of Moorpark College Dance Department April 23-26. KWDP continues to expand its sphere of influence and is thrilled to perform for the students of Moorpark College. Tickets are $15 and available from Moorpark College Center for the Performing Arts.
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We’re exited announce that we’re partnering with Barnes &Noble for a Book Fair. On Sunday May 1, 2011