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I’ve been hoping to get a little more insight on his work, so I was thrilled when Helanius Wilkins, Founder and Artistic Director of Edgeworks Dance Theater, the DC-based all male dance company, agreed to answer a few of my questions. He’s been busy preparing for this weekend’s performance at the American Dance Institute, so he took my questions via email.
Maria: Let’s get the cliched question out of the way: influences. In past conversation you’ve mentioned Horton, Ailey, Bill T Jones, and martial arts as either influences or training grounds. Have you been dancing all your life? What motivates and inspires you?
Helanius J. Wilkins: While I have not been dancing all of my life, dance has always been a part of me. I do not feel that I chose dance, it chose me. It is a calling – and my career is the result of something far deeper than simply making the choice to dance. Life motivates me to dance. What I do is about life experiences, observations, and a quest to know and understand more in order to contribute to the shaping of a more socially just world.
M: In Cold Case, you faced head-on some of the brutal realities of race and racism in America. Can we expect the same frank treatment of sexuality and spirituality in [your newest work,] the determining factor? Where does this honesty come from?
HJW: Absolutely, I have no issues with addressing some of today’s most difficult issues. I believe that we are in a national crisis on so many fronts. Unless we become proactive about confronting these issues, things will never change. … The honesty comes from not being afraid to take risks – not being afraid to ask questions.
M: Community involvement was part of the foundation for the determining factor. How did that part of the process go and did it take you in any unexpected places?
HJW: Yes, the determining factor is in part the result of community collaboration. This collaboration was very enlightening, humbling, and exciting all at the same time. I have walked away with so much…And the journey is just beginning. Yes, unexpected places were a constant in the process. This made for a truly moving and wisdom filled experience.
M: In addition to the acclaim you have received for your work as an artist, it seems that you have attracted recognition from funders as well (your website has a long list of funding, recognition, and honors), including your recent feature of the Catalog of Philanthropy. Nonprofit management skills are key to making the jump from artistic genius to recognition and success. How have you balanced your choreography, teaching, and management responsibilities? What advice would you give to nascent dance companies looking build themselves as an organization?
HJW: Keeping my art first, staying connected to my passion for what I do, and being strategic about everything has been/is the key to the balancing of my responsibilities. These very things are the things I would also share with an emerging organization/artist.
M: You’re about to make your NYC debut (as a headliner) and have already had success touring domestically and internationally. What do you feel sets EDT apart to garner the attention it has, and what do you want the world to know about your work and your dancing? What are your plans for the future?
HJW: There are many things that I believe sets EDT apart from other companies. From being DC’s 1st all male contemporary dance company of predominately Black men to being the second in the nation of its kind to being a company focused on the often misunderstood voice of the african-american male. As much as our work is serious and honest it is entertaining and it reflects the stories and feelings of real people – real lives. Plans for the future: One step at a time.
You can see Helanius Wilkins and Edgeworks Dance Theater in a preview performance of the determining factor this weekend, May 2-3 @ 8pm at the American Dance Institute in Rockville, MD.
For tickets, go to www.americandance.org
Do not miss the following performances by two wonderful DC-based companies.:
- EDGEWORKS Dance Theater at the American Dance Insitute, May 2-3 (tickets)
- El Teatro de Danza Contemporanea de El Salvador at the GALA Theater at Tivoli Square, May 3-4 (tickets)
Of course, I am a little biased. EDT’s artistic director is Hilanius Wilkins, and El Teatro’s is Miya Hisaka. Both of these individuals are my teachers and I have an enormous amount of respect for them and their work.
I haven’t seen El Teatro before, but we have had the privilege of learning some of the company’s repertory in class. Classical ballet and modern technique combine to form beautiful lines and emotional storytelling.
EDT will be premiering a preview of their new work, the determining factor. Wilkins is known for his use of multimedia, community collaboration, and unflinching confrontation of important peronal, social and political issues. Combined with the sensitive yet athletic dancing of this all-male troupe, watching EDT is an explosive and profound experience.
New Yorkers, save the date of June 17, when EDT will have their NYC premiere on a double bill with Ron Brown/EVIDENCE at the Thelma Hill Performing Arts Center.
Today is officially Pope Mania day in Washington, DC. Pope Benedict is stateside for a few days and will be giving a mass at Nationals Ballfield this morning at 10:30am before moving on to NYC. People have come in from all over the country and the world to attend, as was fairly evident on my very crowded morning commute.
The most delightful story coming out of Pope Mania is the involvement of a local acapella ensemble, the Suspicious Cheese Lords. I came to know the Cheese Lords when a friend and I were looking for something interesting to do one evening and saw an announcement for a free concert at a church. We really had no idea what they were, but how could a person in their right mind turn down the opportunity to see a group called the Suspicious Cheese Lords?
Turns out, they are an all-male acapella group that specializes in “sacred renaissance polyphony.” As the hauntingly beautiful vocal harmonies echoed around the chapel of the Franciscan Monastery, we knew we had discovered one of Washington’s jewels.
Fast forward to yesterday, when I received an announcement on the Cheese Lords’ mailing list, that they had been selected to perform at this morning’s papal mass. There was just one small catch: the name.
“Despite having performed at such venues as the Kennedy Center, the National Gallery of Art, and the Smithsonian Institution,” says a press release entitled Too Cheesey for the Pope?, ”their name still seems to make some folks a little uncomfortable: they’re listed in the official program for the April 17 event as ‘Sacred Music Ensemble’, with their real name discreetly tucked away in the acknowledgements on a back page.”
To my knowledge, silly humor is not against Catholicism, but perhaps some people think that such a name lacks the appropriate gravitas to be appearing in such close proximity to the Pope’s.
“Dr. Hugh Dempsey, Deputy Director of the [Pope John Paul II] Cultural Center, is a fan of the group. It didn’t hurt that the group has presented several concerts at the Center, and that one of its members, George P. Cervantes, works there. However, this did not guarantee that the Lords would be asked to perform. Dr. Dempsey had to convince the staff at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, the primary organizers of the event, that having a group called the Cheese Lords sing at such an historic and dignified event wouldn’t be such a crazy idea.”
I know the Pope and assembled guests will be thrilled to have the Cheese– er, ‘Sacred Music Ensemble’ performing for them, and as a local fan, I hope it serves as a springboard for more national and international recognition for this talented group.
P.S., You’re probably wondering how such an unserious name came to a group of such serious musicians:
“The Suspicious Cheese Lords’ unconventional name is derived from the title of a [Thomas] Tallis motet, Suscipe quaeso Domine. In a playful translation of the title, it was observed that Suscipe could mean “suspicious,” quaeso resembles the Spanish word queso meaning ‘cheese,’ and Domine is, of course, ‘Lord.’ Hence, the title of the motet was clearly ‘Suspicious Cheese Lord’ – which in time became adopted as the group’s name. ‘I hated the name,’ says West. ‘And the guys loved it.’ And to this day, thanks to Skip’s cooking skills, the Cheese Lords continue to have dinner together before their weekly rehearsals.”
Kelly Mayfield’s Contradiction Dance will be the featured artist on the Kennedy Center’s Millenium Stage this evening at 6pm. This is a free performance.
If you missed Echo Park’s performance last week (which I reviewed here), you will have a chance to see solos by Cedric Tillman, Shylo Martinez, and Kelly Mayfield reprised this evening as well.
If you can’t make it out tonight, the Kennedy Center provides live and archived videos of all Millenium Stage performances here.
Auditions were held for the third season of my favorite TV dance show, So You Think You Can Dance, today right here in Washington DC, at the Atlas Center for the Performing Arts. I think it’s great that the Atlas, which has been at the heart of one of DC’s most interesting urban renewals (real renewal as opposed to gentrification), is going to get such huge exposure when the show airs.
I’d hoped to make it over there during my lunch hour to check out the crowd and ask people how it had gone, but it just didn’t happen.
A great video, photos and a little recap of the day’s people and events is up at the Baltimore Sun’s Reality Check blog. Apparently, first round is continuing tomorrow with callbacks on Saturday and Sunday.
Were you there? Did you get in? Did you audition? How did it go? Who did you see? What was the process like? We’re dying to know!!
Leave a comment or email me at timetodanceblog [at] gmail [dot] com if you have a first-hand experience from the DC auditions to share.
February 29 from 4-5pm
1017-21 7th St. NW Washington DC 20001
Co-sponsored by the Warehouse and Dance/MetroDC
Join Dance/MetroDC for an intimate conversation with Dance Magazine Editor-In-Chief Wendy Perron. The discussion will cover everything from the magazine’s changing mission to how editors select Dance Magazine’s 25 To Watch. Come armed with questions. Participants will each receive a free copy of the March 2008 issue of Dance Magazine. FREE!
This is by no means an exhaustive list, but these are events I’m more likely than not going to be attending this month. Words in italics taken from press release/website.
* Fundraiser to benefit Echo Park Contemporary Ballet
Tuesday, February 5th (tomorrow) from 5:30 to 7:30 pm at Marvin’s, 2007 14th St NW (Washington DC), Suggested Donation: $20
* Clavekazi Second Sunday Socials
Finally someplace to dance on Sunday afternoons! (Finally a social that fits my schedule!!!–ed.) The ClaveKazi Dance Studio is beginning “Second Sunday Socials” on February 10. Only $5 to come and dance to great music in our spacious studio! A FREE Ladies Styling class will start the evening, and we’ll be playing Salsa, Bachata, Cha-Cha-Cha and everything else that keeps you moving! Don’t miss it! Socials Begin at 5PM! These Socials will be held once/month, on the second Sunday. Featuring DJ Renzo.
* Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater
At the Kennedy Center, February 19-24. More details and tickets here.
* Bad Boys of Dance
February 22-23, 2008 at 8:00pm, Jack Morton Auditorium (George Washington University Campus),Tickets $25 (includes post show meet and greet reception).
This will mark the first time the bad boys of dance have appeared and performed in Washington, DC. Featuring a new work entitled “Love Hang Over”; this performance will showcase the talents of America’s most renowned male dancers from stage to screen. For more info, visit http://www.echoparkdance.com/
* Evenings With Extraordinary Artists, featuring EDGEWORKS
The Arts Club of Washington presents…”Evenings With Extraordinary Artists” featuring EDGEWORKS Dance Theater, Helanius J. Wilkins, Founder & Artistic Director
Wednesday, February 27, 2008, 5:30 – 7:30 pm
Please join us for an artful evening centered on EDT’s groundbreaking Negro Dance Theatre Project. The evening includes wine, hors d’oeuvres, a performance of excerpts of the critically-acclaimed, award winning Cold Case (1st installment of the Negro Dance Theatre Project), and discussion.
Admission is $15 per person and reservations are strongly encouraged. For reserverations please call the Arst Club at 202-331-7282 x16. Free parking with validation is available at Colonial Parking between I & K Sts, NW. The Arts Club of Washington is located at 2017 I St, NW, Washington, DC.
If you have any additional picks you’re excited about this month, please leave it in the comments below
This summer, I read with interest on Tonya’s and others’ blogs about the much-hyped Bad Boys of Dance. It sounded pretty cool but not the kind of thing that would grace us with its presence here in DC. Boy was I wrong.
Echo Park Contemporary Ballet, which as you will recall from my previous post is an exciting new prospect on our DC dance scene, has followed up the securing of a new studio space in Takoma Park with several interesting pieces of news:
- Former Artistic Director Cedric Tillman is now the Executive DirectorRasta Thomas (of Bad Boys fame) is now the Artistic Director of the company.The Bad Boys of Dance, presented by Echo Park, will be in concert next month. Here are the deets from the press release:
- Executive Director Cedric Tillman invites all to attend an evening of dance artistry certain to draw attention and acclaim on February 22-23, 2008 at the Jack Morton Auditorium /George Washington University Campus 8:00pm. Echo Park Contemporary Ballet is pleased to announce the “Bad Boys of Dance” set, staged and choreographed by our newly named Artistic Director Rasta Thomas. This will mark the first time the bad boys of dance have appeared and performed in Washington, DC. Featuring a new work entitled “Love Hang Over”; this performance will showcase the talents of America’s most renowned male dancers from stage to screen. The Bad Boys are in rehearsal here in DC with anticipation of their DC Debut.
- UPDATE: Echo Park has a website now, too. You can find it here.
- UPDATE 2: Here is the corrected staff list:
Cedric Tillman/Executive Director
Kenneth Rascher/Director of Operations & Productions
Rasta Thomas/Resident Artistic Director
John Asbury/Company Manager
From Falls Church Arts. (FCA has not typically reached out to dancers but they have included dance in their description and I don’t see why it can’t be a good place to start):
Dear Artists and Friends,
Falls Church Arts needs your art – and in a hurry!
FCA is quickly pulling together an exhibit that will open at the February 1 FIRSTfriday and run through mid-March at 111 Park Avenue and needs your help to get it off the ground.
This exhibit will introduce an FCA collaboration with Creative Cauldron on an exciting, year-long series of performances, workshops, and art exhibits — The da Vinci Passport (described in more detail below).
For reasons that will be clear if you read this admittedly long email, we are looking for works that evoke one or more of the seven da Vincian principles of genius, as explored by Michael Gelb in his book How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci.
These principles are curiosita, connessione, sensazione, sfumato, dimostrazione, corporalita, and arte/scienze. (Click here for the principles
FCA is asking artists to submit work for this exhibit that evokes one or more of the above categories.The exhibit will consist of a display explaining the principles along with the art that illustrates them. We will ask the public to “vote” as to which principle(s) each piece illuminates as a way to encourage visitors to look deeper into the art and interpret for themselves what connections can be made.
Please take a look at your available work and choose one piece that you think resonates with one or more of the principles. Call me at 703-533-0775 or email at email@example.com to make arrangements for pick-up or if you have questions. The art may be for sale or not, depending on your wishes. Michele Black and I will be curating the exhibit and will make the decision on what it includes, based on our goal to have a broad and varied show that reflects the principles.
We’d like to have an exciting introduction of The da Vinci Passport program on February 1 and hope you will be able to participate.
President, Falls Church Arts
The da Vinci Passport- A creative way to everyday renaissance through performance, art, and lifelong learning
Falls Church Arts and Creative Cauldron invite you on a journey of discovery, imagination, and self enrichment through a series of theatrical performances,
dance, music, and art. Along the way, you will examine principles that the first Renaissance man, Leonardo da Vinci, used to nurture and develop his genius. The da Vinci Passportwill offer unique, interactive artistic events, workshops, and open panel discussions that invite participants to more fully explore their curiosity, truly awaken their senses, and discover the beauty of the worlds within and around them.
Following the FCA opening exhibit, the series’ performances kick off with….
In Leonardo’s Workshop
February 16 at 7:30 pm at the Center for Spiritual Enlightenment
An engaging interactive multimedia performance, originally created in conjunction with the Washington Revels for the Library of Congress. Performer Oran Sandel invites you to visit the workshop of Leonardo’s mind to experience firsthand how a genius thinks.
The da Vincian principles, as explored by Michael Gelb in his book How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci: Seven Steps to Genius Every Day, will e our starting point for this year-long series and will be the framework on which the various events will be built. They are curiosita, connessione, sensazione, sfumato, dimonstrazione, corporalita, arte/scienze, and connessione.