Performances: EDGEWORKS Dance Theater Presents /CLOSE/R

EDGEWORKS Dance Theater presents /CLOSE/R at Dance Place Saturday, September 15th and Sunday, September 16th. EDT Artistic Director Helanius J. Wilkins conceived and choreographed this work, which he will also perform. I caught up with Helanius to learn more about his latest work. For more information and to buy tickets, please visit the Dance Place website. If you’re going Saturday night, look out for me. I’ll be there!

/CLOSE/R is the culmination of your performance work for your MFA program of study. Can you tell me more about your MFA program of study?

I returned to the university setting in summer 2011 to pursue graduate studies, as an extension of my artistic journey. I am a Master’s of Fine Arts degree candidate at the George Washington University. This distance-learning program is specifically designed for professionals working in the field, and is low residency, meaning that it is not a traditional three-year program. Participation in this program requires an 18-month commitment. Among the many things that I appreciate about the program is the exposure and work related to new media and technology as well as the opportunities created for building new networks. Specific to my individual research, I have been exploring the topic of “sensing” which is leading me to a new way of molding movement and expanding my movement vocabulary. I am also being guided by my curiosity about how to validate sensing as a way of knowing. This work has opened up new doors for me to revisit, explore, and engage in authentic movement.

/CLOSE/R marks a shift in your creative process. How does this work compare to your previous work? What inspired you to make this creative shift?

/CLOSE/R is very different on many levels when comparing it to my previous work. Most notable is that I return to the solo form. In fact, this is my first-ever evening length solo project. There is a traditional saying that solo projects are confessionals. LOL… What I will share about this work is that audiences will get to see me in a way that is not typical of my body of work created and performed over the past 10 years.

I am definitely on a journey that is leading me to new places of vulnerability, strength, and discovery. As a result of all this I open myself up to connecting with audiences in new ways, including through humor.

/CLOSE/R as well as my creative shift comes out of the completion of a decade-long research and performance process that unfolded as a trilogy of works (Fearless in 2002, Cold Case in 2006, and Trigger in 2011) examining and exploring issues such as race, sexuality, spirituality, and class from the perspective of African-American men. As this process evolved, it framed a 15-year transformation in my personal life. This transformation has left me empowered to reveal the naked truth, the honest force behind my creations—my art. I find myself in the incubation period of a new definition for dance. I am undoing what I’ve come to know and exploring the possibilities of dance as a means to discover new work that reflects a distinct phase of my journey.

What’s next for Helanius and EDGEWORKS Dance Theater?

Fantastic question! Truthfully speaking, I am doing much reflection and soul-searching on that very question as it relates to all the various thoughts floating in my head – and there are many thoughts. As far as the immediate future is concerned, graduating is just around the corner. I will complete my graduate studies this fall. Along with this big achievement, I am thrilled and excited to be guest artist in residence at University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC) this fall too. I am equally excited by the activities of EDGEWORKS Dance Theater’s 12th anniversary season, which will begin with the performances of my solo project at Dance Place. The solo project will be touring to Chicago, IL in October and Cedar Rapids, IA in November. In addition, audiences will be able to experience some of EDGEWORKS Dance Theater’s signature group works in mixed repertory performances at the Jewish Community Center Northern Virginia (JCCNV) on November 17th and on the Millennium Stage at the John F. Kennedy Center on June 3rd, 2013. We have a packed season of activities. Whew! That’s a lot! For more information about EDGEWORKS Dance Theater, please visit their website.

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Getting Personal with EDT Director Helanius J. Wilkins

From Helanius J. Wilkins, Founder & Artistic Director

When I founded EDGEWORKS Dance Theater, I had only a dream and a gut feeling telling me that this was what I needed to do. I planted my feet firmly onto the ground and began the work – the work that would lead to, and is, the journey of EDGEWORKS. Back then I wasn’t so concerned with the future. I was more focused on creating the moments that would give way to building a foundation and shedding light on the possibilities of a future. It is now 10 years later.

Helanius J. WilkinsEDGEWORKS Dance Theater’s success and ability to make a positive impact on communities through dance is the result of dreaming, and also actively doing. From the start, I envisioned an organization with a vision and mission that would extend far beyond dance studios and stage performances. I envisioned an organization that would be built upon the strength of forming solid community bonds, and creating opportunities for collaboration. After experiencing collaborations, and in some cases continuing to, with organizations such as American Dance Institute, Joy of Motion Dance Center, Miriam’s Kitchen, and Us Helping Us as well as with numerous artists and supporters, makes it hard to imagine EDGEWORKS without collaborations.

On the heels of our first gala, RED, HOT & RIOT, I am excited to have an opportunity to celebrate our wonderful accomplishments. I am even more excited to launch a new phase in our journey of collaborating and developing meaningful partnerships to continue the work. This, I believe, is the only way the work can continue – by building community.

I hope you’ll join us for RED, HOT & RIOT, taking place this Thursday, May 5th at Woolly Mammoth Theatre! Join us for a sizzling evening to celebrate 10 strong years while collaborating with us to keep our mission in motion. Click Here for more details and to purchase tickets!

March 2011 Random Roundup

I wish there was some technology that could transcribe my thoughts about various dance experiences into a blog post while I’m riding the Metro back to Dupont Circle. Alas, there is not so I don’t get to share as much information about classes, workshops and performances as I would like to. Instead of complaining that this technology does not exist, I thought it might be fun to do a random roundup of my most recent experiences.

Edgeworks Dance Theater

EDGEWORKS Dance Theater (photo credit: Isaac Oboka)

Week of March 7th – I met with three talented dancers on three separate days this week: Rachel Bell of DancEthos, Kelly Mayfield of Contradiction Dance and Helanius J. Wilkins of EDGEWORKS Dance Theater. It was great to catch up with these artists and find out what they’re working on:

I also finally had the chance to take class with Esperonto Bean on Thursday, March 10th. He was a special guest instructor at Culture Shock Company Class at DC Dance Collective. Check out the YouTube video of the combination. In addition to teaching his choreo, Esperonto shared some words: “Every one of us is writing the books of history,” he said. “It’s our responsibility to be more than just dancers, but also to be historians of our culture.”

Bloggers Brunch (photo credit: C. Fox Communications)

Week of March 14th – Last Friday, I attended a Bloggers Brunch hosted by C. Fox Communications and the Arts and Humanities Council of Montgomery County. Carrie Fox of C. Fox Communications moderated the media panel which included: Christie Garton of USA Today, Mike Grass of Washington City Paper, Maura Judkis of TBD.com, Amy L. Kovac-Ashley of Patch.com, Jessica McFadden of A Parent in Silver Spring, Greg O’Neill of Greg’s List and Jackie Trescott of The Washington Post. This event might not seem dance related, but most of the journalists featured cover arts and culture. You may be able to apply some of their advice to your own dance organization. Here are some useful tidbits from the discussion.

  • Story ideas: When looking for story ideas, Jackie Trescott of The Washington Post turns to ArtsJournal.com for a digest of arts and culture information. This site could be helpful to find ways to tie in your story with a larger trend.
  • Facebook: Maura Judkis of TBD.com will often attend events that she finds out about through Facebook. I was surprised by this because I loathe Facebook event invites, but I do find them useful for putting together my weekend event guides.
  • Twitter: Four out of seven reporters raised their hands when Carrie asked if they use Twitter for gathering story ideas. Jessica McFadden of A Parent in Silver Spring said it’s a great place for inspiration, but warned that it’s not a full proof way to communicate.
  • Events: Promoting an event? Anyone can contribute to event calendars on Patch.com. The hyperlocal news venture of AOL has several sites that cover specific communities in DC, Maryland and Virginia including Georgetown, Bethesda and Reston among others.
  • Photos: Most of the reporters said their media outlets don’t take user generated content. They do however love photos! Christie Garton of USA Today asked that you send photos after a reporter has expressed interest in your pitch. Photos take up valuable e-mail space.
  • Pitches: Mike Grass admits that Washington City Paper can be hard to pitch. He detests packaged PR and advises not to pitch several news organizations in the same way. They’re looking for the local, quirky angle of your story.
Ajnin Precizion

Kendrick Santiago (photo credit: Justin Jaro)

Last Saturday, I made my way to Gaithersburg for Ajnin Precizion’s Intensive 2 at Halo Dance Studio. Ajnin Precizion, established by Kristin Santiago, is a group of individuals joined by the love and passion of dance and self-expression. The intensive featured four classes for $18 taught by Ajnin Precizion members David Specht, Kendrick Santiago and John Cheng, and special guest Billy Ta, former director of Major Definition. Each class followed the same format – warm up, break down of choreography, then groups, but featured a different style of hip hop. My favorite class was Kendrick’s, which featured upbeat house choreography. Loved his energy! For more information about Ajnin Precizion, follow them on Twitter.

danceDC Weekend Event Guide 2/19-2/20

Edgeworks

EDGEWORKS Dance Theater perfoms at Dance Place this weekend.

I am beyond excited for the long weekend. Are you? Sorry if you don’t have Monday off. That sucks. Luckily, there are lots of dance events going on to keep you entertained. My picks for the weekend include Fly by Night – a dance salon hosted by the Dance Exchange. If you haven’t been to the Dance Exchange, it’s very Metro accessible. Only a short walk from Takoma.

I am also hoping to make it to EDGEWORKS Dance Theater’s performance at Dance Place. I interviewed Founder and Artistic Director Helanius J. Wilkins previously for danceDC and also took his modern class at Joy of Motion/Friendship Heights as part of my 10 day dance challenge. No news you can use for now, but if you hear anything let me know. Happy President’s Day!

Saturday, February 19th

Sunday, February 20th

Helanius J. Wilkins: Dance Chose Me

Since moving to Washington, DC, Louisiana native Helanius J. Wilkins has had the good fortune to do what he loves for a living – dance. In addition to founding all-male contemporary dance company Edgeworks Dance Theater, he has taught dance classes at Joy of Motion, the American Dance Institute and The Washington Ballet.

Edgeworks Dance Theater

photo credit: Tim Coburn

“Dance chose me,” he said. “I feel like it’s a calling and I was able to recognize that at an early age.” Helanius shared a memory from his childhood of him watching Alvin Ailey on PBS. Upon seeing Ailey dance, he thought “that’s me” and his journey started from that point on.

Since founding Edgeworks Dance Theater nearly a decade ago, Helanius has developed a unique style of contemporary dance. It is a style that is athletic, about real people and one that often reconnects the past and the present. There is dance for entertainment, dance for movement’s sake and then there is dance that communicates. Helanius believes his style speaks to people and goes beyond the physical. It challenges viewers to think and reflect about the issues being presented.

Creative Process

According to Helanius, two things lie at the base of his creative process – community engagement and diverse perspectives. He conducts dance workshops, open rehearsals and discussion groups to give viewers an opportunity to be part of the process. These sessions also provide Helanius the chance to hear different viewpoints on the themes he explores in his work.

My goal is not to create work that reflects my own personal viewpoints, he said. Instead, the objective is to portray an honest account of complex social issues such as race, gender, class and sexuality. “It’s an ongoing process of better understanding how we as a society move beyond simply tolerating.”

Inspiration

Inspiration comes from a variety of sources, but it is the desire to shatter stereotypes that keeps the creative process going. “I’m trying to create something honest and real. Often times those things are socially-inspired and politically relevant,” he said. “I’m interested in our world and how I can contribute to a greater dialogue leading to greater understanding, progress, change.”

Helanius not only challenges stereotypes through his movement, but also through the members of his company. Edgeworks Dance Theater is a predominantly African-American all-male dance company in an industry dominated by females. One of his company members, Mervin Primeaux, is a deaf dancer which Helanius notes is uncommon among mainstream dance companies.

Up next for Edgeworks Dance Theater is a debut in Louisiana. The company will tour to his hometown, Lafayette, for a performance residency Wednesday, October 27th through Sunday, October 31st. They will also have a free performance at the Kennedy Center’s Millennium Stage on Thursday, November 18th at 6pm. The company continues to work on their upcoming production Trigger, which will premiere February 2011 at Dance Place. Trigger is part of a trilogy of works that explores the legacy of black men in dance and society. For more information about Trigger and Edgeworks Dance Theater, visit www.hjwedgeworks.org.

danceDC Weekend Event Guide 9/18-9/19

Dance/MetroDC hosted its Fall Season All Dance Kick-Off Party at the Skybar of the Beacon Hotel on Wednesday, September 15th. I was in attendance to enjoy the roof top views and also to watch members of Urban Artistry break it down. At the party, I was thrilled to meet Helanius J. Wilkins, Artistic Director of Edgeworks Dance Theater. His all male contemporary dance company will be performing this weekend at the American Dance Institute. I’m hoping to make it to their 3pm performance on Sunday as I’ll be taking in the sites and sounds of the H Street Festival on Saturday. Hope your weekend is full of dancing!

Saturday, September 18th

Sunday, September 19th

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