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!

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.

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