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Dance: Make Room For The New But Keep The Old!

By Francine L. Trevens
ART TIMES April 2012

William Isaac Photo:
William Isaac Photo:

In late February I had the opportunity to view a new dance company.

“Another one?” You may well ask. Why do so many people establish new dance companies? To answer that question, and others, I interviewed William Isaac, the founder of the new Kymera Dance. Unlike most companies founded by choreographers, the premiere was not merely a showcase for Isaac’s choreography. It was a program that extolled the joyous possibilities of dance through works by several choreographers.

When asked his reasons for starting a new company, Isaac stated: “I had been a professional dancer since 17. I needed a change. I was interested in choreography. It’s not easy to get opportunities to choreograph – I was lucky to have LaGuardia High School where I choreographed a ballet for their seniors last year.”

His Hive Mentality was the final number of the 2012 Kymera Dance Inaugural Performance, and was danced by La Guardia alumni dancers to most enthusiastic applause by the audience. It was in 2009 he decided he wanted his own company, so it was three years in the formation.

“As a choreographer, I wanted my own company but I reached out to several organizations…” William explained. Having more than paid his dues as a dancer, William expected a more receptive response to his switch to choreography. Other companies were not that receptive to an outside choreographer’s work.

Kymera dancer Marlon Taylor-Wiles.      photo by Chuck MartellKymera dancer Marlon Taylor-Wiles.    
photo by Chuck Martell

He didn’t start dancing very early – and didn’t realize it was how he wished to spend his life that early, either. He was in eighth grade at a Bronx school when the bug first nibbled at him. He went to LaGuardia High School, planning, in his senior year, to go to FIT to study buying and merchandising because he was in love with the fashion industry. He soon succumbed, after seeing many dance performances, to dance as his destiny. That’s how he became a professional dancer at 17.

His dance credits are impressive, as were his awards. He was a finalist for ARTS sponsored by the National Foundation for Advancement of the Arts and a William Loeb Award recipient at Philandanco. He was the principle dancer at Armitage Gone! Dance for eight years He has had numerous creations made on him at such companies as The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Complexions Contemporary Ballet, Alonzo King’s Line Contemporary Ballet, Dance Theatre of Harlem and more.

He performed with the New York City Opera and was invited as a guest soloist to Ballet de Lorraine in Nancy. He worked as assistant choreographer for Passing Strange, performed at The Public Theater. He was the 2007/2008 New York Dance and Performance Award winner for his performance in Karole Armitage’s Connoisseurs of Chaos, among other credits.

Getting assignments to choreograph are not easy to come by, even if you have a finished ballet or three. Existing companies rarely give new choreographers a chance. As a result, Mr. Isaacs, having decided to start his own troupe, also determined to have several choreographers represented in this first public performance of his energetic young ensemble. He wants to give back to the dance community for all the opportunities he has had as a dancer. 

 Premiere of Hive Mentality with the LaGuardia dancers - courtesy of LaGuardia High School
 Premiere of Hive Mentality with the LaGuardia dancers - courtesy of LaGuardia High School - photo by Scott Allen.

Hence, the new Kymera Dance Company, which William realizes is a huge responsibility, is finally a reality.

“I am dedicated to this – it’s what I want to do until I die,” he declared, his eyes sparkling with determination. He has, as do all those who begin new artistic ventures, a dream. “Ideally, I’d like to have my own facility, school with a theatre connected.”

He finds fundraising the hardest part of establishing a new company.

“You have to entice people to see a company, so if you can’t have major stars to lure them, you need a big stage to create an evening of dance to encompass a complete vision with all the elements adding to the experience.” He was delighted to be able to perform at his alma mater in The Little Flower Theatre at Fiorello H. La Guardia High School of Music and Art and Performing Arts.

The other choreographers represented at the premiere were Abdur-Rahim Jackson, and Karole Armitage, each of whom presented one work. All four of the dances performed were relatively recent, starting with Isaacs’ Grand Dame Queen Bee (2012) then Jackson’s a wOrKiNg title (sic) (2008, 2012) and Ms Armitage’s Excerpts from Three Theories (2010), concluding with Hive Mentality.

For Mr. Isaac, musicality is an essential part of his dances and dancers.

Asked how he selected his dancers, William said he reached out to several organizations where he had put in time as a dancer and selected from those they recommended. “I had to dig out people who could present themselves on the quality to dance at La Guardia,” he explained, indicating his high esteem for the school where he had fallen in love with dance. His multi-cultural troupe of attractive dancers certainly fulfilled his expectations in this short but satisfying first performance.

“You have to respect people’s time in this day and age, people I have worked with expect a certain level of performance, but you have to make sure you don’t go crazy!” There is, after all, only so much a new company without big grants from large funding organizations underwriting their work, is able to do.

For example, they had to adjust to a light set up from a different production, and only had a few hours for both tech and dance rehearsal on the stage. They lacked the funds for elaborate costuming. What Kymera Dance did have was exciting new works with well-trained dancers that played to a wildly enthusiastic audience.

Another company – now in its 33rd season, which I saw in March, – presented “Signatures 12,” a stellar program that ran a bit long but was exceptionally pleasing. This is a company with funding from five different agencies and foundations. Their program, intended to juxtapose classical masterpieces with new works to illustrate how ballet is constantly evolving, succeeded beautifully.

From Signatures  12 production - Philip King, Steven Melendez, Elena Zahlmann, Rie Ogura in The Moor's Pavane.
From Signatures  12 production - Philip King, Steven Melendez, Elena Zahlmann, Rie Ogura in The Moor's Pavane.  Photo by Richard Termine.

As I have mentioned before, I love story ballets. The Moor’s Pavane has long been one of my favorites, and seeing their version, so elegantly costumed and exquisitely performed was a nostalgic delight for me. Every element of this production was brilliantly executed. All the photos were also exquisite, but I chose the accompanying one for its brio, which was evident throughout the dance.

While all the dancers were lovely to watch, one’s eye could not help but stray to Steven Melendez in several of the dances. His is a commanding presence. I predict a great future for him.

I also greatly enjoyed the sprightly An Eccentric Beauty Revisited in which Elena Zohlmann’s exuberant solo work was most impressive, especially when contrasted to her subdued interpretation of the Moor’s wife in the …Pavane.

Catch either of these companies when you can – you will be well rewarded with delightful programs lovingly assembled by dedicated dance enthusiasts and performed by excellent dancers.

Francine L.Trevens is thrilled to report her fantasy book, “Pixie Tales”, was named one of the 25 best books of 2011 by Free Book Reviews.