Next Monday, the WestWave Dance Festival presents a special night of choreography by Maurya Kerr, former principal dancer with Alonzo Kings LINES Ballet. Kerr’s petite yet powerful company, tinypistol, will perform a world premiere and two returning works as a celebratory send-off to WestWave. Monday’s one-time-only performance commemorates WestWave’s 21st and final season of dance, where it has presented 523 choreographers, 393 world premieres, and 2,092 performances.
What: WestWave Dance presents an evening of work by choreographer Maurya Kerr/tinypistol
When: August 27, 8PM
Tickets: $18-23, online or at the door
Kerr’s dance chops speak volumes about her own skills, and her burgeoning choreographic talents are creating quite a firestorm, taking honors at last year’s Hubbard Street National Choreographic Competition.
And while Kerr is still a newbie compared to the depth and reach of WestWave, her talents go beyond one night. Here in conversation, she talks about how she fell into choreography and her outlook on the future, well past August 27.
SF Appeal: How did you get into choreography? How did you move from dancer to dancemaker?
Maurya Kerr: I felt like I was forced to, a little bit. I had a career-ending [hip] injury. And so I kind of got into as another means of expression since I couldn’t do it [dance] itself. But I never had any interest in choreographing when I was dancing.
But you’re actually enjoying it, right? You don’t feel like you’re forced to do it?
Yes! I love it.
This would be a really depressing interview if you were like, “Gosh, I hate this!”
No, I absolutely love it!
What’s been your direction for the upcoming show?
I’m doing three different pieces. Two are from 2011, the third is a premiere, called “Freakshow.” The three are all different, I picked them purposely to try to show different ranges. They give off different feelings–for me when I watch them. And I hope they do the same for the viewers.
So the two works from 2011 are “BUCK” and “Sick with Joy.” [Check out some video samples here.] Did you go back and tweak them at all from their original form?
“BUCK” I’m changing a little bit. In “Sick with Joy,” I’m adding in two duets from “Residue” [another previous piece].
What motivated you to do this? To add the two duets?
Well, I had originally wanted to present four different pieces, with the “Residue” duets as the fourth…. My choreographic mentor, he [Alex Ketley, through a CHIME grant] suggested trying to do one evening-length piece. That didn’t seem possible with all of these different pieces, but “Sick with Joy” was the only one that it made sense to do it with. I still need to figure out how I’m going to do that! How to make it work.
What is “FreakShow”? What’s the centerpiece of this new work?
I’m always intrigued by otherness and by how we don’t fit in, in ways that are invisible and aren’t invisible also. I was actually researching this sideshow carnival freak and used that as my impetus, just wanting to have that as a starting point.
As is everything, it always starts out differently than it ends up. But being a whole aspiration of isolation and getting lonely, wanting to connect and not being able to. It comes back to otherness. I think we can all relate to that. On some level or another, it all falls apart. And that’s such a very intriguing premise for me, personally, emotionally, artistically, choreographically, all of that.
You were a ballet dancer for many years, and now you create dance such an earthy, quirky movement style. How have you found your style and how are you defining it?
I sort of found it because I had such a huge serious injury, I wasn’t able to move very fully when I started choreographing. I did a lot of creation to words. I would read the text and then make the movements to go with them, often gestural movements. I would then add more depth: my natural movement style is very earthy. I really wanted to leave ballet. I don’t find it as moving, and I’m more intrigued by how creatures move and not necessarily how people do.
You were talking about otherness, loneliness, and also finding that connection. The idea of who people are versus what people expect of us–I think when you get to ballet, there’s an expectation. And being able to break from that: it’s frowned upon or not embraced as much as we might hope it would.
Right. And all of the dancers in my company are incredible ballet dancers. For me, you need ballet training in order to do this kind of work. But it’s not what comes out of my body naturally. Choreographing: it’s an interesting process to watch. Like, oh, this actually is how I move!
I’m not sure if ballet comes out of anyone’s body naturally. If it did, the world might be very, very different.
When I see ballet dancers do improv, they still do ballet because they haven’t been trained differently or know that they’re allowed to [move differently]. And there are other styles that are really beautiful and fascinating, or moving low to the ground or jagged. There are so many forms of dance… I’m definitely trying to soak in as much dance as I can… See what works, what doesn’t work.
Was it a clean break from ballet? Or did you start investigating what worked for you and what didn’t? There are many dancers who just stop or go to teach. And I’m fascinated by your transition.
All my life, I planned on, once I retired, I was going to go to school and grad school, immersed in academia.That was always my plan. I think partially because my ending wasn’t the one that I wanted it to be and because I was injured, I didn’t have the choice. My plan was always predicated on choice. And because of the emotionally thorny leave-taking, I wasn’t quite ready to leave… I’m really grateful it turned out this way, but it wasn’t my plan. At all. And my entire life, I thought I’d go to grad school for poetry. But [my path] evolved into this new creation… But I’m so incredibly grateful for my life now and for what I’m doing.
You talked about how the idea of otherness inspires you. What else sparks the flame for you in creating dance?
Definitely text. I read a lot of poetry. It’s my process, not necessarily the work. Poetry has always fascinated in me ever since I was a small girl. And I’m interested in exploring my own struggle: that evolves from everything from despair and rage and hope. We’re such full palettes. And I’m always trying to mine that. I’m intrigued by work that makes me feel something that gives me an experience. And in order to create that, it has to be from my own experience.
You have this one night at Z Space, and it’s such a special and commemorative evening. But thinking past that, what are your next to-do’s?
I don’t have anything planned right now. Everything has just sort of happened. I’d like to pursue more opportunities to choreograph. I have a very fertile ground here because I teach at LINES and there are two different programs here with amazing dancers. I get to choreograph on them twice a year, and these are the groundwork for my other pieces. So I’m really lucky to have dancers to learn from and what I can choreograph on them. But I have nothing big planned! If I can keep creating, then I’m happy.
Amazing things happen like Hubbard Street 2 and the competition, and this night; it’s amazing that Joan [Lazurus] persevered to give me this night. I’m going to keep working and see what happens.