By Stephanie Wolf.
Dot-com start-ups are all the rage in the business world, but what about the unsung entrepreneurs in the dance community? These dancers and dance makers are trying new tactics to find success and re-energize the dance profession. Among these individuals is Asheville native Nick Kepley, an ambitious go-getter who is applying his ballet and Broadway know-how to his own start up MOTION Dance+Theater.
Kepley received his early ballet training from Sandra Miller at Asheville’s Balance Point Studios. He danced professionally with Ballet Austin, Kansas City Ballet, on Broadway in Mary Poppins, and with the New York Philharmonic in Camelot. Throughout his performing career, Kepley demonstrated a knack for choreography and created works for many reputable showcases and regional companies. He learned a lot from each experience, but creating “a 20 minute ballet in five days” was no easy feat. He began to wonder what would happen if the stress of deadlines and scouring for resources were removed. What type of art would transpire?
This inspired Kepley to launch his own creative endeavor – MOTION Dance+Theater. He wanted to provide dancers and choreographers employment during the typically slow summer months, as well as give them an outlet to take artistic risks. Kepley describes MOTION as a “laboratory rather than a performing company”, where more importance is placed on the process rather than a finished product.
In July 2010, MOTION had its inaugural season with sold out performances at NYC’s Dance Theater Workshop. Leading up to the shows, Kepley and NYC choreographer Valerie Salgado had three uninterrupted weeks to choreograph on a group of professional dancers. He gave no rules or guidelines, but allowed the art to develop naturally.
Kepley didn’t create MOTION just for his own artistic indulgences. He wanted to provide a new type of dance experience for the audience. “I really try hard for the audience to think about dance as a modern art form”, he explained. At each showing, there was a moderated discussion to talk about “how dance is made” and, afterwards, he invited the audience to participate in a Q & A with the dancers and choreographers.
Unfortunately, the arts were hit hard economically and MOTION felt the blow; it looked as if there would not be another season. Then donations came forth from North Carolina and Kepley decided to move the company to his hometown. Last summer, MOTION enjoyed three weeks in the fresh mountain air of Asheville. “I like having it down there”, he said. “[In New York] it’s so hectic, having it in North Carolina feels freer and more artistically inspiring.”
What to expect from MOTION Dance+Theater in 2012
Six dancers from Colorado Ballet, Ballet Austin, Kansas City Ballet, and Nashville Ballet will join MOTION in Asheville for three weeks of artistic discovery. Kepley will create a new ballet with original composition by North Carolina School of the Arts graduate Bruce Tippette and has invited two other choreographers to participate in the project: Gabrielle Lamb and Brian Carey Chung.
Chung has his own NYC company called Collective Body Dance Lab and has created works for Cedar Lake II, Connecticut Ballet, and Santa Barbara Ballet. He was drawn to MOTION and its mission immediately. “[Kepley] is so earnest about the process of creating work and a safe place to do that”, Chung said. Both guest choreographers agreed that the concept of having resources provided would allow for more artistic possibilities. Lamb, who has choreographed for Ballet X, Morphoses, and Dance Theatre of Harlem, expressed, “when you are a freelancer … and based in New York, everything becomes that much more difficult. You have to do everything yourself: rent the studios, employ the dancers, find venues. It’s a wonderful chance to have that all taken care of, to go someplace and to concentrate on the work.”
Kepley believes it’s important to present a diverse program and felt that could be accomplished by bringing Chung and Lamb onboard. Chung likes to “play with different ways of creating work”, and Kepley loves his integration of multi-media. The two have already discussed building on this cross-disciplinary display. Lamb, who is also a dance filmmaker, sees her work as “cinematic”, saying “the work I have done in film has changed the way I think about choreography.” All three choreographers pull from their ballet backgrounds, but look for deeper meaning in the movement.
The future of MOTION Dance+Theater
Currently, Kepley is working towards a transition out of the limelight and into more choreography, so MOTION comes at a perfect time in his life. But it’s a lot of work. “Funding is a non-stop job”, he says. “As soon as the season ends, I’m already working on the next.” Kepley strives to cover 100% of his dancers and choreographers expenses, including travel, accommodation, production fees, and operational costs.
MOTION is on the right track. Kepley fundraises proactively with special events and invitations to rehearsals. Additionally, he is forming a board of directors with Camp Wayfarer director Nancy Wilson, one of MOTION’s main sponsors, at the helm. There’s no doubt these are difficult economic times, but Kepley’s MOTION Dance+Theater has the potential and artistic integrity to prevail.
Want to catch MOTION Dance+Theater in action?
Watch a montage video of the 2011 summer creation residency. June 28-July 17th in Asheville, NC: