There’s something special about small dance companies. For dancers, directors and administrative people, the challenges are great, but so are the rewards. One such company, VISIONS Contemporary Ballet, recently presented work (Dash – Between) via Take Root, a monthly dance performance curated by Green Space, which is a studio and performance space in Queens, NYC.
We caught up with VISIONS Founder and Artistic Director Ranardo-Domeico Grays to learn about the history of the company, his process and how he finds inspiration in challenging times. Grays is a graduate of The Julliard School and California Institute of the Arts and has an extensive performance career in addition to his choreographic pursuits with VISIONS.
What inspired you to create a company?
“I was compelled to create the company because of reasons bigger than myself. I felt that it was important for me to have the choreographic works that I was creating performed by a group of dancers who would work together consistently. I was making dances that were a combination of movement styles, mostly modern with elements of African dance and praise dance with a ballet base. The mission being to uplift and inspire audiences, especially underserved communities, through dance about the human experience.”
How do you integrate your African American heritage into your choreography?
“My ideas come from my experiences as an African American male with a distinct spiritual heritage. My great-great grandparents were ministers; both mother and father prayed generations of our family into this world. Staying true to this heritage, my work continues to have a spiritual base that is rooted in the Black experience.”
You are a brain cancer survivor. What impact did that experience have on your artistry and choreography?
“Yes, I am a seven-year brain cancer survivor. As a choreographer, it was a blessing in disguise, although having cancer and going through treatment including brain surgery, chemotherapy and a bone marrow transplant was a terrible and grueling experience. Persevering through the agony of having brain cancer gave me understanding and clarity of my purpose and work. During the month spent in the hospital, I organized my portfolio of short pieces into three full-length 20- to 30-minute ballets. I conceptualized my experiences, thoughts and beliefs based on my life having now been affected by brain cancer to create these three ballets. While unable to move fully or dance, I constructed these key movements in my mind. I would close my eyes and visualize the movement concepts and phrases. Dash – Between is a ballet with six movements about living life in the dash between ‘born and died.’”
Speaking of illness, how did COVID affect your view of how dance fits into our society?
“COVID allowed me to see how valuable dance is to our society – how important it is to keep art moving and changing lives positively. So many were affected by the lack of live performance that it was very apparent.”
Looking back on 2021, what were some highs and lows for you as a director?
“One of my bigger challenges in 2021 was booking male dancers who would be proficient enough to meet the level of professionalism needed to execute the choreography. After reaching out to a vast number of male dancers and conducting a few auditions, I met this challenge by creating a company with an all-female cast. This necessitated a lot of re-working and re-setting choreography that was originally created on male dancers and purchasing of new costumes. This worst part of 2021 stretched my vision and gave me something new and exciting. My proudest moment was being commissioned by the Jamaica Center for Arts and Learning, to present Shattered Lives in the Making Moves Dance Festival ~ To Life. It was a highlight to be back on stage. I am also extremely grateful to have been a grantee of the City Artist Corps and LMCC Creative Engagement grants. With those funds, VISIONS Contemporary Ballet presented In Truth and In Light. Having a full house at each performance, the emotional reactions from the audience during the concert and the appreciation made 2021 a success!”
What goals do you have for 2022?
“I want to continue to make a difference. I would like to increase the annual budget for VISIONS Contemporary Ballet. I feel that it is important to pay dancers fair and living wages. I am working toward the company being presented at more New York venues. It would be great to tour throughout the country and abroad this year.”
Find out more about VISIONS Contemporary Ballet at www.visionscontemporary.com.
By Emily Sarkissian of Dance Informa.