When senior Kai Lewis saw Jessica Gaines and Crystal Faison perform as guest artists for Moving in the Spirit’s alumni show earlier this year, she knew immediately she wanted to work with these two powerhouse choreographers.
In fact, Kai hadn’t even seen their entire piece – just a tech run without props or costumes – when she excitedly ran up to the two choreographers to ask if they would choreograph her senior solo at Moving in the Spirit.
“I felt like their styles of dance put together was my style of dance, what I like to do, because I like to put every genre of dance in one performance, even one dance if I can,” explains Kai. “Their piece also used text and speaking, and I’m a big theater person, so that influenced me as well.”
The piece Kai saw that evening, Brazen Bodies Dancing, was originally presented at a women’s conference at the University of Georgia in 2013. The work, explains Jessica, is about “unsilencing yourself and being bold, as a woman and as a female dancer, being empowered to speak up and speak for yourself.” It showcases Jessica’s fusion background in modern, afro-modern, b-girl and hip hop styles and Crystal’s background in ballet and modern dance.
So how did these two artists from differing performance backgrounds begin creating work together?
“I met Jessica in 2008 through Chris McCord, the Men in Motion director at Moving in the Spirit,” says Crystal. “One night he invited me to hang out with him and his friend Jessica. And then later, I saw that girl dance. She did this solo that was on a diagonal, and it was one of the best things I’d ever seen in my life. She came up with a project for an annual showcase, and we each started using the other in our projects.”
The two credit the success of their partnership to the unique artistic perspectives they bring as individuals and their deep respect for one another.
“There’s just an intuitive knowing,” Crystal explains. “I know what I’m good at and I know what Jessica is really good at. And I know my limitations. So I think there’s a lot of mutual respect for each other’s eye or each other’s strong points. Jessica comes from a fusion background, so she has more vocabulary to pull from, but the flip side of that is that I might clean a dance we’re working on. We don’t weigh any one thing as more important than the other. We just bring it to the table.”
Since Kai’s dream was to craft a solo based on her life’s journey, Jessica and Crystal began the creative process by taking Kai out for dinner and hearing her story.
“She told us about her name and what it means, ‘loveable melody’, and so I approached everything in a very musical way for her,” says Jessica. “I love working with Moving in the Spirit because the students are so prepared to speak about themselves and who they are without being apologetic or scared. That was really refreshing. When we sat down with Kai, it was no-holds-barred, she just told us who she was.”
“There were pieces of her story that were very Crystal and pieces that were very Jessica, especially when she talked about her relationship with her mother,” shares Crystal. “Jessica and I both grew up in single parent homes lead by our mothers, and I don’t even know my dad at all, so when Kai started talking about that and her childhood and the last couple of years, the passion and the love she has for her mother and her little brother, her desire to go so far musically, dance-wise, performance-wise…well, it really resonated with us. It became apparent why this all worked, because we just have very similar experiences to her. It was just meant to be.”
Kai chose four specific songs for the piece, mixing and editing the music herself to create the soundtrack for her life story. Regarding the choreography, Kai wanted to be a blank canvas for Jessica and Crystal. “I told them, ‘Do what you want!’” says Kai.
Speaking to the choreographic process, Jessica shares, “Kai gave us four songs, which are like four pit stops in life. Crystal and I would choreograph separately based on this through-line and come together in rehearsal. We have the beginning, when you’re atoms and chromosomes forming and becoming a life. The next phase is when you pass through and you’re connected to an actual parent. I was lucky enough to work on this section and challenge Kai to think about how she connects with her mother, because she just graduated and she’s moving on to the next stage in her life. She has to take all that she’s been given from her parent but form her own self. The third part is about going out into the world and being shocked by all the other elements that don’t look like you or talk like you, finding out where you fit. That geared us up for the last section about what’s next. The piece leaves you with that question, but Kai’s prepared, that’s clear. In all these areas she hits, you can tell she’s prepared for what’s next.”
Both Jessica and Crystal were impressed by Kai’s accessibility, drive, passion, and ability to articulate what she needed to practice to make the piece what it needed to be.
“Kai is brilliant. And I find that about all Moving in the Sprit dancers,” says Crystal. “There’s just an intelligence that you don’t find with regular studio dancers. It’s just an honor to work with anyone who wants something that badly. It wakes up something inside of you, to say ‘I have to show up, because she shows up.’ It’s not like a normal teen situation where you’re preaching. Kai comes with energy and you’d better match that energy. She’s just passionate.”
All collaborators are thrilled with the end product, Moved, which premieres this summer in Moving in the Spirit’s Apprentice Corporation Tour Show.
“It’s been amazing,” shares Kai. “Jessica and Crystal are huge choreographic inspirations of mine now, and they really captured my story. Sometimes in the process I would think, ‘I don’t know where this is going,’ but I always trusted them. I love the way it turned out.”
You can see Kai perform Moved in the upcoming Apprentice Corporation Tour Show on June 27, 2014, 8 PM at 7 Stages Theatre.