After 3+ years in WAM Collective, Likeness will be my last event as a member. My favorite memories with the group involve meeting people and collaborating with artists, and I’m so glad that my final event encapsulates those elements so beautifully.
Leila Awadallah, Emma Marlar, and Laura Osterhaus are seniors at the University of Minnesota majoring in Dance. Their new company, Kelvin Wailey, will be performing and screening a film (with cinematographer Bridget Bennett) during the design showcase this year to provide some more context and depth for our conversations surrounding identity and pop culture.
How did you three meet?
We all met at the beginning of freshman year in dance class, but Emma has a very specific memory: I met Laura and Leila on the same day, at different times, in different places. I remember this day with a huge smile on my face and in all seriousness, this day will go down in history as one of the most important days in my life. They were the first two dance majors I met and very quickly became two of the most influential people in my life. This bond continued to bloom throughout freshman year dancing with each other and sharing a lot of pizza.
When and why did you found Kelvin Wailey?
During the fall of 2015, we were asked to perform in a friends’ basement during a house party that was also serving as a platform for people to present their art. We performed an improvisation performance with two live musicians and knew immediately that we wanted to make this sort of thing happen more often. After this night, we began seriously questioning why dance performances don’t happen in these kind of spaces more often. It seems that dance (as performance) is the art form that is consistently missing from the spaces that support music and visual art, especially the collective gatherings made up primarily of students our own age. We decided to form Kelvin Wailey as a way to make work that researches movement in more intimate, experimental, and unlikely spaces. We are interested in challenging perceptions by breaking down mainstream ideas about dance as entertainment and introducing a more multifaceted understanding of the art form. Plus, we always found ourselves [dancing] in these situations anyways, so why not formalize it?
What is your work dynamic like as a group? What roles do each member fulfill?
It is difficult for us to transition into the idea of Kelvin Wailey being work, because we often think of work as an obligation or something we have to do to find some sort of success. Kelvin Wailey is the antithesis of that. Kelvin Wailey is the space where we ignore the work we have to do. Kelvin Wailey is the land of experimentation and fun for all of us. With that, we do take our work very seriously, but we like to think of it more as play and our dynamic reflects that completely.
Our work space is most often in a kitchen of sorts, with tables and chair pushed aside and there are always snacks and beverages at the ready. We usually are rehearsing only a few hours before an event due to the nature of being very very busy people, so there is a healthy balance of exploration, efficiency, and anxiety of getting the work done. In everything we have created, the ideas come together like a puzzle. We each bring various pieces and we assemble it through a dialogue in which each of us has the opportunity to be heard. We might grab a phrase from Laura’s senior project choreography, Emma’s comp piece, or an improvisation structure Leila is interested in and then mix it up in the blenders that are our minds and present it back to each other in a new way. The puzzle analogy actually seems too neat. We are much more like a delicious meal, where all the ingredients blend into each other. What we are trying to say is that the process is different for every project, but holds true to that we all have equal say at the end of the day.
Simply put, our work dynamic is that we are all best friends, we really care about each other’s ideas, and we are doing this to have a good time.
Kelvin Wailey sounds awfully similar to dancer and choreographer Alvin Ailey. Does this reference hold any significance?
We needed a name, it started as a rhyming game, and Kelvin Wailey is what we came up with. Yes, there is reference there, but it does not hold a significance. We like to think of it as our own dance nerd secret. If you pick up on it, you know your stuff.
Why did you decide to use video as a medium for this project? Have you collaborated with other artists before?
Using video became a very important aspect [of] this work that developed in discussing Andy Warhol’s work and our own identities. We are examining the tension between the display of our bodies on screen and the live performing, breathing, dancing body in front of you. It seems that videos and pictures in the media create a disconnected identity that is somewhat detached from our own bodies. These clear layers added to the identity via media will be continuously explored throughout our process.
What is the future of Kelvin Wailey, especially as you anticipate graduation from the University of Minnesota Dance Department?
You are meeting Kelvin Wailey at a very early stage of its life, so we hope that the future is very bright. Together, the three of us have the full intention to continue to pursue this artistic endeavor in which we are able to create and move within our own terms. For the first time we have full range and full power, which is something that is very exciting and something that we will continue to harness once out of the dance program [at the University of Minnesota]. With all that we have learned and gained over the past four years, we want to continue to use, experiment, and challenge the notions of dance in “untypical” spaces. Collaboration has also be a huge value within Kelvin Wailey and so we look forward to continued explorations with other artists, musicians, and performers.
We hope Kelvin Wailey continues to grow, mature, and exist, and if anything, [that] it brings the three of us together and allows us [to] dance forever.