Today, I chat with two of the performers who will be in tonight's performances, Brad Beakes and Beshawn Williams, about their respective careers and coming to Ririe-Woodbury, working on Three ... and their thoughts on local dance. (All pictures courtesy of Ririe Woodbury.)
Bashaun Williams & Brad Beakes
Gavin: Hey, Brad and Beshaun. First off, tell us a little bit about yourselves?
Bashaun: My name is Bashaun Williams. I'm the middle child in a family of three boys. I come from a background of gymnastics and every sport you can play with an emphasis in basketball. I grew up in Lubbock, Texas, and that will always be "home." I have lived in Utah since 2007 and love what it has to offer so far.
Brad: My name is Brad and I am originally from Glendora, Calif., which is a suburb in Los Angeles. Growing up, I loved hiking and snowboard. I also a played some sports until I started dancing. I was kind of a late starter and began training when I was about 16. I actually used to only do hip-hop and then branched out to jazz, which led to ballet, which led to modern. I'd say my style fluctuates between all of these influences. I moved here from NYC and have loved it ever since!
Gavin: What first got both of you interested in dance, and what were some early influences on you?
Brad: I was actually drawn to dance through music videos on MTV and would copy dances by myself until I started training. Dances from Usher and N*Sync were the first I learned, haha.
Bashaun: I was first interested in dance because I was told it would make me a better athlete. Being the captain of my high school basketball team, I was expected to be one of the best athletes on the court, and the rigorous training that dance demands was key to ensuring that. Yvonne Racz-Key saw something in me and can be credited for discovering and molding my passion for dance.
Gavin: Prior to college, what kind of work had both of you done in the art form, and what really pushed you to pursue it as a career?
Bashaun: Prior to college, I only had experience with all productions Ballet Lubbock would put on. Two years prior to college, it gave me two wonderful years training with Yvonne and participating in all of her productions, as I had opportunities to study with Urban Ballet Theater in New York under Daniel Catanach, Ballet Austin, The Rock School for Dance Education and Pacific Northwest Ballet in Seattle. All of these places outside of Lubbock were six-week summer-intensive so they allowed rapid growth in the art form for me.
Brad: I would do small projects at my high school like assemblies, etc. I had most of my experience with the studio I danced at by going to competitions and putting on recitals, that sort of thing. Later in high school, I took classes at some of the big L.A. studios like EDGE and Millennium. It was an intimidating experience, having started so late and being in the same room with dancers and choreographers who were already working in the industry. I began auditioning with an agency soon after and went on a few big calls but never booked anything. The auditions themselves informed me I had a lot more work to do and helped inspire me to pursue dance more seriously.
Gavin: Beshaun, you came from Lubbock to study Ballet at the University of Utah. What made you choose the U and what was your time like there?
Bashaun: I chose to come to the U of U again because of Yvonne Racz-Key. You begin to see the influence she has had on my career as a whole. The U is her alma mater, so, of course, she recommended that I follow suit. I did, because at the time of my attendance, the U had the strongest ballet program in the nation. My time there was unbelievable. I grew tremendously as an artist and global citizen in general. I had the opportunity to work with many nationally acclaimed choreographers and teachers and had the opportunity to travel to other countries just to perform one show. I also had the opportunity to be a regular college student and have a very demanding social life.
Gavin: Brad, you came from California after studying at California State University, Fullerton. What was your experience like there, and what made you come to Utah?
Brad: CSUF absolutely made me the dancer I am today. I worked with some incredible choreographers and was trained by an exceptionally talented and inspired faculty. It really gave me an opportunity to see dance, and especially contemporary dance, in a more three-dimensional way. Studying composition and being in as many as 10 different dances a semester gave a me rigorous and prismatic experience. I'd say the program's main strength is the versatility in each of the dancer's experience. After school, I moved to New York and did some freelance work out there while waiting tables to pay bills. I was looking for a full-time company --something that today barely exists -- and saw that RW was auditioning. I had known of the company in college and admired their physicality and the many dimensions of their repertory. I knew I had to be at that audition and am so thankful I found a place in such a wonderful company. The decision to move to Utah was pretty simple!
Gavin: How did last season go for both of you, and what made you decide to continue on with the company this year?
Brad: Last season was the most dancing I have ever done in my entire life! It was full of aches, pains, bruises and mini mental breakdowns, but we made it and were able and performed some amazing work! I loved being challenged to that extent and seeing how far I could push myself within each work. There was something encouraging as well as daunting knowing that you are being held up to a certain caliber of performance. It has really inspired me to the the best dancer and artist I can be. This year, I want to continue to improve my skills and the way I can succeed in the company.
Bashaun: Joining the company was like being welcomed into a new family. The workload is intense, but the outcome is priceless. Joining the company as one of three new members was also a relief because we were all learning and growing together as newbies instead of being the only rookie dancer. We were able to learn the ropes, the ins and outs, all together and it made the whole company stronger, in my opinion. I’m not biased at all.
Gavin: What has it been like for you both working with Charlotte Boye-Chistensen in a production where she's created all the works?
Bashaun: Working inside of all Charlotte's works is amazing. She is our artistic director, so being able to showcase what we do on a daily basis behind closed doors for hours on end is an opportunity that most dancers only dream of. Her work is so athletic and physica,l and while each piece is different, it's nice to know the style of work you are approaching instead of having to put on many masks to bounce from one piece to the next like we have to do in most other shows.
Brad: Working with Charlotte is always a rewarding and challenging experience. She demands every ounce of your athleticism, your ability to execute physical nuance and above all else your focus and intention. Being able to jump into her mind throughout each different piece always leaves me in awe of the creative architecture I get to explore. Her ability to get the best out of you is undeniable; she simply expects it and I love that about her.
Gavin: For each you personally, what has been your favorite piece from Three ...?
Brad: It may be cliche to say this but I really enjoy them all for different reasons. "Siesta" is so extremely physical that you have to remain stoic and focused the entire time, I just love its athleticism. "The Finish Line" is very special to me because it reminds me of the intensive process and journey in which Charlotte took Tara and myself when she set the piece. "Interiors" may be one of my favorite works by Charlotte because of its musicality, physical dynamics, its structure and the different phases in which the piece changes, which feel like a roller coaster.
Bashaun: It's hard to pick a favorite piece because of all the countless hours put into the pursuit of perfection. If I had to pick one, it would be “But Seriously…” because it was a piece that was created on last year's company. It's a very heartfelt piece for me for that reason.
Gavin: What are your thoughts going into opening night and about the entire performance itself?
Bashaun: My thoughts are that the sky is the limit. I'm ready to showcase how strong and cohesive our company is.
Gavin: Going local, what's your take on the Utah dance scene, both good and bad?
Bashaun: Utah dance scene is phenomenal. In no other places, except L.A. and N.Y. will you find such passionate and inspiring individuals. There are so many opportunities for growth, not only as artists but as teachers and choreographers. The dance world is small in general so everyone tends to know everyone. and Utah has a great family of dance.
Brad: I think it's wonderful that Utah has such a healthy dance scene. The fact that the state can help fund these wonderful companies is really admirable, and I think this sort of support should be emulated around the country. When I moved here, I was surprised to find out how active the resident companies are and how supportive the community is to them.
Gavin: What's your opinion on other local dance companies and the work they're doing to promote the art?
Bashaun: Other dance companies are doing the same thing we are trying to do -- promote dance and teach the masses, young and old, that dance is for everyone, and I would say they are doing their things, respectively.
Gavin: What advice do you have for anyone looking to get into professional dancing for a career?
Brad: My advise for any pre-professional dancer would be to immerse yourself in it as best as you can. If you want to pursue commercial dance, throw yourself into the audition scene in L.A., or if you want to pursue freelance projects, maybe head to San Francisco or NYC. Try to surround yourself with people who are making dance and are active in the community. Also, know that it wont be easy, that it will require a ton of patience and hard work. Also, try to keep an open mind! I never thought I'd move to Salt Lake and dance full time but here I am, and it's the best thing that has happened to me as a dancer.
Bashaun: Take all your training seriously. Be a sponge and absorb all feedback from anyone willing to offer it. You can learn from the positive and the negative.
Gavin: What can we expect from both of you over the rest of the year and going into next?
Bashaun: You can expect the best, onstage and off. A strong rest of this season to get the momentum rolling for the next.
Gavin: Aside from the obvious, is there anything you'd like to promote or plug?
Bashaun: Ririe-Woodbury 50 years of excellence!!!! 2013-2014 is our 50th Anniversary season.
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