Assistant to the Choreographer: A New Role for PNB soloist Kiyon Gaines
Soloist Kiyon Ross is well-known to PNB audiences as an outstanding performer and accomplished choreographer. Recently, he’s taken on a new role assisting choreographer Twyla Tharp in creating her latest work, Waiting at the Station. I sat down with him last week to discuss how he fits in to her the process of bringing a new ballet to the stage:
You’ve worked with Twyla before, both as a Company dancer and as choreographer. What do you remember most about those experiences?
I remember I had a conversation with her about choreography several years ago. I think it was back in 2008. I was working on a piece and I was having trouble finding my voice. She gave me just one piece of advice. She said “Always go with your gut.” Hearing that from her helped me and I’ve been doing what she said ever since!
How do you see the Company being impacted by this intensive work with Twyla during her residency?
When she’s in process she’s super focused – everyone cues in on that. They’re right there with her. It’s genius at work. Being with her and a part of her process is very inspiring.
She goes with her gut and gives it 100% or more every time. It’s just how she is. We’ve all learned a lot from watching her and just being in the studio with her.
Describe your role in developing Waiting at the Station. How do you fit in to the traditional Company/Choreographer/Ballet Master dynamic?
A lot of the material she’s using she actually created on me when she was here for 2 weeks last spring. So I’ve been teaching that to other dancers. Not having to teach that material again frees her up do work on other things.
So, she’s figured out a way to be two places at the same time?
Well, sort of … really, it’s more a way to speed up the process while making sure nothing gets lost in translation. You see, every dancer learns material differently–some need counts, others are more visual, and others more musical. Working with video, it’s hard to get all of that information to a group of dancers quickly. But with me right there, you can go by feel and transfer everything–her whole aesthetic–quickly and accurately.
Would you say the movement’s purer that way?
Yes, you could say that. It’s exactly how I work with dancers when I’m choreographing–I’m on my feet the whole time. Actually, being in this role for Twyla’s piece, it’s eerily similar to my role as a choreographer when I make a new work for the Company. We’re all a team in the studio; we all want the work to be the best it can be.
What’s the most challenging thing about your role – how is it stretching you?
Initially, I was really nervous. I mean, it’s someone else’s choreography so you want to get it right. But it’s cool to have someone famous trust you in that way – to do her work justice.
What’s the most important thing you have learned from the process so far?
Be yourself! Just be yourself. As dancers, sometimes we forget that we are people too. She gets you to tap back in to that. For Twyla, believing in yourself really is the only option.
I think that she’s helping us all dance from the inside out. It’s been wonderful to watch everyone find that for themselves.