Dance can be intimidating for a new audience member. The abstract nature of the art can cause confusion, ambiance in the theater can be stiflingly formal, and if that were not enough, there is the inconvenience of leaving your ever-so-comfortable home to get there in the first place. So why is it worth it to become a firsthand consumer of dance? What makes it all worth it? If you speak to dance audience regulars, they will each have their own answer, and that’s the beauty of it. An audience may see the same performance, but each person has the opportunity to experience completely different aspects of that performance and interpret it in their own way. This is especially true in site specific works, where the nature of the building and architecture and placement of the dance space heavily impacts the perception of the performance. Pillars may partially obstruct your view, you may be viewing dancers from above while others view from below. and dancers may actively use the space to manipulate choreography and purposefully expose or mask certain movements.
Take, for example, Symbiosis – an arts collaborative based in Denver, CO. The company may still be in its infancy, but has already received rave reviews for its site specific, evening-length works. The central medium for their artistic exploration is dance, but they challenge themselves to create fresh fusions that combine dance with visual art and other movement disciplines. How are they bringing in new audience members into these performance spaces and helping push the concert dance community in Denver? DancerMusic’s Kristi Licera caught up with Symbiosis Co-Founder Braeden Barnes to learn more. Here’s what he told us:
We want to create evening-length works where the majority of the influence is based in dance, but also brings in non-traditional dance audiences.
Kristi: Symbiosis is a project-based company that you and your business partner, Ryland Early, founded just over a year ago. Can you tell us more about how you and Ryland met? What inspired Symbiosis?
Braeden: It all started when I moved to Las Vegas, NV and joined Nevada Ballet Theatre in 2012. It was also the first year in the company for my current business partner Ryland Early. Not knowing the journey we would take together in the future, we became good friends from the start. Not only professionally, but personally we have a lot in common. I have never met someone in the dance world that enjoys metal music as much as I do.
After we both left the company years later, we went our separate ways but continued to keep in good contact. I started to tour my choreographic work around the country and brought Ryland out to dance for me.
We have always had a mutual outlook on dance and the way we would want to influence the dance community in our futures as artists. We discussed doing what Cirque du Soleil did for circus: they reintegrated their art form in a unique way that collaborated with other forms of art. Evening-length shows, with a story-line, that revolve around circus arts.
We talked about how in maybe 5 years we would try to do something in Denver but one night I called Ryland and said, “Let’s do it now.”
We want to create evening-length works where the majority of the influence is based in dance, but also brings in non-traditional dance audiences. Incorporating different mediums and non-traditional music choices. Insightful works to provoke thought and reflection, while also being able to just sit back and enjoy. We want audience members to be inspired, minds blown, and have dance introduced to them in a new way. A challenging but rewarding task.
Our inspiration came after a project we did in Chicago. We went out to our first business dinner and the brain child that became Symbiosis was born. We wondered about where to make home for the company, and Ryland, who was living in Denver at the time, mentioned that the Denver audience would be interested in our work. We talked about how in maybe 5 years we would try to do something in Denver but one night I called Ryland and said, “Let’s do it now.”
We became business partners, filed and got approved as a 501c3 nonprofit organization, and began creating our first evening-length work. We premiered our first evening-length work “Imprints” this past summer and the response was above and beyond what we could have asked for. We sold out two of our three performances with standing ovations that confirmed why Denver is home.
During our shows, the idea we present is flipped, morphed, and shown in multiple perspectives all relating to one bigger concept.
Kristi: Symbiosis focuses on creating evening-length works based on a single source of inspiration. Furthermore, these works are typically presented in site-specific or re-purposed spaces. Can you tell us more about why you choose to focus your projects in this way?
Braeden: Evening-length works appeal to us because of the amount of time available to investigate one general idea. In a full evening, we can go in depth and break down the general idea like a novel, by exploring deeper plot lines. We expand upon these ideas by diving into the nuances.
When we present an idea to the audience, we take them on a journey that they will not expect. During our shows, the idea we present is flipped, morphed, and shown in multiple perspectives all relating to one bigger concept.
We find non-traditional dance performance spaces and enhance them to create a home for our idea. For example, our last show “Imprints” was performed in a three-quarter finished warehouse. Our team went into the space days before the performance to lay down Marley floor, hang stage lights, and create the atmosphere. The audience sat in a U shape, like they would for a fashion show, in order to see the choreography and visual projections that were made to fit a 360-degree view. It is an amazing process for Ryland and I as well as the dancers because we have to design our performance to fit not just the different audience seating, but also the other elements of the space.
We want to challenge our audience and have them be able to take away something from the performance. The unexpected is always at play.
As soon as you walk into a Symbiosis performance space, you are a part of the show. In this unique environment, your imagination takes you out of the “real-world” like a film.
Ryland and I are big film fanatics. We love films that leave your mind racing with questions. At Symbiosis we strive for our work to leave you thinking, analyzing or questioning what you just experienced. We want to challenge our audience and have them be able to take away something from the performance. The unexpected is always at play.
…we want to add in new mediums and elements of art that are unconventional to previous dance collaborations.
Kristi: Symbiosis is very much based in collaboration and the idea that providing a platform for artists to work freely and with one another can produce more profound creations. Can you tell us more about the types of artists that Symbiosis collaborates with, and what opportunities you provide to those artists?
Braeden: We at Symbiosis like to encourage all types of artists to work with us. Since dance is our foundation, we want to encourage not just any style of dance artists but also visual artists, musicians, costume designers, painters, sculptors, acrobats, and aerialists to name a few. Some of our past collaborators included a tap dancer, who performed alongside the contemporary and ballet dancers, a visual artist, and a costume and clothing designer.
Caleb Alvarado, a visual artist, incorporated original projections into “Imprints.” In these projections, Caleb captured Symbiosis dancers moving in a studio and distorted their images for a series of 5-minute long videos. These videos, all unique from one another, played on one of the walls in the performance space while the dancers moved through and around the projections. Chelsea Early of Luckyleo created beautiful costumes that were worn by most our dancers during our show. We also had our first guest choreographer, Jason Parsons, create a duet that had its world premiere at our performance.
In future shows, we want to add in new mediums and elements of art that are unconventional to previous dance collaborations.
I crafted every step and transition to the point that the blind dancer was counting each step she made and committing her body rotations to muscle memory.
Kristi: I recently had the pleasure of seeing an excerpt of your upcoming Symbiosis show – a duet that you created for a program called “WITHIN” on your colleagues at Visceral Dance Company. This duet was based in exploring the advantages and disadvantages of technological advancement, with once dancer donning a VR head set (which rendered her completely blind). For those that were unable to see this work, can you tell more about how you created the duet and how it informs your upcoming full-length creation with Symbiosis?
Braeden: One of the joys of being a dancer with Visceral Dance Chicago is being part of the show “Within,” an evening of works created by the company dancers. In this show, I tested out an idea which I was thinking of using in Symbiosis’ next new evening-length work premiering summer 2019.
I created a duet for the show entitled “Close Your Eyes.” Creating the duet with one dancer blind was a great challenge for me and for the dancer. We as dancers rely on our sight so much that we forget about the use of all of our other senses.
The movement that came out of my choreography was unique because of the challenge of only using touch and sound. I crafted every step and transition to the point that the blind dancer was counting each step she made and committing her body rotations to muscle memory. The duet also brought a sensitivity and care to the couple that was a result of the absence of sight.
Even though we removed one of her main physical faculties, this way of creating and seeing the end product was inspiring for me. I am excited to explore and challenge this idea more with the team at Symbiosis. My mind wants to see what happens if 10 dancers have VR headsets on in a unique space in a full evening work.
The advantages and disadvantages of technology is one example of an idea that has so many possibilities for exploration. Each piece of technology influences our daily life and presents a unique story. Symbiosis will take this idea to create our overarching story line.
We are striving to change how art is consumed in our community and society.
Kristi: Symbiosis may be young, but with such talent and passion behind the wheel, I am sure you are already looking towards the future. Now that you have had a chance to develop some work in your new home base, what do you see in the near and far future for Symbiosis?
Braeden: The future of Symbiosis is staying true to our name. A symbiotic relationship is mutually beneficial. We want to serve as the platform to open art to our community, to expand dance as we know it, to welcome new audiences, creations, sounds, and experiment to create what could not be done alone. We are striving to change how art is consumed in our community and society.
Symbiosis Arts next full-length work will premiere in Denver, CO in Summer 2019. For more information, visit symbiosisarts.org.