Kevin O’Day was born in Phoenix, grew up in Detroit, and received his early dance training at the Joffrey Ballet School in New York, before embarking on first a successful performance career, and then a successful career as a choreographer.
Kevin O’Day has made a lot of dance, like for example for the New York City Ballet, Ballet British Columbia, Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, Les Grands Ballet Canadiens, Stuttgarter Ballett, Les Ballets de Monte Carlo, Pacific Northwest Ballet, Pennsylvania Ballet, Pittsburgh Ballet, Ballet Argentino, The Royal Danish Ballet, ProArteDanza, BalletX, Ballett im Revier, and Ballett Augsburg, among others.
Amazingly, that’s not his whole resume as a choreographer. He’s been in Mannheim, Germany since 2002, which is when the Nationaltheater Mannheim Ballett (which was renamed Kevin O’Day Ballett NTM) appointed him artistic director. After that successful run, O’Day decided once again to explore the world of independent choreography that he knows so well. On Saturday, April 7, the audience for Visceral Dance Chicago’s SpringFive performance will see O’Day’s latest work, the World Premier of A Fine Line, and there wasn’t much time between when (a) we heard about this and (b) we knew we wanted to hear more about this. So we reached out to Kevin and learned all kinds of interesting things about A Fine Line, about working with Visceral, and about Kevin O’Day’s rich and humane understanding of the art of dance, and for that matter, the art of understanding. Here’s what he told us:
When I came across Visceral Dance Chicago, my instinct was that perhaps this could be interesting, that it might be possible to work as I have been with my own group in Mannheim.
Johnny Nevin: Your artistic voyage has brought you to many different places, first as a performer, then as a very widely produced independent choreographer, and then, in 2002 as artistic director of the Nationaltheater Mannheim Ballett. Now you’ve returned to a more independent role, and with the astonishing list of places you have created dance for, you could probably have chosen from about nine thousand different places to set your new work, A Fine Line. What were your considerations for choosing to create this piece for Visceral Dance Chicago? How did the process that brought you here actually happen?
When Nick and I began our dialogue about the possibility of doing a work it became evident that we shared similar artistic values
Kevin O’Day: After fourteen years of a steady stream of creativity with my own company In Mannheim coming to an end, I wanted to focus more on freelance projects. I thought it might be possible to implement the same thoughts and approaches I’ve been working with, but with other, unfamiliar artists. As I begin to open this horizon once again, I feel compelled to collaborate, just as I have done over the past years.
When I came across Visceral Dance Chicago (as Chicago has a strong tradition of a vibrant dance scene), my instinct was that perhaps this could be interesting, that it might be possible to work as I have been with my own group in Mannheim. I saw that Cheryl Mann was associated with Visceral, and when I made work for Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, she danced in all three of my works there. Knowing what a wonderful and unusually humble, authentic artist she is, I felt that Visceral was most likely in alignment with this. When Nick and I began our dialogue about the possibility of doing a work it became evident that we shared similar artistic values, especially the idea of a group of highly individual dancers, and the energy that evokes.
Johnny: You’ve described a very profound perspective that you have about movement, about connection to our bodies, and about what you describe as a ‘magnetic energy’. Could you elaborate on these ideas, and especially about how they can be both the process by which you create dance and the result of creating a dance?
I feel that a vast amount of the human population is not really very connected to our existence, at least not from the inside.
Kevin: Currently I feel that a vast amount of the human population is not really very connected to our existence, at least not from the inside. What I mean is that we have a disconnect from ourselves, from our inside awareness, a disconnect that removes us from what I would call ‘heart feeling’ into a more cerebral way of being. This can lead to our own personal disconnect, which then leads toward forgetting what it means to be a human being. This also can effect the landscape of art and the way in which its created and presented.
Johnny: I’ve heard you refer to the dance that you create as a ‘vessel’ for these processes, for these ideas. It’s a remarkable concept, but it also seems to have very profound practical implications for how you design and make a work. How were the ideas that you’ve described embodied in the actual process of making A Fine Line with the dancers of Visceral?
Kevin: In developing A Fine Line, we’ve established a wonderful exchange — collaborative and dynamic. The company is so wonderfully self-governed; Nick has created an atmosphere, and way of being, so that the process has this fantastic starting place to develop from. I feel responsible as the choreographer to facilitate a construct, or “Vessel”, in which the interpreter has freedom — as well as a enough structure to act as a safety net — for their individual and group expression to resonate.
The thematic idea of A Fine Line are the questions that arise from fragility and strength — the vulnerability when we swing to their extremes, and the irony in their similarities
Johnny: You mentioned when we first spoke that A Fine Line explores the ideas of fragility and of strength, of how each may not be what it appears, about how they can change, and about A Fine Line between such ideas. Can you tell us more about how you’ve developed these thoughts, and about how you feel you, the Visceral performers, and the audience will encounter aspects of these ideas in A Fine Line?
Kevin: The thematic idea of A Fine Line are the questions that arise from fragility and strength — the vulnerability when we swing to their extremes, and the irony in their similarities, the illusion of permanence and the welcoming conversation with impermanence.
This is what we are exploring in our daily practice, so these become, in a way, the biological fabric of the work. So they are inherently shared with the audience — the audience may feel what the dancers feel as they dance.
their openness to our approach has enabled me to continue to learn, to go into creative unknowns. This is an enormous gift.
Johnny: With all of that — all the inspiration and collaboration and work and preparation — now almost ready to appear on stage, it would be really interesting to the idea coming here to Chicago to create A Fine Line. What does the whole experience of coming to Chicago and working with Visceral seem like to you now, especially in the light of the reasons you mentioned above about why you chose to work with Visceral in the first place?
Kevin: The piece that is coming together for it’s premiere is one that is constructed from the inside out. The company has been amazing; their openness to our approach has enabled me to continue to learn, to go into creative unknowns. This is an enormous gift. What a beautiful jewel Visceral Dance Chicago is.