In June 2019, Shaun Keylock and his company were invited to travel to Houston to perform Keylock’s work Calamus at the Barnstorm Dance Festival, presented by Dance Source Houston. This was Keylock’s first time showing his work outside of Portland, Oregon, where his company is currently based. Calamus premiered at New Expressive Works in Portland in 2018 and was most recently featured in the company’s full-length production in May 2019. I spoke with Shaun about the company’s recent tour of Calamus, his experience with restaging the work for the Barnstorm Dance Festival, and his vision for future tours and projects.
You applied for the Barnstorm Dance Festival this past spring. What inspired you to submit your work to the festival?
I was thinking a lot about what was next for the work and how I could show it to more presenters and audiences. I have been actively working on Calamus for just about 18 months now. The piece was created while I was in an artist residency at New Expressive Works and then it was expanded this year and performed in our recent full length show. The piece feels complete now, and so to travel and tour as a company felt significant in the timeline of the work. It felt like the appropriate next step for us; we have shown the work, select audiences have seen it, and now it’s time for us to get out there and perform it as much as we can.
This was your first time performing your work outside of Oregon. Can you elaborate on the opportunity to share your work professionally outside of the state?
It was a big honor for us! To have the opportunity to share this work with another community felt really special and it was something that I didn’t think was a possibility for me as an artist until it actually happened. It also felt important for us to tour and perform a work that celebrates LGBTQ identity and perspectives. This is something that was missing in my previous experiences as a dancer and audience member. I did not see myself reflected in the work that I was viewing and performing at the time. So I wanted to create that opportunity for myself and also encourage the other dancers I work with to express their own authentic identities on stage. My work often draws inspiration from shared experiences and explores the many facets of LGBT and queer identity. So it feels especially important when we receive opportunities like this one to share our work with audiences.
You traveled from one dance community to another for this tour. What was it like to perform in a community that is completely new to you?
It felt like an opportunity for us to represent Portland and showcase the quality of work that is being created here. We were fortunate to stay in Houston for a week during the festival and that allowed us to really dive into the dance community there. We participated in master classes, artist talks, and got to see other work by Houston-based artists as well. I think that’s something this particular festival does so well. They really allow their audiences to experience what is going on locally in Houston, while also providing a platform for regional and national dance artists like ourselves to show work as well.
Looking back on this experience, what were some of the highlights or most memorable moments from this tour?
I think one of the biggest highlights for me was having the opportunity to perform alongside such a diverse program of Houston-based artists. I was one of twenty choreographers and dance artists represented in this year’s festival program. It was really interesting for us to be able to observe how other dancers and choreographers approached this opportunity and see what kind of work is being made in Houston right now. I looked at this festival as an opportunity for us to start a dialogue between our two different dance communities. To not only introduce ourselves to Houston, but also allow the city to be introduced to us. We met a lot of incredible people and made some great connections on this tour, which I feel very grateful for, and I hope that this will continue to help develop an ongoing artistic relationship between our two cities.
How do you think touring and performing in a festival like this can impact an independent artist’s career?
I think that artists gain the opportunity to dive deeper into their creative practice with an opportunity like this. It allows an artist to continue to grow and expand their work beyond a local production or showcase. It also allows a work to live longer and be performed more often. Our performances in Houston this summer have allowed us to continue the momentum that we have gained locally in Portland. We are coming home now feeling energized and ready for our next season ahead.
So now that this tour to Houston is over, what is next for you artistically?
I want to continue to feel inspired and challenged. I read this theory once: The only way to stay relevant is if you stay true and genuine. I think about this a lot when it comes to making a new creation, or even when I’m teaching a class or workshop. I believe one of the most significant ways you can be true to yourself is to prioritize your own self-care that way you can return to the studio each week and continue to make work that you genuinely love.
So right now, I’m focusing on that mostly. I’m allowing myself to recharge and have some down time these next few months. I will be teaching weekly classes and a few additional workshops this season. I have also started the wheels turning on some new projects that I’m really excited about. But for the most part, it feels really great to have more time to give my absolute best to the people and projects that inspire me.
You can take open classes with Shaun Keylock at NW Dance Project and BodyVox Dance Center in Portland, Oregon. He is currently seeking dancers to join the company for new projects and commissions. Click here for more info.
VICTORIA PEREZ IS A FREELANCE DANCE ARTIST AND INTERN WITH STUDIO SHAUN KEYLOCK