This week Kendra Kimbrough Dance Ensemble (KKDE) celebrates its 20th Anniversary Season, October 22 and 23 at the Odell Johnson Theater at Oakland’s Laney College. This exciting new season will feature the World Premiere of Angst: 3AM by Artistic Director Kendra Kimbrough Barnes, and Reflections, a reunion of past and present company dancers performing in tribute to founding member Roquisha Townsend.
Founded in 1996 by Kendra Kimbrough Barnes, KKDE’s mission is to bridge diverse cultures and communities through thought-provoking performances that address the common human experiences of its audience. KKDE represents a range of ages and body-types and incorporates a variety of dance styles to inform audiences about a variety of sociocultural issues. The Ensemble creates and presents dance works that build upon a wide array of dance genres, including a fusion of modern dance with movement from African, Brazilian, and North Indian cultures. Artistic Director Barnes has worked in collaboration with dancers, musicians, and poets in order to realize her vision. With the mentorship of Rhodessa Jones of Cultural Odyssey, she developed Home Is That Way? (2010), a dance-drama exploring the effects of the incarceration of a loved one on a family. In 2012 KKDE presented a successful production of In The Meantime, a dance-drama about breast cancer prevention and awareness in collaboration with Delina Patrice Brooks.
Since its founding, KKDE has self-produced numerous productions in Oakland and San Francisco, and has toured throughout Southern and Northern California and in Salvador, Bahia Brazil, and performed in several Bay Area dance festivals, including the East Bay Dance Series, Oakland Arts Festival, WestWave Dance Festival, Black Choreographers Festival, and ODC’s Pilot and House Special. Barnes is also an alum of the Artist in Residency program at Headlands Center for the Arts and at CounterPULSE/SF.
Barnes recently talked about her work with KKDE for the last twenty years and what audiences can look forward to in the Ensemble’s performances this weekend.
What made you decide to start your own dance company in the Bay Area?
I always aspired to be a choreographer since a young age, but after choreographing for my senior project as an undergraduate at San Francisco State University, I truly fell in love with the process and realized it was something I not only wanted but had to be doing on an ongoing basis.
I came to the conclusion that in order to do that I would need a company, and so I naively set out to form a modern dance company with primarily, at the time, African, Haitian and Brazilian influences. I set a date, October 16, 1996 to hold an audition at the San Francisco Dance Center - then on Oak Street. I was surprised at the large turn out and chose 11 dancers to begin our first season. Some of those original members will perform this weekend!
For a while I toggled between whether or not we should be based in San Francisco or Oakland. I eventually came to the decision to be an Oakland based company and have been under the wings of Dimensions Dance Theater as our fiscal sponsor since 1998.
What have been the greatest challenges and rewards for you and KKDE over the last 20 years?
The greatest challenges have been consistent funding and the lack of a home. It is very difficult to project a season that can’t be sustained financially. It has been amazing being able to rehearse at the Malonga Casquelourd Center, but it comes with its scheduling conflicts and lack of storage space. As we’ve grown I realize we really need a place to call home with space for rehearsals, office, and costume storage.
One of the greatest rewards has been to see the amazing connections and bonds that dancers have formed with myself and others. It is such an honor and I am often humbled by being in the presence of such talented, fascinating, passionate individuals. I feel so lucky to be able to engage in the creative process with these artists.
What can audiences look forward to seeing in your work for the 20th Anniversary Season?
I am very excited about our 20th Anniversary Season. There is live music in both segments of the show. Angst: 3AM will be accompanied by the live vocals of Alexander Brown, also known as PANder, and produced by Maya Songbird. I’m also thrilled to work with Shelley Davis Roberts again on setting the stage for us with an original set design about the role time plays in anxiety.
Reflections will include live Brazilian percussion by Julio Remelexo and Company. Reflections is our tribute to founding member Roquisha Townsend, who lost her battle to kidney cancer in October 2015. Throughout the years, Roquisha performed in some of our definitive works, like Legacy: Soul Quest, Rosangela Silvestre's Oya, and In The Meantime. When she wasn't an active member of the company, she was always an active supporter, my dear friend, and beloved colleague for more than 20 years.
What compelled you to make Angst:3AM? How did you conduct your research for the piece? What do audiences need to know before they see this work and/or what do you hope they experience by seeing it?
Experiencing Angst: 3AM first hand - coming to terms with the anxiety that my son as a young black boy growing up in America trying to find his identity and way of walking in this world without fear -- led me to realize the anxiety that I too have in so many instances or situations of my life. I felt strongly that this was a piece that I needed to do to raise awareness of the topic in hopes of cultivating compassion and a bit of education on what people diagnosed with anxiety experience. I hope people come away moved, inspired, informed, and a tad more tolerant of and patient with those that suffer.
From interviews and research with families and experts, to the reciprocal relationship with dancers, to the final presentation for the audience, the making of Angst: 3AM has been entirely collaborative. I’ve interviewed families and have been working with Early Childhood Education Specialist Tasha Henneman, who has done a lot of work regarding African American children and schooling, to gather and make sense of the information, some of which has been incorporated into the script.
What advice would you pass on to an aspiring choreographer?
Keep listening to the tug at your heartstrings. Follow your intuition and use that as a guide versus looking to external factors to validate what it is you’re doing. Find a mentor and surround yourself with other artists and people who will be honest with you, say the hard things to you, and push you to always find ways to grow as an artist.
After these performances, what comes next for KKDE?
Our 20th Anniversary celebration continues with events throughout the year. There are plans of writing a second act to Angst: 3 AM and performing that in the spring of 2017 and we will also perform during Black Choreographers Festival 2017.
Kendra Kimbrough Dance Ensemble celebrates is 20th Anniversary Season with performances on Saturday, October 22 at 7:30pm and Sunday, October 23 at 4:00pm at Odell Johnson Theater at Laney College in Oakland, 900 Fallon Street in Oakland. Tickets are $20-$40 and can be purchased at http://kkde20.brownpapertickets.com
Mary Carbonara received her B.A. from Barnard College and her M.F.A. in Performance and Choreography from Mills College. She is the Founder and Artistic Director of the critically acclaimed performing ensemble Mary Carbonara Dances (founded in 2004) and is a former member of Margaret Jenkins Dance Company, Robert Moses' Kin, Liss Fain Dance and Project Bandaloop. Mary has served on the boards of Robert Moses' Kin and Dancers' Group and is currently on the board of the San Francisco Dance Film Festival.