Former Indy resident Ricardo Melendez, who was a Dance Kaleidoscope company member from 1992-1999, has returned to Indianapolis his former artistic home to make his debut as a choreographer in “DK & Friends.” Presented by DK, the concert will be held tonight and Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2: 30 p.m at the One America Stage at Indiana Repertory Theatre.
Also participating in the concert will be singer Doug Dilling who will accompany “End of The World” choreographed by David Hochoy and musician/composer Cathy Morris who will provide music for “Skin Walkers,” another Hochoy creation.
Now the artistic director of Virginia Ballet Theatre and associate artistic director of Todd Rosenlieb Dance, in Norfolk, Virginia, Melendez was formerly the artistic director for Ballets de San Juan, Puerto Rico. He holds a B.A.in Dance Pedagogy from Butler University and an M.F.A. in Theatre from Brooklyn College.
Melendez is joined by Todd Rosenlieb founder and artistic director Todd Rosenlieb Dance, along with members of the company. Rosenlieb began his professional career in 1992 with the late modern dance choreographer Erick Hawkins. He was named Hawkins company director in 1995 at which time he staged and performed the last work of Hawkins titled Journey of a Poet with Mikhail Baryshnikov and the White Oak Project at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. Todd holds a B.A. degree in Economics and English from Bucknell University and an M.F.A. degree in Dance Performance & Choreography from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts.
Yesterday I sat down with Melendez and his creative and life partner Rosenlieb in the IRT’s upper lobby to chat about his homecoming, the concert and their work.
What’s it like being back?
RM: It is fantastic. The last time I was in town was when DK did “Seasons” and I recreated a role I danced in it. I also came back a couple of times to work at the Phoenix. This one is special because I am bringing my work. David is doing “Skin Walkers.” I was rehearsal director of the company when he last did it. The company is so beautiful and strong. They remind me of what David always used to say. “We are sculptures that move.” and his company shows it.”
How do you like being in Indy, Todd?
TR: I love it. One of the greatest things about sharing a program is that DK will be coming to Norfolk next year to do the same thing. Dancers are so excited for other dancers to come and join the stage with them, to see a different point of view, different work and explore other ideas. Our company loves to go on the road, no matter what. They like a new city. They like new people. It is our first time sharing a concert so backstage is making new friends and talking art and dance and life and differences between our cultures—Virginia and here. It’s about 70 degrees in Norfolk right now (Laughs)
You are kind of legend around DK, aren’t you, Ricardo?
RM: Well, I don’t know about that. We (he and the DK dancers) joke a lot and talk about David. (Laughs)
RM: Yes, of course. (Laughs)
What can you tell me about David’s influence on you?
RM: I am a product of my upbringing. David is an enormous part of that. My language as a choreographer has been influenced by work, his sense of aesthetics, and by his sense of rhythm. My determination and commitment to what I do. I got it from him.
What is it like being with Ricardo for his homecoming?
TR: Well I have to say that I was here with him when he came back to work at the Phoenix Theatre so Indianapolis was something I was accustomed to. Our company was actually here several years ago to dance with the ISO. We did a Brahms’s piece with them. Coming back specifically to be part of David’s world, to hear his history and to see the relationship he has with his dancers is wonderful. Ricardo has a long history here but not just DK. He also worked with American Cabaret Theatre and the Phoenix and choreographed. He worked everywhere so he touched many lives and was touched by so many people.
You also discovered you were in an actor here, right Ricardo?
RM: Well, it was my first acting role I did in English. Tom played my father. (He says to Todd, referring to “The Promise” presented at Phoenix Theatre in 1993)
TR: Coming back has just been remarkable. The dance world is so small. So being here to talk to David, explore how he does things, how his company runs, how ours runs, what it is to get audience and how dance has evolved—has been such a great opportunity
As life partners, how do you balance your personal life and professional lives?
TR: I think they blend very harmoniously in some ways. When we get home, if we are going to talk business we discuss it right away and then try to move on with our home life.
RM: It is an unspoken rule. If, for instance, we are working on financial matters s or are making heavy decisions or making the season to make appointments to discuss such things in the office.
TR: Yes, we conduct business in the office and it is much more effective. And it happens naturally. And the other thing is that we walk out the back door of our ten thousand square foot facility, then take an elevator upstairs to our condo. So we literally have a one minute commute. The separation in terms of physicality is also very close but we manage to say “I’m going home. I will see you when you get there.”
How many dancers did you bring with you?
RM: We brought six dancers. It is quite a new model to share programs. It brings a lot of press and good will and it also recharges the dance audience in the town that you are going to. When DK comes to Norfolk next year, it is going to recharge that audience
How does the company like life on the road?
TR: They love it.
Do you tour a lot?
TR: A fair amount. We are not a road company but they love to get out of town.
RM: Sharing a program with another company is important. Not only as a business model—It is simply important because you spend the time, the money and the energy to produce a concert and if you don’t move it around to different places than you are not capitalizing on that investment. It also improves the strength of the company because the dancers learn from being around other dancers and other ways of using the language.
What can audiences expect from your works?
TR: One of my pieces “Heavy Like Waits, ” is set to Tom Waits music. I waited years to put it together. It was hard to pick the music for it because the music itself is so heavy. The original piece was set on a stage that was stripped of everything so there were brick walls and beams that were exposed. Here at the IRT, they have really done a great job of creating a facsimile of that because there is no fly space The dancers wear wool overcoats. The worst part is rehearsing it because every day you have to wear them.
I presume you are working with Laura Glover? (Longtime DK lighting designer)
TM: Yes, she is doing the lights after the original and of course is adding her own flavor which is what we want. So, Laura is credited in the program because ultimately she changed some things to reflect her own design. The other piece I have in the program is “Suite Sammy.” It is very much influenced by the Rat Pack and is set to music of Sammy Davis Jr. who was such a hero of his era. Vegas was becoming hot in the 90s and there was a lot of influence in fashion. Tom Ford was working for Gucci at the time and was influenced by Vegas. It is also based around a game of musical chairs and it has a lot of elements that tie together to Sammy’s incredible music and the idea of some Las Vegas show elements as well. It tells the tale of three human beings juxtaposing in that world and playing that game of life which is really a game of musical chairs.
RM: And my piece is called “Voiced with music by Meredith Monk. The language is very Graham. The entire piece is very Graham.
TR: It is a homage to David (Hochoy).
RM: As we were choosing pieces I thought “I would like David to see this one.” It has a little bit in it about alienation and how, in our own little worlds, we all have pain and we suffer about things that are universal. But not until we all dance together, can we go to the next step.I love the piece. I love Meredith Monk’s influences and of course I think the language of Graham works great for it.
TR: It is also about women who are very empowered. It does feel of women. There are no men in the piece. Ricardo’s vocabulary and his use of movement allows each character to uniquely unfold which makes the piece really beautiful. He designed the costumes and made them as well. They are stunning.
Are you excited about opening night?
RM: I am just excited. For me, it is a special time and I love being back home. (Sings) “Back home in Indiana…”
What about you Todd?
TR: I love being here for his full circle moment as he comes back. First, he takes his history out of the state and then brings it back to his hometown