While attending Dance Kaleidoscope’s “Divos Divinos” gala, I had the pleasure of sitting at the same table as choreographer Nicholas A. Owens and his delightful mother Brenda Owens. The younger Owens had been on my radar for a while, so seeing him was an opportune time to ask him to let me share his story with my readers.
In addition to his past collaboration with Dance Kaleidoscope in productions that included “Love Is,” “Mad for Musicals,” “Super Soul,”“Ray & Ella,” and “Voices of a Generation,” Owens is also choreographing a piece for “Divos (Men).” The concert will run April 5 – 8 on the OneAmerica Stage at Indiana Repertory Theatre.
Act One of “Divos (Men) ” features the performances of seven DK dancers choreographed to songs by their favorite male singers, including Rod Stewart, Queen, George Michael and more. The dancers first presented these pieces at the 2017 IndyFringe Festival, which I saw and raved about in a review.
Act Two will include all new choreography from DK Artistic Director David Hochoy and Owens. Hochoy created a piece called “Eltonania” set to songs from Elton John. Owens choreographed his favorite songs by Prince in a piece called “Rain.”
In addition to his association with Kenyetta Dance Company and Iibada Dance Company and teaching at the Indiana Ballet Conservatory and Dancer’s Studio, Owens is the founder and artistic director of the Nicholas Owens Dance Company.
Recently, Owens and I spoke by phone about his background, association with Dance Kaleidoscope and the piece he has choreographed for Dance Kaleidoscope. Herein is the edited transcript of our interview.
What is you history with DK?
We are approaching ten years since I came in as a guest choreographer for DK. The first concert that I created a work for was “America, the Modern.” David extended the invitation after years of following my work with Kenyetta Dance Company. Now, here it is all these years later and I have been working with the company off and on since 2008. Since then, I have choreographed numerous pieces alongside David. I feel very involved with the organization. It speaks volumes that David trusts the work that I do for the company. As an artistic director of my own organization, we are very selective when it comes to letting others come in to work with our dancers because we mold those dancers to create our vision. So, for David to trust in me time after time, allows me to feel that I am really a part of the DK family. Not only does David invite me in to be a guest artist, but he also does a lot of mentoring along the way.
Do you consider David a mentor?
Yes. David has been a supporter of mine and my work even before I realized he was. He’s always made an effort to attend the productions I choreograph, whether it is a musical or Kenyetta Dance Company. He takes time to give me feedback and suggestions. Yesterday was a perfect example. I was struggling with the final moment of my piece and the decision of going with choice A or B and he suggested something I had not even thought about and was able to give me reasons why it would work. It is great to have that kind of relationship with him. I have gained so much from him serving as a mentor to me for both DK as well as my other work. In many ways, he is grooming me to become to leading African-American choreographer in the city.
Tell me about the Nicholas Owens Dance Company (NODC).
As you know, I have positioned myself in numerous organizations in the city that I have committed myself to. As an alumnus and co-founder of Kenyetta Dance Company and assistant artistic director of Iibada Dance Company and NODC, I commit myself to and continue to create opportunities through outreach programs provided through these organizations. Through the work I create, it has allowed me to bridge the gaps between these organizations because one of the areas we struggle with as an arts community is collaboration and people only wanting to focus on the work they create for their own organizations. One reason I formed the NODC was go give myself the chance to represent my own work as a freelance choreographer. I don’t want to limit myself just to one company because I feel it is worth sharing with the community. I think that has allowed me to make the moves I have to embrace my work and continue my growth as an artist. NODC was formed in 2010. My vision is for it to be one of Indy’s premier modern dance companies. We try to create, encourage and provide training and performance opportunities for any dancers seeking them. A lot of the work I create comes from the African-American experience, but I work with dancers from all races. That is something I find very important. Not having just African-Americans dancers builds audiences and I think building diverse audiences is a great way of bringing communities together. It increases the awareness, the enjoyment and the appreciation for dance.
Is you company a 501(c)(3)?
I am currently in the process of filing to become a 501(c)(3). There are so many opportunities and resources available that I need to take advantage of. I have what I call my “vision book” with all these ideas that I have fully developed, some that are in progress and some that are just thoughts. I want to bring life to all of those. I want to be able to tap into resources so that I can dream bigger. I have had people who have reached out and want to help me. Right now, I see the importance of stability in an organization and the importance of forming a board of directors. Right now, I have a colleague who has been with me since Kenyetta who is serving in the capacity of executive director of my company. Her name is Carmela Officer. She has said, “When you decide that you fully want to make this happen, I am here for you.” I can’t do it alone and I know it takes a team of individuals to make it happen. I do want to start small, however, so that it does not become overwhelming.
Were you a dancer?
I never danced or wanted to dance professionally. That was never a passion of mine. I love and enjoy what I do when given the opportunity to perform because I am totally committed to my performances. My first training started with Kenyetta when it used to be Tap Casual. My sister, Vanessa, introduced me to tap dance and jazz dance. I was 12 years old when I went on to Iiabada Dance Company where I was a member for my entire middle and high school years. I went to North Central.
Where did you attend college?
This is what makes the story so interesting. I had the opportunity to go to Ball State to study architecture because I am also a visual artist. That was my primary focus all throughout high school at North Central. I sculpt and paint and my passion was architecture and interior design. Upon graduation, I was faced with two choices. The choice was going either to Ball State for architecture or forming Kenyetta Dance Company. It was a hard choice to make, but it something I don’t regret. So, I stayed here in Indy and took some general course classes at Ivy Tech College.
What do you like about choreography?
What I love most about choreography is creating new works that challenge dancers to discover, connect and awaken their inner emotions.
What do you like about working with dancers?
What I love, respect and applaud dancers for is their ability to take on the responsibility of bringing life to the visions I find important to share with audiences. Their commitment to the integrity of the works I’m so privileged to create for them is what inspires me to continue teaching and helping dance artists become storytellers through movement. Over the years, dancers have taught me to be fearless and bold as a choreographer.
Tell me about your piece in the upcoming “Divos” concert?
My piece is titled “Rain.” It’s a four-piece suite that includes “When Doves Cry,” “I Would Die 4 U,” “Solo,” and concludes with “Purple Rain.” This piece was created to explore the dancers’ ability to create something edgy and something athletic, through the exploration of sliding and gliding. The dancers were challenged by wearing socks on their feet. We have created this work that really tests their ability to execute all of the things they know, but in a different way of moving while wearing socks. It can be very scary slipping and sliding around while dancing. You’ll see a lot of sliding across the floor. I started to create the piece when I saw fiber optic lights. When I looked at them, it was what I thought about when I heard “Purple Rain.”
I presume you are a Prince fan?
I have become one over time. “Diamonds and Pearls” was the first song I remember as a young child. I remember it because it was played over and over and over. At that time, I did not know who Prince was. I did not realize he was so popular at the time. Over time, “Purple Rain” was introduced into my life and I thought it was a wonderful song.
What can audiences expect from your piece?
I hope people will find a sense of love throughout the work. Good love. Bad love. People falling in and out of love. A lot of Prince’s songs touch on the areas of his sexuality and incorporate explicit things into his work. I touch on all those fun, sexual sides of Prince. There isn’t much of a story line because there is so much about Prince that was kept private. I want to have created a piece that I feel is respectful of him. I want it to be sweet, simple, but at the same time very open to what love is for people in today’s world and how it has evolved.
What would you like your legacy to be?
The legacy I plan to leave behind as an African-American choreographer is one in which I hope inspires every little child to be whatever they dream to be. I hope to change the way communities view and acknowledge African-American art and artists by sharing my experiences, expertise and gifts as a choreographer and director.
For tickets and information about Dance Kaleidoscope’s “Divos” call the Indiana Repertory Theatre box office at (317) 635-5252 or visit irtlive.com.