Raissa Simpson’s PUSH Dance Company Builds Vibrant Contemporary Dances To Gain A Deeper Understanding Of The Challenges Attributed To Mixed Heritage.

In Conversation with Shaun Keylock

PUSH Dance Company is proud to present choreography by Shaun Keylock Company on Wednesday October 14, 2020 LIVE at 6 PM. Photo by Chris Fucile.

This Fall, join us for PUSHfest Global, our virtual dance festival featuring 18 choreographers from the Bay Area and beyond. From October 7 through November 18, each Wednesday evening at 6 PM meet a new group of PUSHfest Artists for dynamic conversations about dance and activism. | Tickets & More Here

Tell us a little bit about your dance background.
I was born in Portland, Oregon, and attended Pacific University, where I studied Art History and Dance. I really enjoyed modern dance in college, particularly the works of Doris Humphrey and José Limón, so I spent the following few summers after school studying with the Limón School at CSU-Fullerton and in New York City, training with current and former company members of the José Limón Dance Company. Fast forward a few years, I formed my own company, Shaun Keylock Company in 2018. The company grew out of my interests in new movement research and cross-disciplinary collaboration, and a desire to work with the same group of dancers on a regular basis. The company is based in Portland, where I currently live and teach. We produce our own shows and performances, as well as offer a wide spectrum of other public programs and events at our creative studio.

What can audiences look forward to seeing in your work at PUSHfest?
We will be showing an excerpt of my full-length work “Calamus” at PUSHfest. This is the company’s San Francisco premiere. We created this work back in 2018 as the culmination of our residency at New Expressive Works in Portland. The work features an all-male cast and showcases the company’s ability to create work that is both technically sound and radically subversive. The movement is bold and intimate, highlighting the technical skill and attention to detail that our company is known for. The work also features an exciting, original score by Seattle-based sound artist and drag queen Evan Swope, whose music is deeply moving and captures the emotion of these two dancers as they fly across the stage. We’re thrilled to be performing in San Francisco for the first time!

What are the major sources of inspiration for your choreography? What are you curious about?
My work is often inspired by the many facets of LGBT and queer identity. I’m curious how our company can tell these stories on stage, many of which have been lost to time. This work in particular draws inspiration from the text of Walt Whitman and the history of the Civilian Conservation Corp, an American economic relief program that put men back to work conserving public land in 1933. I draw a lot of influence from my own identity when creating new work or concepts for the company, and I think you can see that in the content of this work in particular.

Photo By Alex Iverson Cress

If you hadn’t chosen this career, what might you be doing with your life?
I actually feel like I’m leading a double life sometimes! Besides dance, I work as an arts administrator for several non-profits here in the Northwest. I have been involved in the arts community for the last seven years and continue to enjoy how I can combine these two passions in my life. I love being able to share resources and provide opportunities for other artists to succeed — I wouldn’t trade that for any other career!

What does your work respond to or activate, within this world or within yourself?
I often find myself responding to the themes of LGBT and queer identity in my work. I think it relates to not having a lot of exposure to this important part of my own history when I was younger. My creative practice has given me that opportunity now. Additionally, it continues to help me feel closer to my community; I want to see the stories and themes of LGBTQ+ communities represented onstage, not only in my own work, but also in the work of other artists as well.

What advice would you pass on to an aspiring choreographer?
This sticks with me a lot: “the comeback is always greater than the setback.” I think about that phrase almost daily in this new, post-pandemic world, and how relevant it is to our work as dancers and choreographers, and as artists in general. The rejections, criticisms, the setbacks, it’s all just feedback for us that in the end will help us to continue to grow and improve. We’re often taught determination from an early age, and I think it’s easy to lose track of that in this weird time. It’s important to remember: no one is forcing us to be artists. We can quit this career whenever we want. It’s the determination and trust in finding a way continue to do what we love that sets us apart, and makes us stronger and more flexible to all the changes going on right now.

Learn more:
instagram: @shaunkeylock.co

Shaun Keylock is an award-winning choreographer and director based in Portland, Oregon. His creative practice is rooted in contemporary performance that is at once both technically sound and radically subversive, often exploring the many facets of LGBT and queer identity.