“When we dance, we strengthen our minds, we strengthen our bodies, we strengthen our souls, we develop community. Dance doesn’t pollute, it doesn’t destroy. It generates and it shares and it uplifts. I believe in dance… really as a significant human activity.”
– Bill Evans
On Monday February 27th, I sat down with Bill Evans in order to interview this illustrious choreographer for a preview story for his upcoming performances in Providence in March and April. In addition to hearing about the performances, we spent the next hour and a half discussing what it means to be performing, making work and teaching dance, in Rhode Island today. We also became interested in exploring how different the dance landscape is now, as compared to how it was 20, 30, and 40 years ago.
Bill and I talked about his rich history, as a performer, choreographer, and educator.
We talked about his plans for the legacy of ‘The Bill Evans Method of Teaching Modern Dance Technique’ and what it would mean to pass this legacy on to the 50 or so certified teachers some of whom have been working with Bill on this methodology for the past two decades.
We talked about the challenges of making work today, including finding financial resources and the scarcity of institutional support today in comparison to modern dance’s heyday in the 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s.
We talked about how artists today tend to self-produce their own work as opposed to being presented by dance producers, why we are doing it this way, and how it yields different results.
We talked about the trials we face as artists when dealing with these limited resources and how it affects the works that we make.
We talked about the difficulties of establishing and maintaining an audience base, the challenges of gathering a following in Rhode Island, and the lack of a mid-sized theater equipped for dance in Providence.
Regardless of the challenges and the difficulties we discussed, the conversation we had was truly one of hope and celebration. We concluded that despite all the difficulties artists face in the current climate (the Trump administration, the pervasively diminishing financial and institutional support, the lack of time and space in which to make work), what remains crucial is the need to keep going – the unwillingness to stop. It is absolutely necessary for artists to highlight and celebrate dance as an essential human activity, one which many people have no idea that they are missing.
We’ll get to the celebration phase shortly, but first, let’s take a quick look at Bill Evans’ 65 year career.
Bill Evans is a choreographer, performer, teacher, administrator, writer and movement analyst. More than 250 of Evans’ works have been performed by professional and pre-professional ballet, modern dance and tap dance companies throughout the United States, including his own Bill Evans Dance Company, Repertory Dance Theatre, Concert Dance Company of Boston, Ballet West, Ririe-Woodbury Dance Company, Ruth Page Chicago Ballet, Pacific Northwest Ballet, North Carolina Dance Theater, Stars of American Ballet at Jacob’s Pillow, Chicago Tap Theatre, Rochester City Ballet, FuturPointe Dance and many other companies. He has also created works for companies in Canada, Mexico and New Zealand.
Born and raised in Utah, Bill has been dancing his entire life. Bill was introduced to dance at the age of 3, when he first saw Fred Astaire in a film. By age 18, Bill was running a thriving dance studio with over 225 students. He attended the university of Utah and majored in English and Ballet, when he also took courses in modern dance. Fun Fact: In those days the modern dance classes were part of the Women’s Physical Education Department, while ballet was in the Department of Speech and Theatre. Then, like most US men of the time, Bill joined the army. He passed the studio onto his younger sister, and left Utah.
After the army, Bill went to New York. He was an apprentice with the Harkness Ballet for a few years and danced with Ruth Page, touring and enjoying American Dance’s apex. (Page’s Chicago Opera Ballet was a classical and contemporary ballet troupe of 33 dancers, which toured with its own orchestra.)
In 1967, Bill decided to return to Utah, when he was enticed by the proposition Repertory Dance Theater offered. This newly founded arts collective with a democratic mission and vision, which was supported by The Rockefellers, offered Bill the opportunity to work consistently with a very strong group of professional dancers, in addition he could get his MFA from the University of Utah at the same time. Bill had been a ballet dancer up until the age of 27 and now he was transitioning into classical modern dance. RDT performed works by Limon, Cunningham, Graham, Nikolais – all the classics. Bill took on a leadership role, becoming one of three artistic coordinators for RDT, and garnered national recognition as the most acknowledged choreographer at RDT, and eventually, Bill felt it was time to break away from RDT and establish his own company.
In 1975, Bill founded the Bill Evans Dance Company (BEDCO). In 1976, he moved BEDCO to Seattle, Washington. He also became artistic director of Dance Theatre Seattle/Bill Evans Dance Company School, at the time the largest school of modern dance in the Pacific Northwest. For several years, the Evans Company was among the most-booked dance groups in the United States, under the auspices of the Dance Touring and Artist in the Schools Programs of the National Endowment for the Arts. Because of the reputation he had established as a choreographer for RDT, Bill’s newly founded company launched into a 40 week tour the second year of its existence.
Among the many cities he performed in, he first encountered Providence in 1980. He spent a month here working at RISD, RIC, Brown, performing all over RI and meeting and working with many artists including Julie Strandberg. Bill had wonderful feelings about our tiny capital. So when Donald Halquist (Bill’s husband) was recently offered the position of Dean of RIC’s School of Education and Human Development, Bill thought why not. But, back to our story.
It was around this time that Bill suffered what he calls ‘my mid-life crisis’ which lasted about 3 or 4 years. It was a time of heartbreak for Bill, a partnership (both in life and work) had ended and it was hard to stay in Seattle. So, when an opportunity presented itself to work with Winnipeg ‘s Contemporary Dancers’, Bill relocated to Canada. He worked there for two years, and has maintained an ongoing professional relationship with Winnipeg’s School of Contemporary Dancers and has taught and choreographed for the Senior Professional Program at SCD annually for more than two decades. Then, in 1986, Bill became associate professor and director of contemporary dance at Indiana University, where BEDCO was in residence. He frequently returns to I.U. to teach, choreograph and/or perform.
In 1988, Bill joined the faculty at the University of New Mexico Theatre and Dance Department as Full Professor and Head of Dance. His company was based in New Mexico for 16 years, and performed frequently in Albuquerque, Santa Fe, Taos, Sandia Park and other communities, as well as on national and international tours.
Bill was now 64 years old and thought it might be time to retire, so when Don suggested they move out to Brockport, NY. Bill said sure, but after just a few weeks realized he wasn’t even close to being able to stop, he missed dancing too much. And so, from 2004 to 2014, his company was based at The College at Brockport, State University of New York, where Bill was a visiting professor/guest artist. BEDCO performed regularly in Rochester, Buffalo, and other communities in Western New York and elsewhere, including performances at the Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival in 2012 and 2013. BEDCO has appeared in the American Dance Guild Performance Festival in New York City five times since 2009.
When RIC reached out to Don, Bill was turning 74 and he thought to himself, “This time, I really mean it, it is certainly time to retire now.” Bill and I laughed about this for a long time, and then he said:
“I finally realize, that I just need to keep dancing… until I die.”
The Bill Evans Dance Company celebrated its 40th anniversary with performances in the Hochstein Performance Hall in Rochester in April 2014. Then in August 2014, Bill relocated to Providence, Rhode Island, where he became a full-time professor of dance at Dean College in Franklin, Massachusetts for two years, and is now an adjunct professor teaching three courses this semester.
I asked Bill what interests him about dance, choreography, and education. He replied simply:
“I like blooming where I go. I’ve transplanted several times, and what I really like is just dealing with what I find there.” After 32 years as a college professor, he is interested in witnessing transformation in his students, in challenging young artists to take ownership of their potential.
“I teach pedagogy, philosophy, a lifetime in movement. What interests me, is helping young people become better versions of who they are. Validating their potential, their strengths and gifts. I encourage them to deepen what and who they are.”
– Bill Evans, on teaching.
Bill also said that, more than anything, he just wants to “keep dancing, keep making work, live my life through dance.” He finds this period of his life no less fulfilling than the glamorous years of national and international touring.
I asked about Bill’s artistic perspective when making work and what choreographic influences or philosophy he has had as an artist and a dance maker. “Well, I’ve been through phases. There was the anti-war phase, the phase in which I celebrated my sexuality, the phase I am in now… Well, I dance because it brings me joy… I’ve made pieces about spousal abuse, poverty, patriarchy, but that’s not what is driving me now.. Now I am making uplifting pieces, but I make a lot of dances to honor the people that I love. I try to capture something of their spirit.”
When I asked about his creative process, I got such a candid and honest answer: “I make old fashioned dances, about form, structure, a beginning, middle and an end.” Recently, he’s been especially drawn to make dances inspired by the people he loves. He’s also inspired to work with music from the Romantic period, like Brahms and Mendelssohn.
“I like movement that honors the body from a somatic perspective, helpful, regenerative, caring for the body and the spirit.”
– Bill Evans
What about his connection to Providence? Well, since his arrival in August of 2014, Bill has set works on Fusionworks, Island Moving Company, Providence College, and Rhode Island College and has performed as a guest and taught master classes at Brown University. At AS220, he has taught for the Saturday Switch Series, produced his annual birthday concert for the past two years. As part of The Modern Movement Festival 2017, Bill is preparing for his third performance at AS220. This concert will be focused on Rhythm Tap and will celebrate Bill’s 77th birthday. “It has been a tradition for me, since I turned 40, to perform on my birthday.”
I was curious about the impetus for these festivals he produces and he shared several motivations. He felt it was important to continue sharing his work with new audiences and to offer performance opportunities to a varied group of artists of all ages. For example, the concerts this spring at Festival Ballet and AS220 will include Bill’s old and new works as performed by: Fusionworks, Dean College students, Courtney World (travelling from Nashville), Mark Yonally (a leading and groundbreaking world tap artist), Kristen Socci (from NYC), jazz keyboardist Greg Woodsbie, tap dancers from Brown University, Melody Gamba, Amy Palmieri Burns, and of course Bill and Don. These artists are truly intergenerational and will offer varied and exciting performances.
Another reason for producing, he claimed, the most important, in fact, was this: “I need to keep going. I wasn’t teaching in the Fall, and I thought: Who am I? I need something to look forward to, and I need to keep Don moving!”
“I want people to see that dance is human. We need to celebrate the goodness of humans, and dance is a celebration. I make dances to remind myself. The human body is miraculous and the depths of understanding between the mind and the body are miraculous, and it just deepens as you age.”
– Bill Evans
So, what does Bill have coming up after these performances? In the summer he will be leading intensives in Geneva, NY and in New Mexico. In August, he will teach at The Dance Complex, as part of their annual Summer Sizzle 2017, which runs from August 7-20.
He also has a retreat planned in Washington state to discuss the future of his work “The Bill Evans Method of Teaching Modern Dance Technique Certification Program.” The Evans Method teachers will discuss whether to form an organization, and there is also the thought that a book may emerge from this. Bill said he that he always assumed that by this age he would be writing, something he really loves to do. He talked about his desire to organize his archives and send them to The College at Brockport, State University of New York. “I want to write, but I can’t sit for more than two hours, it makes me want to scream.” In the Fall, he will return to RDT and prepare for an evening length program of his works to be performed on the company. He said he wanted to write, but that he just wasn’t ready to stop teaching, dancing, and making dances. He said:
“I haven’t been willing to give it up. I’m happy… Happier than I’ve been in years. I know what makes me happy. It makes me happy to teach, happy to have projects to do, that I believe in.”
We probably don’t realize just how fortunate we are to have an artist of this caliber right here in Providence. This is an artist who has spent over 50 years crafting and fine tuning a methodology, a philosophy, a true pedagogy that encapsulates a masterful blending of Bartenieff Fundamentals and Laban Movement Analysis. Bill Evans is a treasure trove of knowledge, insight, and passion. He is a gifted teacher, who truly loves what he does, and simply wants to share his work with the world. Readers, I encourage you to attend both the performances, as they will showcase different moods and works, and both concerts will give us the opportunity to be inspired by passion and to celebrate life.
SPRING INTO DANCE
A Festival of Award-Winning Choreography
WHEN: Sunday, March 19, 4:00 pm and 7:00 pm
WHERE: Festival Ballet Providence Black Box Theatre – 825 Hope Street, Providence, Rhode Island
TICKETS: $25 in advance, at Festival Ballet Box Office or online
$30 at the door on the afternoon or evening of performance.
Internationally-renowned choreographer and dancer Bill Evans relocated to Providence in 2014 when his husband Don Halquist became Dean of Education at RIC’s Feinstein School of Education and Human Development. He will present a concert of his contemporary dance and rhythm tap dance choreography.
Evans has been honored with a Guggenheim Fellowship and numerous awards from the National Endowment for the Arts. He is the 2016 Choreography Fellow of the Rhode Island State Council on the Arts.
The show will feature the world premiere of Isimería, to a Sonata for Violin and Piano by Mendelssohn, featuring Amy Palmieri Burns, Melody Gamba and Don Halquist.
Other works are: Colony, inspired by the powerful Maori warrior dances of New Zealand, performed by guest artists Fusionworks Dance Company; Rhythms of the Earth, combining rhythm tap and contemporary dance, performed by guests from the Dean College School of Dance; Suite Cava, lyrical dances in Evans’ unique style, performed by the Bill Evans Dance Company; Blues for My Father, rhythm tap performed by Bill Evans and blues improvisation performed by jazz keyboardist Greg Woodsbie; and In Gloves, a hilarious theatrical piece by Claire Porter.
AS220 MODERN MOVEMENTS FESTIVAL HOSTS
Bill Evans’ 77TH BIRTHDAY RHYTHM TAP SHOWS
WHEN: Sunday APRIL 9 (4 pm) & 10 (7:30 pm), 2017
WHERE: AS220 Black Box, 95 Empire Street
TICKETS: $20 at the door and online
The 2017 Modern Movements Festival will feature a reunion of accomplished artist/teachers of the Bill Evans Rhythm Tap Ensemble, which was founded in 1992.
BILL EVANS was named one of the world’s three favorite tap artists in the Dance Magazine Readers’ Poll.
MARK YONALLY performed in the Evans Ensemble for several years before founding the Chicago Tap Theatre. He has become a leading and groundbreaking world tap artist in recent years, receiving critical acclaim in the US and Europe.
KRISTEN SOCCI now lives in New York City, where she has performed in nationally-known tap companies.
COURTNEY WORLD is the director of dance at the University of the South in Tennessee. She will travel from Nashville for this occasion.
Each of these renowned tap artists will teach master rhythm tap classes for students and professionals in southern New England.
The 77th BIRTHDAY SHOWS will feature Evans, Yonally, Socci, World and jazz keyboard artist Greg Woodsbie. Guest artists will include Bill Wilson, Professor of Musical Theatre at Rhode Island College, and What’s On Tap, a Brown University student ensemble.
Bill Evans’ RHYTHM TAP INTENSIVE
WHEN: April 8, 9 and 10, 2017
WHERE: AS220 Black Box, 95 Empire Street
COST: 1 class, $25; 2 classes, $45; 3 classes, $60; 4 classes $70; 5 classes, $80
MASTER CLASS SCHEDULE
Saturday, April 8
Beginning Tap Technique, Courtney World, 11:30 – 12:45
Intermediate Tap Repertory, Bill Evans—1:00 – 2:15
Advanced Tap Repertory, Kristen Socci—2:30 – 4:00
Sunday, April 9
Intermediate Tap Technique, Mark Yonally, 1:30 – 3:00
Monday, April 10
Intermediate Tap Improvisation and Repertory, Mark Yonally, 5:00 – 6:15
You may also show up on the day of the class and pay at the door. Please come a few minutes early.
Photo Credits: Jim Dusen, Julie Lemberger, Nikki Carrara, Jim Dusen