Interview with Alexis Robbins of kamrDANCE

Photography by Daniel Gagnon

Photography by Daniel Gagnon

We are thrilled to announce that Alexis Robbins, artistic director of kamrDANCE, is the featured choreographer for the 2018 NACHMO season. We sat down for a Q&A with Alexis:

Tell us a bit about your company and your background.

I started choreographing pieces for the first time in middle school for talent shows. Choreographing both tap and contemporary work has always felt natural. Even when I was younger I knew that I wanted to have my own company and spend the rest of my life creating as much as possible. I choreographed several competition routines for my studio throughout my high school career but it wasn’t until I got to college that I truly started finding my choreographic voice. I studied dance at Hofstra University and through the vast amount of opportunities and amazing guidance that I had throughout my time there, I was able to start building a solid body of work.

The first time I ever used the name “kamrDANCE” was for the hour long concert I produced and choreographed for my senior practicum. I knew that was what my company would be called. (KAMR are my initials – surprise, I don’t go by my first name!). Our first performance was in Cape Cod in August 2015, and since then we have performed at Triskelion Arts, Dixon Place, Actors Fund Arts Center, Hudson Guild Theater, Salvatore Capezio Theater, and the Arlington Center for the Arts (MA). We premiered my longest work yet, a 35 minute piece titled “Catch 22” in May 2017 at Dixon Place. This past November I released my first dance film creation titled “No More No More” which premiered at the Actors Fund Arts Center and will be shown again at the Center for Performance Research this coming February.

The goal of my work is to fuse tap, percussive movement, and contemporary/modern dance with humor and intricacy to create unique voices and investigate the necessity of supportive relationships, laughter, and absurdity. Also, more recently, I have been creating work about the double bind that women experience in society. If I can make an audience laugh out loud and also think deeply about the theme or message, then I feel I’ve done my job.

What is your choreographic process like?

I love quick, athletic, and nuanced movement, and I believe that’s evident in most of my work. Because I am a tap dancer, rhythmic and/or percussive movement as well as fast footwork is always involved in my contemporary choreography. As far as my process goes I feel like there are two pathways I take when creating new work. One method is spending a lot of time in the studio on my own just improvising and filming my improvisation. When I watch it back and see something I like that I want to expand on, I re-teach the improvisation to myself and then continue building from there. Another method is to spend time journaling and thinking about the bigger picture of the work – what story am I telling, how does the music influence the narrative, where are we beginning and ending in space, what are the motifs that will be seen multiple times and how can I manipulate them, etc. Then I enter the studio with these thoughts but without any planned movement and just create with my dancers on the spot. It always depends on how productive I feel I need to be in a certain rehearsal, but often I feel I am my most creative self when there’s pressure to make something in the moment. For the most part it’s a collaborative process with my dancers - though the ideas and movement are ultimately mine, I always allow and encourage feedback, suggestions, and edits from my dancers to ensure we all feel confident about the work we are presenting. Whenever I’m in the studio creating, I’m home.

This is your second time participating in NACHMO. What made you decide to do NACHMO the first time?

The reason I wanted to participate in NACHMO the first time in 2016 was because I felt it would be a good outlet for me to have a set time period in which to create a contemporary solo on myself. I’ve only ever created one other solo for myself originally in 2012, a tap solo that I performed six times on four different stages over a 4 year span. Though I create a lot of contemporary work, I generally only feel comfortable performing with my tap shoes on. So I wanted to push myself to make something new and embrace my insecurities in my technical abilities as a contemporary mover. I can’t say I love what I made, and admittedly I never returned to it (though maybe I should), but I’m glad I used NACHMO as a platform to push myself. Through the studio showing that I did I made a lot of new connections and received positive feedback that left me feeling as if I had definitely accomplished my goal and would participate in NACHMO again. And now here we are!

What are your plans for your NACHMO piece?

My plans for this year’s NACHMO piece are to expand upon a new work inspired by a section of my previous work “Catch 22.” For the first time in a few years I’m combining tap and contemporary dance into the same piece, along with text and some singing. This piece will also focus on the double bind that women experience in society, and more specifically hone in on the issues of catcalling, mansplaining, and the effects of dealing with demeaning experiences. I’m excited to continue this work, especially given the current events of the “#MEtoo” and “Times Up” movements. As a woman I feel it’s my duty to uplift other women and femmes and draw attention to these human rights issues.

What are your interests and pursuits outside of dance, and how do they inform your choreography?

Outside of choreographing I am a certified personal trainer through the American College of Sports Medicine with special certifications in pre/post-natal and corrective exercise. I work with a wide variety of clients, many with physical and/or mental disabilities. I love helping people feel better and reach their goals by finding more efficient pathways of moving and rehabilitating injuries. I also teach tap and contemporary classes at two dance studios where I work with students that range from 7 to 18 years old. I truly enjoy teaching and helping people learn new skills, whether it’s a shuffle or a pull up, because knowing I helped someone take that next step is incredibly fulfilling. My training and teaching definitely inform my choreography by teaching me to be patient and regularly observe how people find ways to move when there is some sort of obstacle. When a client is coming from an injury, I have to be creative so that they can still strengthen their muscles and get a workout while avoiding patterns that could cause pain or harm. This translates into my creativity as a choreographer; if I can’t use my left wrist, what pathways should I take…?