I was captivated by choreographer Keith Young for years from afar. His movement always felt otherworldly to me, and was uniquely, consistently and undeniably his. Ethereal yet grounded, expressive yet intimately quiet and internal, like a secret held by the dancers. Technical, yet strangely pedestrian. Beautiful, beautiful movement!!!
I learned later that his movement quality, a feeling like you’re underwater and listening fully, was influenced by his hearing impaired sister and the sign language she used to communicate. Yes, this makes sense. Very expressive and occupying another sphere of space and time.
Keith’s history weaves from the concert world to commercial dance, dancing with notable dance companies in New York and eventually joining Twyla Tharp’s company as a principal dancer. He later became her assistant on the film Amadeus and served as rehearsal director in the staging of The Sinatra Suites, featuring Mikhail Baryshnikov and Twyla Tharp for American Ballet Theatre.
I’ve had the pleasure of working with Keith numerous times and his humanity and artistry is unmatched. Very honored that he joined me in my ongoing Choreographer Interview Series.
TNH: How did you develop your unique style of movement?
KY: I have developed my style of movement by marrying my discovery of what it is I feel a need to express, and embracing the musicality of that expression. I love, and employ the technique and architecture of ballet, the earthiness of modern, and the spirit of jazz.
TNH: What first drew you to dance and then to choreography?
KY: I played sports all through school, and I also loved art and music. When I once saw a friend in her dance class, I was amazed at how this activity seemed to incorporate all the things that I deemed worthy at the time...athleticism, sculpture, architecture, music and composition. It took my breath away.
TNH: What does dance mean to you?
KY: Dance, for many years has meant so many things to me. It is such an integral part of my life, and how I see the world around me. It is joyous, revealing, enlightening, and especially healing. It has the ability to bring change, and encourage compassion; things I aspire to.
TNH: There can be ups and downs and rejection in the entertainment business. What tools have you developed to keep your confidence and belief in yourself?
KY: The single tool I have developed within, to help deflect the rejection and callousness of this business is, I never let anyone else determine my self worth. It is up to me to be honest with myself and do the work.
TNH: When you are casting dancers, what do you look for?
KY: When I am casting dancers, it is first of all paramount that I address the specificity of the particular job. Primarily, what I look for in the dancers is desire and willingness, their determination and tenacity, their ability to co-exist, and of course, their talent. And to those that don’t get cast, I refer them to question 4.
TNH: What advice would you give a young performer with big dreams?
KY: My advice to young performers (dancers) with big dreams would be to remind them of the lifetime of learning, the necessity of perseverance, the importance of being susceptible to growth, the aches and pains of hard work, the frustrating financial disparity . . . and then I’d tell them there is nothing in the world as fulfilling.
TNH: Who/what have been the biggest creative influences in your life?
KY: Creatively, I would say my biggest influences have been George Balanchine, Twyla Tharp, Merce Cunningham, Alvin Ailey, Joni Mitchell, Louis Armstrong, Sammy Davis Jr, Maya Angelou. But there have been many that have touched me and inspired my journey as I hope to do for others.
TNH: How has your sister influenced your movement?
KY: I always look at my work without the sound, for two reasons. To make sure my sister or someone who's hearing was impaired "got it” and understood the story and saw the MUSIC IN THE MOVEMENT. And secondly, to keep myself honest, movement wise, and not reliant on the music. That way both elements exist wholly on their own, like in a relationship. You/I don't want two half hearts that make one, I'd prefer two whole ones that, when are together, make a stronger more empowered one.
TNH: Thank you, Keith!