Choreographer to explore gay themes

By |2006-02-09T09:00:00-05:00February 9th, 2006|Entertainment|

NEW YORK – Christopher Williams doesn’t consider himself to be a cool, cutting edge choreographer. Others disagree, however, including critics from the New York Times, the Village Voice, the NYC Dance Journal and Dance Magazine.
That’s because the openly gay performance artist has set himself apart by combining his passions for dance, puppetry and the Renaissance into a unique style he calls “dance puppetry.”
But don’t expect to see cutesy kids’ characters like Bert, Ernie and Big Bird in his work when he arrives in Kalamazoo next week for Wellspring’s twenty-second annual Dance Forum.
“A puppet, for me, is anything than can be manipulated by someone that takes on a movement quality,” Williams explained recently from his home in New York City. “I don’t see any boundary between dance as a genre and puppetry, because, really, you’re just animating these beings – whether they be blocks of wood or human beings. So a piece of paper can be a puppet.”
It’s the strong visual that appeals to Williams. “I treat the body of a dancer like a canvas on which I can apply various visual art objects. So if I do have puppet characters, they serve the dancer’s body.”
Williams first became interested in dance while growing up in Syracuse, New York. His first foray didn’t last long, however. “I started taking ballet probably when I was in late elementary school or junior high, but I stopped promptly, because I was totally teased and abused by other kids for being a male dancer,” he recalled. “I had everything from name calling to people throwing rocks at me. My masculinity was being questioned. And that, to me, made no sense, because it had nothing to do with my sexual preference or my gender. That was really baffling to me.”
So instead, the young Williams fulfilled his need to perform by joining his school’s theater program. But it was while taking a contemporary dance class taught by Viola Farber at Sarah Lawrence College that changed his life. “She transformed my trajectory,” he said.
While at Sarah Lawrence, he studied both choreography and puppetry, eventually earning his degree in 1999. He also holds a diploma from L’Ecole Internationale de Theatre Jacques Lecoq in Paris where he studied physical theater, acrobatics and mask traditions.
Although Williams sang in a medieval choir while in high school, it was while studying medieval and Renaissance history in college that spurred him to explore Catholic themes in his work. “I realize that it’s kind of a dangerous vein, in that people will think that I’m a religious person, but for me it transcends that. There is something of extraordinary beauty about this time period’s art and music.”
His experiences as a gay man also contribute greatly to his work. “I don’t think they’re explored enough,” he said.
A juried event, the Dance Forum provides local and regional choreographers an opportunity to present their experimental and original work. Williams is this year’s special guest artist. Other participants include Wellsprings’ Michael Miller and Rachel Miller, Danah Bella of Virginia and work choreographed by faculty and students from Western Michigan University’s Department of Dance.
Williams will present selections from “The Portuguese Suite,” a piece that explores the danger and beauty of gay male international relationships. He also plans to present a section from his video, “Bestiary,” and “Saint Margaret of Antioch,” an excerpt from his acclaimed “Ursala and the 11,000 Virgins.”
Unfortunately, Williams won’t be bringing any of his puppets with him to Kalamazoo. “But I think you’ll get a sense of my work from this,” he concluded.

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