Helanius Wilkins will challenge his audiences to embrace the darkest moments of their pasts during his one-man show.
The master’s of fine arts candidate’s show, titled /CLOSE/R, premieres this weekend and looks to employ choreography that exudes the passions and fears of an artist.
The show focuses on what makes individuals uncomfortable both in subject matter and physicality by forcing the audience to examine the human body and distressing emotions.
“/CLOSE/R reveals places and aspects of me from which the art I create emerges from. These things and passions are generally more hidden and channeled into broader works”, said Wilkins. “/CLOSE/R isolates and exposes my raw connections to my art and things that reflect my own truth.”
Wilkins did not walk into his rehearsals with a choreographed routine. Instead, he improvised and kept the moves that stuck out in his memory in a process he calls "sensing."
He applies the same technique while teaching undergraduates as part of his master's program.
“Rehearsals were so raw and emotional,” Hillary Hecht, a junior who studied with Helanius last year, said. “We looked very much into our own personal experiences to our own need for human connection, and what it felt like to be exposed, alone or burdened.”
Wilkins said a solo performance challenges the artist to make statements instead of asking questions. The narrative of the piece follows his journey – including moments of whimsy, intimacy and profanity.
“While /CLOSE/R embraces a certain level of intensity, the journey of the work explores places that include humor,” Wilkins said.
A professional dancer for 17 years, Wilkins said the decision to return to school took some thought, but he is grateful he joined GW’s 18-month-long master’s program last year, which allows professionals to refine and expand their craft.
/CLOSE/R, which will appear at Dance Place, features six projectors and a deconstructed, exposed set that emphasizes Wilkins’ interest in imperfections. The use of new technology – including projection and lighting – in the production is one Wilkins was excited to employ in his solo work.
“This program had a main component of technology, and that excited me. Along with that, I felt that I could never go back to school in a traditional sense given my world,” Wilkins said.
As an established choreographer and instructor, and the founder of EDGEWORKS Dance Theater, an all-male contemporary dance company, Wilkins’ experiences also stem from his education prior to attending GW. He studied dance at SUNY College at Brockport and has won numerous awards, including the 2008 Pola Nirenska Award for Contemporary Achievement in Dance and Kennedy Center honors.
He described his discovery of the word "choreographer" while watching the famous dancer Alvin Ailey on PBS as a child.
“I remember very vividly when he said that word, I knew, ‘That’s me! That’s what I do!’ ” Wilkins said. “I always say I didn’t choose dance. Dance chose me.”
/CLOSE/R will appear at Dance Place Sept. 15 at 8 p.m. and Sept. 16 at 7 p.m., with an advisory for mature audiences, due to nudity and profanity.
This article was updated Sept. 14, 2012 to reflect the following:
The Hatchet incorrectly reported that the master's of fine arts program is a three-year program. The program runs 18 months.