‘In the Moment’ An Interview with Choreographers Erica Rebollar and Helanius J. Wilkins on ‘Everything for the First Time’ at Atlas on 4/11 at 8 PM

The artistry and craft of two masterful choreographers are coming together for a stimulating, one night only performance at the Atlas Performing Arts Center with the tantalizing title, Everything for the First Time. It is to be a glimpse into new ways of seeing movement from DC area artists with new visions for movement.


In an evening of exploration and “pushing boundaries” through physicality and rigor, award-winning choreographers Helanius J. Wilkins and Erica Rebollar will be presenting, Everything for the First Time, an evening of contemporary dance at the Sprenger Theatre on Saturday, April 11, 2015 at 8 pm.

Continually seeking out new discoveries and experiences to bring to the attention of DCMetroTheaterArts readers, I visited with Rebollar and Wilkins.

Wilkins noted about the coming together of two choreographers and two styles: “We have often crossed paths and presented works in showcases together but never really worked together. This joining of forces feel like it was inevitable. While the idea of working together had been tossed around before, Everything for the First Time is the project where we are coming together and our works are coming together in a way that feels fluid and not packaged.”

The performance will feature two DC premieres: Wilkins’ Everything For The First Time, and Rebollar’s Cyborg Suites. It will also include Joy of Motion’s Youth Dance Ensemble (YDE) performing a work-in-progress of Wilkins’ Turning Tables, a new work that will premiere at the Greenberg Theatre in May 2015.

David Siegel: For those not familiar with your choreography, how would you describe your choreography “style”?

Erica Rebollar: My choreography is in the postmodern genre, using tight and bound physicality that builds to explosive movements. Use of specificity in fast twitch muscles and joint articulation spark my movement ideas. My choreography represents current social themes, issues and ideas.

Helanius J. Wilkins: My choreographic style is ever evolving. It is demanding, complex, viscerally-charged, and multi-layered. But it is also richly connected to and stems from our experiences as humans. It often emerges from the integration of various forms and artistic fields, and creates a space where ideas and approaches are blended together to reveal sensorial experiences…

What inspired you to develop the choreography to be performed at Everything for the First Time?

Erica: I read a feminist essay many years ago that stuck with me: Donna Haraway’s Cyborg Manifesto, in which a post-gender world was made possible through our potential future evolution as cyborgs [cyborgs: part human, part machine]. I then started imagining a post-humanist work with dancing cyborgs. I started exploring movement boundaries between machine and human, automatic and sensory, internal and external while challenging ideas of performance and identity within public/private spaces.

Helanius J. Wilkins. Photo courtesy of Helanius' website.
Helanius J. Wilkins. Photo courtesy of Helanius’ website.

Helanius: My inspiration came from a work I created last spring. It is a work for 25 amazing dancers from the Slippery Rock University Dance Department in PA. This work is the first group work I created following my shift in 2011 to focus on solo work…and the disbanding of EDGEWORKS Dance Theater, an all-male company that I founded & artistically led for 13 years.

Rather than beginning with choreography or the creation of set movements, I am now engaged in art-making that requires allowing my own bodily actions and sensory engagement, or those of the dancers that I hand pick to work with me, to guide the process as well as the performance. At the core of this kind of work I reveal myself and/or others as a human being embodying and exposing lived experiences. The performance not only gives an audience a glimpse into a new way of molding movement…

What do you look for in dancers for your dance compositions?

Erica: Good technique, strength, maturity, and above all, intelligence. I see my dancers as collaborators, participating in discussions and sharing ideas.

Erica Rebollar/RebollarDance! in the DC premiere of
Erica Rebollar/RebollarDance! in the DC premiere of “Cyborg Suites” as part of “Everything for the First Time.” Photo by David Dowling.

Helanius: I look for different things in dancers pending on the project that I am exploring. However, regardless of those differences, I believe that I tend to look for risk takers, individuals who are not afraid of just simply “being,” “authenticity, and understated virtuosity.

What is a rehearsal like for your dancers?

Erica: We usually rehearse twice a week for 3 hours per rehearsal when creating a new work. We warm up while discussing ideas and I start to explore movement and choreography by giving little assignments or problems to solve. Later, it’s all about mastering the precise movement and rhythmic timings. At this point we use video and call for feedback from invited observers.

Helanius: For any dancer who works with me the rehearsal process is always rigorous. It requires being fully engaged mentally and physically. It is a process that involve constant questioning, reflecting, testing, revisiting, pushing beyond limitations, and sharing/revealing something that is the result of necessity and that is not for the purpose of simply executing a task.

How do you select the music to accompany your dance work? How would you describe the score?

Ms. Erica Rebollar.
Erica Rebollar.

Erica: As I do with my dancers, I find a composer that is open to collaboration and discussion. S/he and I then make a general sound map together, choosing the palate of instruments and timings which the composer then develops and expands. In the case of Cyborg Suites, composer Jeff Dorfman created the score, which is mostly based on mechanical sounds like engines and servomotors.

Helanius: It varies. Sometimes music is the inspiration for a work to come into being. Other times it is emerging/being created concurrently with the choreography. Still, other times the choreography inspires the creation of the score. In the case of the music connected to the pieces that will be performed in Everything for the First Time, the scores are dynamic and in some ways feel worlds apart from each other. I use originally created material as well as recorded pieces, and they range from something along the lines of rock to electronic.

What do you want audiences to come away after taking in the performance?

Erica: The craft of two master choreographers making exciting work that is stimulating both on a kinesthetic and intellectual level.

Helanius: I hope that audiences come away with the simple feeling of having a good experience, and being impacted in such a way that causes them to question, reflect, consider, and/or feel a connection to self and/or others – a new discovery, as well as causes them to feel inspired, encouraged, and joy.

Why do you like to perform at the Atlas?

Erica: The Atlas is in a great location, with a beautiful marquee and plenty of room in the lobbies to meet and mingle. It is in a bustling neighborhood with many restaurants/bars/venues on H Street, so it is accessible and informative to potential audiences. Atlas’ Sprenger Theatre is a wonderful place to perform, as it’s an updated and large black box theater that still holds an intimate feel.

Helanius: I’ve always been interested in bringing my work to the community, wherever the community may be. The Atlas is located in a wonderfully historic and ever-evolving neighborhood. Through its diverse programming and broad reach it is creating an energy and attracting a diverse cross-section of the greater DC community that is appealing and inviting.

Everything for the First Time will be performed by Helanius J. Wilkins & Erica Rebollar/Rebollar Dance on April 11, 2015 at 8 PM at Atlas Performing Arts Center – 1333 H Street, NE, in Washington, DC. For tickets, purchase them online.

Note: After the performance there will be an informal ‘meet and greet’ where audience members can get to know the choreographers and dancers.


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