Nicholas Owens' name has appeared in dozens of dance programs across the city, marking his place as a fixture in the Indianapolis dance world. Recently he was named a featured artist by the Arts Council of Indianapolis for its highlight of local African-American artists, Art & Soul.
Owens is the co-founder (with his sister Vanessa) and former artistic director of Kenyettá Dance Company. He has also formed his own modern dance company, Nicholas Owens Dance Company. Between that and collaborating with nearly every dance entity in town he also teaches at the Indiana Ballet Conservatory, Dancer's Studio, and Iibada Dance Company.
"The name 'Nick Owens' always comes up when I talk with people about dance in Indianapolis," says Ernest Disney-Britton, the Arts Council of Indianapolis' director of Grant Services & Arts Education and the chair for Art & Soul.
Part of being a featured artist includes a guaranteed performance. Owens will be dancing along with Kenyettá and a slew of other partners in excerpts from last year's Black Dance Matters concert, a new piece choreographed by Owens' niece called "Mary Don't You Weep," and several other arrangements.
"I think they are very relevant and needed at this time," says Owens of the excerpts from Black Dance Matters concert.
We spoke with him before the show about Indianapolis' art world, diversity and maintaining an equilibrium in his artistic direction.
NUVO: You are such a fixture in the Indy dance world. How have you grown in your dance journey?
After all these years I am still the artist I was to begin, but the elements that ... were apart of my performance have all grown because of the spaces that I have been put in that have taught me so much about who I am as an artist.
NUVO: How do you strike the balance between your artistic direction as an entertainer and as someone bringing up conversations that need to happen in Indy?
I think a lot of time as artists we either find ourselves creating work that we feel is going to please the community versus creating something that is thought-provoking, relevant and educational. The balance end of it is important but at the same time I go back on the end of taking that extra step to kind of push audiences into that area of being left with something to remember, based off of not holding back on the artistic end of something I have created.
NUVO: What does the Art & Soul project mean to the city and to you?
Art & Soul means we must celebrate as a community everything that we have accomplished as artists. And how we can take the time to reflect on the past and preserve what is needing to be shared with the community. So that I think it is very important for Art & Soul for art to continue recognizing these artists who are making an impact in the community because of what we do. So being a part of that and being recognized as a featured artist is confirmation that we are included, and that history is not being forgotten.
NUVO: How does dance bridge the gap between the arts and social justice?
Just like I have been saying — the movement versus the talking. It's another way of bridging that space that people are afraid to tap into. You can have conversations about social justice things and usually in a crowd of people you have people back away or be afraid of talking and/or expressing how they really feel because they are not sure how to express that. I think that the arts, when it comes to dance, we are able to do that and push the envelope with how we are doing it ... You can have more things to say about the way I was moving than the story I was telling ... It's that space of having to observe and — I don't want to say forced but having to be made more aware of that space, that void that separates. I think it brings us together ... because it's a different way of expressing. It would be fun for a poet to answer that question but in dance I feel like there's really no boundaries as artists to hide that connection. You can keep pushing it. Just pushing, pushing, pushing it. People can't do anything but watch or walk out.