Nicholas Owens is launching his own dance company – NODC -- following an almost decade-long association with Kenyetta Dance Company as its founding artistic director in association with Vanessa Owens. Together, the sister-brother team built a reputation for Kenyetta with its school and performing company bordering on the semi-professional level. Students graduating from the school have been accepted in prestigious dance programs nationwide. Nick has gained recognition as a choreographer for other companies, including Indiana Ballet Company and Dance Kaleidoscope. Nick visited NUVO to talk about his aspirations as he moves forward with his "own brand, NODC." We began by asking for a general update on his activities.
Owens: For the past two months, with a board of directors, I have been working to build a contemporary dance company at a professional level with highly trained dancers from Chicago, New York, who expressed interest. We'll invite four men, four women and probably two apprentices.
NUVO: Why do you want start a new company?
Owens: What we want to do is expand the dance scene, not take away. It's a small dance scene but there's room for everyone. Creating more dance companies will bring in more dancers. It's never a competition. Why make it a competition? I look at us as sharing something that means so much to us, which is to carry on the tradition of dance. Competition messes up your focus and vision. It's about sharing what you do best for the community. For me it is to tell a story and share what people might not be aware of. I tell stories through my choreography that are part of everyday life, part of history. The unique aspect is the content of the story — real people solving real problems.
NUVO: How do you choreograph a new work? What makes your choreography distinctive?
Owens: Sometimes you walk into the studio and start creating. I start with a story. You should be able to explain what the piece is about. I hear music and I might say, "This is a love story," and I'm inspired to use that song for a real story. Sometimes I need original music so I work with composers. We have some great artists in our community and I want to show their work. It's all in the presentation and the way it's done, visually being able to see the story. I work from a sense of geographic affinity, seeing the story coming out of a place. That is what will make us different.
NUVO: How do you envision building an audience for dance here in greater Indianapolis?
Owens: There are different audiences for ballet and modern. We want to combine them, to help each audience better appreciate the other. Then two separate audiences might want to support some other form of art. It goes back to collaboration on a bigger scale, creating something new and different from what has been done in the past, so maybe I need to change the dance audience. We have to do something to grow dance here.
NUVO: What exactly is that "something" you envision?
Owens: Someone has to tell the stories before they get lost. I want to commit myself to this as a choreographer and dancer, to tell the history and the every day events that are happening now but also tie back to our history. To do that, I need to explore modern dance in many different ways. We are trying to carry on old techniques but not be as structured as is ballet. What I like is exploring and developing creative ideas to bring movement to the next level, to explore something new with the body, to carry on and go beyond, take the audience somewhere they don't expect the dancers to go. The audience may not be ready for this challenge, but when they get there and see it, they are amazed. I want to take the risk to bring the audience into something they have to pull themselves out of -- sitting back for the expected, the same moves — and work harder. That's the collaboration between audience and dancers. Each has to work harder.
NUVO: Are you saying you are working toward an enlarged dance vocabulary?
Owens: It's about continuity with leaps into the future. We have to reach out to the younger community and not focus only on older audiences. We need to talk to those who might not be exposed to the history of dance techniques. To reach them we need to offer small performances, not always do a whole evening. That's the way to build with younger children -- small performances. That will be the major focus of this new company. We will do work out in the community and in the schools. We will perform everywhere and anywhere, building dance literacy by connecting to history and crossing over techniques and stretching. That is not to say we don't want a studio in the future, but each runs differently and now we are seeking support for a company that performs, not a studio. [A studio dedicates itself to teaching.]
NUVO: Why did you feel you had to move away from Kenyetta? What do you hope for the future of both?
Owens: I had to expand my vision. I had to step out to do my own thing. I was a co-founder with my sister. And now my sister supports what I need to do and I support her. For the first time, I will be in the audience for Spotlight. It will be 'WOW' for me to sit in the audience with her and experience something we built together. I'll be watching someone else dancing my role, my choreography.
You never know what will come from taking a step. Over the next five years we might be sharing a space together, we might be traveling together. I can't predict the future for what I helped create, but Vanessa is my sister and I love her. We are family.
NUVO: What is your immediate plan of action?
Owens: Most important is to get the business basics right. We will come out when we are ready. People are going to expect a lot and it has to be right; it has to be what I want. This summer we are fund-raising, building audience, auditioning to find dancers to learn my style and look like they've been dancing together forever.
NUVO: How do you want the public to perceive Nick Owens and NODC?
Owens: I want them to see me as a smart businessman willing to take a chance to grow dance here. Is it necessary? Is it smart? Artistically I want to show it's not about costumes and sets, it's about technique and content. It's the dancers and what they bring, not the "rhinestones" – less is more. I want to grow a company that makes a difference in how we experience dance and with what's already here make [Indianapolis] a dance destination.
To contact Nicholas Owens about NODC, call 317-607-5076.