Kelly Strayhorn announces ‘Next Stage’ residents

The next generation of talented choreographers—Dahlia Nayar and Shana Simmons—hit the Kelly Strayhorn stage last week as the residents chosen for the 2012 Next Stage Residency winners.

Currently in its fourth year, the Next Stage Residency gives talented choreographers the chance to explore and develop new and daring material during a weeklong creative residency. This year’s residency began on Jan. 23 and ended on Jan. 28 with a public presentation of each artist’s work.

NEXT STAGE RESIDENTS Shana Simmons and Dahlia Nayar. (Photo by Erin Perry)

In addition to the residency and the presentation, showing, artists receive a stipend, 30 hours of rehearsal time at the Kelly-Strayhorn Theater, lighting design and the chance to debut their finished projects in the fall of 2012 during the KSTMoves dance series.

“We try to look for artists who can clearly tell how the residency can support their work,” said Janera Solo­mon, executive director of the Kelly-Strayhorn Theater and founder of the Next Stage Residency. “We really want it to play a pivotal role in something new and we want people to be creative and explore new things.”

According to Solomon, Simmons and Nayar were chosen out of 27 applicants from across the country.

“Both applicants spoke well about how the residency would be meaningful to them at this point in their career,” Solomon said. “We generally look for people with a track record who want to take their work in a new direction.”

The Next Stage Residency will allow Simmons to develop her work-in-progress, “Relative Position.” It is a multi-disciplinary performance installation set in a large building in Pittsburgh. “Relative Position” is set to debut in June.

“I’m hoping the residency will help me get my name out there and it will help me get feedback and see where the community’s head is at,” said Simmons, a North Hills resident who graduated from Point Park University with a degree in dance and went on to Laban in London to score her Master’s degree in choreography.

“I think Pittsburgh has a very strong arts community and that people are interested in audience accessibility in performance because it is new and different and I hope the audience finds a connection with the dancers,” Simmons said. “I am glad to have the Kelly-Strayhorn Theater by my side. They were very willing to help bring this to fruition. I hope this performance makes people walk away thinking about what they saw.”

Nayar’s project is all about home. The Boston-based choreographer’s dance piece will explore cultural boundaries of belonging and not belonging. Her choreographed pieces almost always include her deeply personal experiences from visiting India as a child to her relationship with her grandparents.

“This work gives me the opportunity to think about blending my multi-cultural backgrounds and connections to ancestry and how to connect that to the present day,” explained Nayar, a first generation American who hails from Chicago. She was born to parents of Indian and Filipino descent.

“I hope to create a sense of empathy and to provoke memories with this piece. It will also be a great opportunity to work with local dancers. There are so many things that I want to put into the pot and see what comes to the surface,” Nayar continued.

The projects that Simmons and Nayar are presenting fit perfectly into the residency’s mission of producing cutting-edge theater that brings about discussion.

“These are the types of projects that we love to produce at the theater,” Solomon said.

“We invite our audience to embrace new and contemporary works in a neighborhood setting, and to challenge ideas and ask questions through post-performance discussions,” Solomon continued. “When artists, either local or national, develop new work here, we are able to give our audience a forum for discussion and education. It’s not just about seeing the work; it’s about interacting with it on many levels.”

The Next Stage Residency has premiered four new works developed while artists were in residency, as well as works-in-progress by Lauri Stallings, Kyle Abraham’s Bessie Award-winning “The Radio Show,” and Sidra Bell’s “Revue.” Choreographers who have premiered works include Kate Watson Wallace, Willi Dorner, Staycee Pearl and Greer Reed Jones.

This year’s performances were held at the Dance Alloy Theater, in Friendship.

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