Dance Department hosts choreographer Cameron McKinney for summer residency

By Kari Dickinson

New York City-based choreographer Cameron McKinney, artistic director of Kizuna Dance, has been a summer guest artist in the School of Education’s Dance Department the past three weeks. Chosen for this residency by UW–Madison dance students, McKinney creates works that celebrate Japanese culture using contemporary, highly athletic movement and floorwork.

Cameron McKinney
NYC-based choreographer Cameron McKinney has been a guest artist in residence at UW–Madison, teaching two Summer Term courses in the Dance Department. (Photo: Sarah Maughan)

The residency will culminate on Friday, June 10, at noon, with a premiere of a new work created by McKinney on Dance Department students in the Margaret H’Doubler Performance Space in Lathrop Hall (1050 University Avenue). 

McKinney, who started dancing in college, says that contemporary floorwork forms the physical core of his works, “creating hyperphysical emotional landscapes for dancers to explore emotional and conceptual ideas through movement.” His technique combines the grace of modern dance with the speed and fluidity of streetdance, capoeira, and house dance. 

McKinney became fascinated with Japanese culture when he was 13 years old, after hearing Japanese music. He studied the Japanese language through high school, and he says what started as a hobby “soon became a lifelong passion.” McKinney has now been engaged in the study of Japanese language and culture for 17 years, and he will be conducting a performance residency with his company entirely in Japanese later this summer.

McKinney notes that his work does not use Japanese traditional dances or prescribe Japanese culture. Instead, he says, he uses aspects of Japanese language and culture — and his experiences within that culture as an African American man — as a “jumping off point” for his works.

McKinney’s company tagline is “Cultural Ambassadorship through the Performing Arts,” and he says he sees dance as a language that can connect cultures. 

“Learn to speak another person’s language, and you’ve taken a step toward building a relationship with them,” he says. “Dance is the language of the world, of the bodies that each of us hold.”

An immersive summer experience

McKinney has been teaching two Summer Term courses at UW–Madison, Contemporary Technique and Repertory. Students have dedicated about three hours every day Monday through Friday for three weeks to learning his technique.

Cameron McKinney dance class
(Photo: Sarah Maughan)

“It’s been really interesting to just adapt and learn and be able to immerse ourselves in his style,” says Clare Weigert, a rising junior and dance major. “Cameron really uses the floor as an element way more than I have ever experienced here so far. And that’s a really crucial element.”

“I always like (learning from) guest artists because they bring a new perspective, and new movement and movement ideas,” Weigert adds.

Abbi Stickels, a rising senior and dance major, agrees: “It’s really cool to step into his world for three weeks and start to take on his vernacular and his ideas. Seeing what may be comfortable or what may be worth exploring further has been great. Seeing little milestones and seeing little things get easier for myself has been really rewarding as well.”

Cameron McKinney dance class
(Photo: Sarah Maughan)

On Friday, June 10, at noon, the students will perform a brand new work that McKinney created with them in a public showing. McKinney says he chose to create a new work instead of setting past repertory in order to involve the students and their movement histories in the creative process.

“It’s important to me that the students have a voice in the process, alongside my movement language,” he says.

The event is free and open to the public in the Margaret H’Doubler Performance Space in Lathrop Hall, and will include a brief talkback with McKinney and the dancers following the performance. 

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