On the Ground

Dancing with Emotion: Q & A with Peter Kelly

Emerging dancer and choreographer Peter Kelly By Elise Tigges
  • Peter Kelly / Photo by Shakeil Rollock
  • Peter Kelly / Photo by Shakeil Rollock

Peter Kelly moved to Toronto to study in the George Brown College’s Dance Performance diploma program. Since graduating in 2015, he has completed an internship with Toronto Dance Theatre, now holding a full contract with the company, and is artistic director of New Blue Emerging Dance, an organization he founded with other George Brown graduates, aimed at helping emerging artists develop their work. 

The Dance Current asked him about his successful career as an emerging artist.

What’s your background? Where did you start dancing?

I grew up in Guelph, Ontario and started dancing at Anna Marie Oliver School of Dance. I grew up doing CDTA, Canadian Dance Teachers Association, tap, jazz, Ballet, hip hop, the regular stuff. We didn’t do any competitions, we did just exams. It was quite a strict technique school. I was lucky to get that at a young age.

Why did you decide to continue dancing in post-secondary?

There was nothing else for me to do – nothing else I wanted to do. I knew from grade six that I was going to be a dancer and my parents also knew and did everything they could to help me with that.

Is there any teacher that specifically inspired that?

Lisa Collins at InMotion. She helped me a lot. She saw a lot of potential in me and pushed me towards dance.

How was your experience at George Brown?

For me it was a very good fit. I looked around and saw lots of people in my class who could have benefited from being in a different type of program. It’s important to find a program that’s right for you. I needed more ballet technique and I didn’t want to do anything more than two years because I wanted to get into the community. I knew I had the entrepreneurial drive so it felt like George Brown was a good fit because they give you the dance training. After I graduated I felt like my experience was open enough to go into multiple fields. I really enjoyed the program and it got me to where I am. I wouldn’t be where I am if I didn’t have George Brown behind me. And the teachers, they’re top notch.

So New Blue came out right after you guys graduated.

Yeah, it actually spawned off of the composition course with Hanna Kiel. It culminates in the Emergence show and, me being me, I said let’s rent a theatre, let’s get out of the basement for a day. We can invite VIP guests and people we might want to work with. We can put our stuff on stage. We have it to apply for grants. So that’s where it started and it was called Blue Print. That was in May 2015.

So that’s where that started. With the profit from Blue Print, which sold out, I gave my class some different options of things we could do with the money and they all signed the money over to me. They donated it to New Blue, which was then New Blue Festival of Emerging Dance.

So it was only supposed to be a one-time festival.

So you were only going to do one year of it, right after that show?

Yes, it was only going to be a festival. It still is, but it’s way more than that now. So that first festival was June 10th through 12th, 2016. It took a year to plan it, make a website and accomplish the other tasks. We did a little bit of crowdsource funding, asked for donations from people and were able, in the end, to put on a three-day festival. Then, because it’s me, I said let’s go bigger. There was a huge need for the festival and the amount of artists that applied were crazy in the first year. I felt like we needed to support them in their process of getting there, so we launched some residencies this year. So we have a festival. We have residencies now. We’re touring artists abroad next year, perhaps. There are some things in the works.

So it’s not just a festival now?

The premise is that it’s open enough that it can change. It doesn’t need to be a festival every year. It doesn’t need to be a residency. It’s whatever the emerging artists need. It’s for emerging artists, by emerging artists.

So you’re also with TDT; what’s the experience like with that?

It’s great! It was kind of a shock at first, honestly. It was a lot different from George Brown. I just went to the intern audition last year and I guess I got the job. There were a lot of conversations about who I am and I had to get letters of recommendation because they didn’t know who I was at all.

The company life is interesting. When you’re on contract you don’t have the freedom to dance with other people. You’re also tired at the end of the day. But you are exclusive to that company when you’re on contract so it’s a little bit of getting used to that you can’t just accept anything when it comes. Just go with the flow. You have a technique class every day, which is similar to school. It feels harder a lot of the time. With school there are lots of classes and a natural progression. Here there are peaks and valleys where you have one class and then rehearsal. It gets a little tiring sometimes, but I wouldn’t change it. I love it. It’s everything I ever wanted. I never, in a million years, thought I would get this job. Honest to goodness, I wasn’t walking in that building thinking I was getting the job. I went to support a friend. I wasn’t even going to go that day. It all just worked out.

Do you have any of your own work going right now?

Yeah. Carloyn Morris and I choreograph a lot together. Last year we created Manifestations. We want to put that one to rest a little bit. We’re currently choreographing for a piece with live musicians. It’s all classical music and they’ve paired it with modern dance. It’s at the Royal Conservatory of Music. It should be pretty fun. Our piece is about the highs and lows of relationships, life, friends and family.  

For me, I’ve been working on a solo called Virile. It’s about masculinity. I’m also doing a lot of things for other people but I felt like I’m not exercising my creative brain sometimes. So this project just gets me in the studio whenever I have time. I did a little show at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre and Ontario Secondary School Dance Fest in Windsor, danced a section of it. I also teach a lot. I’m subbing and teaching some composition classes to some pre-professional artists.

You’re so successful so quickly out of school. What’s your biggest advice to emerging artists?

I’ve had a lot of things fall into my lap and I’ve been lucky, but it’s been a lot of hard work as well. I was lucky to get some good breaks but it’s all about equal risk and reward. I think as emerging artists, you get stuck being too scared to do the things you want to do because of the financial aspect. You keep saying you don’t have the money and you just never do it. There’s no risk involved and I think as an emerging artist, the thing that helped the most is being risky in my approach.

Some people don’t have the drive to apply. You need to apply to everything, even if you aren’t eligible for it. If you want to do commercial work, then get into those classes every week and go to all the shows. Network. If you’re not putting in the work, you won’t get the reward. You have to put yourself in the places you want to be and keep showing them that you’re there and want to be there.

Volunteer. If you want to go to a show but can’t afford to, send an email and offer to volunteer. Ask if there are positions available. Everyone is always looking for a volunteer. Show up an hour early and you may get to meet the person who ran the show. The best part about this is, normally I work in the box office, you get a list of names, and I put a face to the name. All during school I was able to put a lot of things together – you’re this person, you run this company and that’s what you look like. Reach out to people in the community and go for coffee or whatever. That was a big thing, going out for coffee with people. If you are interested in them, then they will be more interested in you. Use those resources and you’ve made a new connection.

I’m not the best dancer. I don’t have the best feet. But I have the drive and the willingness to put myself in those positions where I’m uncomfortable and that’s the only way I’ve continued.

Peter Kelly performs in the world premiere of Welcome to Our Home - Tangled by Hanna Kiel / Human Body Expression, as part of the Morrison Series of dance: made in canada / fait au canada festival which runs August 17 through 20 at the Betty Oliphant Theatre in Toronto.

Read the full profile in the July/August 2017 issue.



Peter Kelly / Photos by Shakeil Rollock

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