I grew up loving the arts. Part of my childhood in New York consisted of attending yearly performances at Radio City Music Hall and Lincoln Center. From July 16-19 2015, I had an opportunity to attend my son’s dance performance with Texture Contemporary Ballet, a dance company based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
The performance, titled “Strength & Grace,” did not disappoint. All three sections left me enthralled. I loved the way the dancers were able to transition from one style to another. I witnessed the most intriguing versatility I have ever seen in a dance performance. Texture Contemporary Ballet is a unique dance company and I am elated that artistic director Alan Obuzor agreed to do an interview so people outside of Pittsburgh can learn more about the company.
Why did you decide to become a dancer?
When I was young my mom strongly believed in exposing my sisters and I to a wide variety of activities and experiences. I had a wide interest in many different things, but the one thing that I tended to be drawn to more were things involving physical activity. At one point I was taking gymnastics and because there was a dance studio in the same building my mom asked if I would like to try dance classes. I said yes, and the first class I tried was a musical theater class. I enjoyed it a lot. While in that class they would say that ballet was the foundation on which all of the dance steps that we were using was based on, so I decided I needed to try out ballet. I fell in love right away! After just a six-week session I told my mom I wanted to be a professional ballet dancer.
What made you decide to start your own dance company?
Because of the high physical demands on one’s body a dancer’s career tends to be short. Because of this, even from a very young age I was thinking about what I wanted to do after I was no longer able to dance. Many dancers finish their dance careers and transition in a wide array of different careers. For me, I knew that I wanted to be involved with dance in some way. While dancing I also began teaching ballet, working on choreography, and exploring fusions of different kinds of dance beyond classical ballet.
I had a strong early foundation in classical ballet, a love of all kinds of dance, a desire to pursue my choreography, great satisfaction from teaching and coaching fellow dancers, a need to be in the studio to learn from other dancers. With all of these interests that I had, it began to look like starting my own company would be a great way for me to do everything that I wanted to do.
What was your inspiration for naming the company Texture Contemporary Ballet?
I like the word “texture” because of how it can refer to different qualities, consistencies, feelings etc. For example if you think of different textures of fabric you mostly picture a wide array of different fabrics in your head. I like the thought of different textures of movement. One of the things in dance that I have always been fascinated with was different people’s movement quality. Ballet is my first love in dance, what I am most trained in, and I love the esthetic look of ballet dancers even when they are doing other kinds of movement than ballet. I wanted to start a company which would allow me to create and present fusions of classical ballet, modern dance, contemporary movement, hip hop and everything in between. I felt like “Texture Contemporary Ballet” would be a good name to represent my vision for the company.
In what ways do you strive to be innovative with Texture Contemporary Ballet?
I feel that it is important to create and present new work, giving choreographers and dancers the freedom to explore what they want to explore. The creation of new work is how dance will be able to stay current, relevant, and relatable for all people.
Having been recently honored by Dance Magazine as one of the “Top 25 to Watch,” how are you going to use this level of recognition to move ahead for future projects?
It was a great honor to be recognized by Dance Magazine as one of the “Top 25 to Watch”! On one hand I feel that is something which can give me and Texture some level of stature, but on the other hand I know that it comes down to the work which you are putting out there. Titles and awards like that can get people’s attention, but then you have to be able to keep their attention with substance and with the work you are creating. Whether “they” are audience members, individual donors, corporate funders, presenters, the dance community or anyone else, it will come down to the work that you are doing.
In your mission statement, you say you want to express originality and passion through collaboration and performance with the goal to inspire an appreciation of dance, and to captivate your audiences. Why is this important to you?
I believe in every aspect of one’s life it is so important to embrace and express one’s originality. Each person with their own unique thoughts, experiences, and voice is what makes them truly special and valuable. In my eyes this is directly reflected in dance as well. When someone is creating because of true passion, commitment, and dedication, their work then takes on a whole new energy. I see true collaboration as the sum of people coming together to create something which is greater that any one person could create on their own.
I think that to inspire someone is one of the greatest things one can do. I believe that a person can watch dance and be inspired to dance themselves, to watch more dance, to support dance, or even more importantly can be inspired in a way that has nothing to do with dance, maybe they will be inspired to start a hobby, pursue a passion, change careers, appreciate the little things, appreciate the big things, to just sit still for a moment, or anything else. Live dance performances is that medium which we have chosen to try to make these connections with people.
What was your most notable dance experience before starting Texture Contemporary Ballet?
I don’t think that I can pick one. I feel that I am made up by so many of my past experiences they all work together to support who I am now. Especially as a dancer I feel like you can have really big revelations and new understandings when you are on stage and in the moment, but then at times even more of those important moments happen in the rehearsal process, in very unglamorous, ordinary or otherwise “un-noteworthy” situations.
As the artistic director, what do you look for in a dancer?
An individual who is always open to learn and to take in more. That person must have a strong enough ballet base and technical abilities to be able to perform our rep. A dancer who has something special about the way that they move, dance, and present themselves. They need to be talented and hardworking.
You celebrated your fifth season. What are your long-term goals to achieve greater success?
We have the goals of growing to the point where we can increase our number of resident dancers, build up name recognition in Pittsburgh and beyond, acquire our own building for classes and rehearsals, and build up our touring.
If you are in the Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania area during March 18-20, 2016, I highly encourage you to check out Texture Contemporary Ballet’s spring show titled Reflections. Click on the website link below for more information on purchasing tickets.
Thank you, Alan, for doing this interview. I am wishing you great success in your future endeavors.