Salsa meets Tchaikovsky in Kennesaw State Dance Company world premiere

“I like to give audiences the space to laugh and enjoy themselves,” says choreographer Annalee Traylor, “especially given this past year.” Traylor and Omar Román de Jesús, both New York-based contemporary dance makers, spent four weeks this summer working with students in the Department of Dance at Kennesaw State University. The KSU Dance Company will premiere the two works they crafted in an evening-long program, Double Exposure, August 27 and 28 at 8 p.m. at the KSU Dance Theater in Marietta. Alumni from the department are also featured in the performance. Tickets are $15-$20.

Traylor’s “the B side” is set to tracks from the 1940s to the ‘70s by musical artists as diverse as The Ink Spots, The DapKings, Elvis Presley, KC and The Sunshine Band and more. She enjoys working with popular music because it gives the audience a reference point. “My work can then change their perspective,” she says. “It can be jarring, going against the mood of the song, or sentimental.”

New York choreographer Annalee Traylor enjoyed the students’ energy. (Photo by Mike Taing)

She conceived of the piece as an alternate reality where past, present and future split, fragment and overlap. Each of the seven dancers represents a different decade, evidenced by their costumes and attitude. It’s an offbeat, retro piece that promises to be much edgier than her “Dreaming Eternity,” which Atlanta audiences saw in 2014 as part of that year’s Dance Canvas showcase.

Both choreographers appreciated the residency as a time to experiment, away from the glare and expectations of New York audiences. “We are always so afraid of failing,” says Román de Jesús. Both choreographers also appreciated the youthful, try-anything energy of the KSU students and alumni who quickly grew to trust them.

Román de Jesús developed an idea he’d been thinking about for a while but didn’t have the resources to try before now. There was a sense of freedom in that, he says, but also the ongoing challenge of creating innovative movement. “Contemporary dance is a very difficult thing,” he says, “because nothing is codified. We are so attached to what’s codified. The goal is to allow the idea, the concept, to generate the vocabulary.” “Muerte Cotidiano” is notable for its nonstop, high-energy phrases in duets, solos and groups.

Thematically, Román de Jesús draws from the way both simple and traumatic experiences can change us — from a first kiss to the death of a loved one. He was trying something different, he says, and encouraged plenty of collaboration with the dancers. “There is chaos too, in the best way.”

Taia Galloway spent four weeks this summer rehearsing works for “Double Exposure.” (Photo by Lauren Liz)

The eclectic score includes music by salsa musician Willie Colón alongside Tchaikovsky and the unusual sounds of Emahoy Tsegué-Maryam Guèbrou, an Ethiopian nun known for her piano playing and compositions. (Audience warning: The work includes a simulated hanging.)

The KSU Dance Theater is following Covid guidelines from the University System of Georgia: “All vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals are encouraged to wear a face covering while inside campus facilities. Unvaccinated individuals are also strongly encouraged to continue to socially distance while inside campus facilities.” Disposable face coverings will be available for anyone who forgets to bring one.

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