On Saturday March 16th, the Freshman Touring Company spent the morning and afternoon piecing together our newest creation with dancer, teacher, and choreographer Wanjiru Kamuyu. Wanjiru spent a week with us creating a ten minute piece. Company member, Lena Oren, had the honor to finish off this incredible experience by getting to know Wanjiru even better. All the dancer appreciated working with Wanjiru, who really pushed us to pay attention to details, be specific, breathe, and live in our dancing.
Q: What is the name of Piece?
A: Fragmented Thoughts.
Q: Who is the composer of the music?
A: Nate May
Q: What inspired you to come up with this piece?
A: My inspiration was to challenge myself to create a new work that was dance for dance sake. My work usually is thematic based. During our process together I came to the realization, on a more concrete level, that my/all movement, of course, triggers an emotional response(s) in the body and spirit of each dancer hence the questions that always comes up for me are “what does one really mean when they say dance for dance sake? What does this entail?”
I wanted the movement to be fun and fulfilling for each of you. As the exploration of the movement was taking place discoveries were being made by each and everyone of you. I then consciously left you, the dancers, the responsibility to fill in the emotional space(s) based on the feelings triggered that came up for each of you in the exploration and execution of the movement. Remember I always said “fill the movement with reason” but I never provided you with a specific reason to infuse into the movement. The movement should never be void or empty of emotional content. So the intention was personally and collectively generated by you the dancers.
Given our time frame I thought it would be fun to dissect and modify movement that comes from two other pieces I created (Spiral and when paradise shatters at its seams then what?). I never want to simply copy paste from one work to create another. Therefore I relied very much on our collaborative process. I loved working with all of you for each were very creatively inspiring!! I was very pleased and thankful for this!! It made our creative process very enjoyable. This work is created uniquely for and with you. I sincerely thank all of you for being so open and generous with me!!
Q: Can you tell us a little bit about collaborating with your composer?
A: I first met Nate at U of M when I was taking Amy Chavasse class October of last year. I found he listened instinctively and intuitively to Amy's movement and impulses. He was then able to infuse the space with music that made the dancer soar. I simply love his work and find him very talented. He is also very easy to work with. Dependable, trustworthy, creative, an active listener, hard worker, talented beyond measure, open and generous are some words that come to mind when I think of Nate.
The collaborative process. First I trusted Nate 100%. I think he would agree when I say our process provided him with a lot of liberties to explore and create using some guided thoughts and ideas provided by myself.
We began with a phone conversation whereby we discussed a specific thematic idea I was working with (which shifted drastically the closer we got to the residency yet the music still works) alongside imagery, the desire to have children singing, gargled voices, sounds of nature and the abstraction from the literal yet grounded by a strong and solid musical structure were some of my ideas. I really wanted a curvy linear approach to the music. I also sent him samples of music I was toying with and enjoying at the time.
Additionally I explained to Nate that I use music as a sound score that meets the dance later in the creative process. I love the chance moments, the ebb and flow of each performance's relationship between music and movement. The surprises that unfold that are many a times breathtaking for the audience and the dancer. I usually do not choreograph to music cues. I like to create a sound score within the dance itself through the use of breath (the dance holds its own rhythmic nature) that then is married to the music through organic reactions and interactions between the two worlds.
Despite the shift in original intention for our work together, the music Nate created works perfectly. I loved witnessing the dancers positive reactions to the music score and I am most pleased he decided to incorporate all of you in his creative process. You have a sense of ownership to the score that I love and appreciate!
Q: Do you prefer choreography over performing? Or visa versa?
A: I love both. I have to engage in both in order to feel balanced and inspired. Both worlds nourish and nurture me.
Q: What is it like to live in Paris?
A: For the first time in my professional career, I am able to exhale. Paris allows people to take non-guilty pleasures in life through their culture of vacationing and work week (generally 5 weeks per year with a 35 hour work week) versus in the US where work is the central focus and vacation is secondary (generally 1 to 2 weeks per year with a 40 to 60 plus hour work week). My first real vacation was in Paris during my first year with The Lion King. I am trying to learn how to pull back and allow myself to have moments of rest. I find when one is rested and rejuvenated you make for a better artist and human being on all levels.
Paris provides a certain sense of energy and speed that comes with any cosmopolitan city however I consider the city to be a big village (I lived in New York City for ten years and loved every moment):-). Why? Well for example, on Sundays, many a shops and centers of commerce are closed. People generally do their food shopping at the open air markets, go to the museum, cinema or theater, engage in sports, or meet with family and/or friends over a long cup of coffee, glass of wine or meal. Sunday is a slow day with less traffic and congestion. I love Sundays in Paris (Sundays in New York are nothing like those of Paris) :-).
I love the culture, people, food, wine, general life philosophy (pleasure and work can and do coincide), old history, architecture and poetic language. I also for the first time do not have to worry about affording health insurance. The French government offers universal health insurance (one of the best systems in Europe) and an unemployment system for artists that is far more supportive than in the US. Also imagine as an artist, even as a freelancer, a part of your wages goes towards vacation pay (Congé Spectacle). You can choose to use this saved money on vacation or however you wish. The advantages and disadvantages is the high tax rates one must pay. However I do not mind because at the end of the day we, artists in particular, are all able to see a doctor, enjoy a vacation and have some financial security in between gigs. Many American artists refuse to return to the US until the health insurance issue is fully sorted and securely in place. Thank God for Obama Care!!! Pardon my digression, but I sincerely hope Obama Care survives, is improved upon (increased inclusivity of all Americans of all income levels) and becomes a true part of the American fabric and culture. We need to return to having a sense of communal responsibility versus the existing individualistic, me me me approach to living.
To live in an old place with so much historical richness, not all good or bad, creates room for so much imagination and inspiration. I love that we (my husband is Parisian) live in a Napoleon style building. I love the lifestyle (less emphasis on capital gain and more on human connections and taking pleasure in life). It is simply a beautiful city that has its vast and diverse advantages and coupled with it's fair share of challenges and obstacles.
Q: Any advice for budding choreographers and dancers?
A: Some ingredients for success
- Endless cups of faith
- Continual flow of passion
- Deeply rooted confidence
- Infinite quantities of determination
- Mature and grounded work ethic
- Thinking outside of the box and forever pushing the envelope of self evolution and re-
- Making real human connections with the people in the field. This will help expand your horizons and push your preconceived self inflicted limitations.
- Karma is a reality and sprinkles of generosity are wise - share with others and always be thankful and express your gratitude!!!
- Never cease to create new dreams
Q: Do you have any big plans for the future?
A: I dream to one day have WKcollective, my multi-media project based dance company, tour the world. I also dream to one day have Urembo Designs, my jewelry line, be sold on a large international scale adorning people of all walks of life. I want to continue performing in work that is very satisfying, inspiring and intellectually stimulating as a dancer and dance maker. Works that are catalysts for social, political and spiritual change.
On a personal note I want to be the best wife, friend, sister, cousin, grandchild and possible future mother I can be. I want to be of service to my community. I want to fulfill my life's purpose and never take for granted the gifts and talents God has ordained and anointed upon me. I simply want to keep doing what I love to do!