Portland modern dance

Shaun Keylock Company: Dancing the past into the future

The Shaun Keylock Company navigates Covid-19 shutdowns in its new space while looking to Portland’s modern dance elders for direction.

The Shaun Keylock Company paves the way for the future by honoring the past with a revival of a suite of solos and duets that choreographer Gregg Bielemeier created between 1993 and 2002. 

Let’s flash back to just over a year ago, to let’s say…simpler times. It’s January 1, 2020, and most of us are riding that superficial, yet undeniably contagious new year high. We’re setting lofty goals and suiting up in the new exercise apparel we scored over the holidays and heading to the gym…or better yet, the dance studio. Keep contagious in mind.

For Portland-based choreographer Shaun Keylock, that January 1 wasn’t just another start to a new cycle around the sun: It was the day he opened the doors of his brand-new contemporary dance space, Shaun Keylock Studio, in the Albina neighborhood of North Portland. At the new studio, Keylock and company would be able to create and rehearse new dances, teach class, and produce community events for other community artists. 

We all know what happened next, because it happened to all of us. By the middle of March, we were all bunkered in our houses, downloading Zoom, debating whether gloves were necessary for a quick run to the grocery store, and clutching our toilet paper rolls with an intimacy that was (here it comes) UNPRECEDENTED.

The classes and rehearsals that had begun at the studio paused, and Keylock, along with all of the other studios around town, was forced to rethink what it meant to be a small business owner with a financial plan  based entirely upon humans gathering together in an enclosed space. Well, it’s been almost a full year now since Covid shook the framework of our lives, and we’ve all figured out how to navigate (for better or worse, more or less) through this rollercoaster of a time.

But what really happens when you’ve just opened a dance studio just as Covid-19 tramples through the world and you’ve got a company of nine eager dancers depending on rehearsals and performances for both income and mental stability? I’d been able to witness the studio’s growth throughout 2020, as I had been teaching a weekly contemporary class at the studio before the classes shut down, but I wanted to get the full picture from Shaun about what it’s been like behind the scenes as a new studio owner and director of SKC. I sat down to a Zoom chat with Keylock about what 2020 has meant for the studio and to learn about the company’s exciting new project: an intergenerational collaboration with local LGBTQ+ elders and master choreographers for a performance series reviving historic dance works for new audiences.

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