5 With: Blake Nellis

October 29, 2014

You might remember Blake Nellis from Small Art, where he memorably wore a yellow jumpsuit and matching shades and managed to transfix us all by playing with some tape. He's present and playful, and earns audience trust even when we're not sure what he's doing (see above comment re: tape). I love that Blake stumbled into the world of dance in college, after spending years as an athlete and musician. This multidisciplinary background makes his work delightfully unpredictable.

Photo by Alex Kay Potter
Describe your current creative work and how you came to this place in your career:
I am first and foremost a movement artist-- a dancer and choreographer. Who I am, what I look like, how long my beard is, they are all part of my work somehow. I revel in making dance in the moment. This ability did not hatch overnight, but through extensive training in Jane Hawley’s Movement Fundamentals curriculum at Luther College. When I began making work in college it was largely inspired by Contact Improvisation (primarily duets). As my interests and experience have shifted, I have begun designing much more, and think about the visual shape, arc and images present in my work. I strive for a balance between being creative, virtuosic and honest. I know my proudest moments of creativity have brought unexpected connections. 

What are your biggest challenges as an artist?
I have a hard time dealing with our culture’s ignorance toward dance-making. It seems like we’re still centuries behind other art forms in the way we view dance. It baffles me that people still say things like “I didn’t get it” or “So what does that dance mean?” When was the last time someone listened to Beethoven’s 5th Symphony and asked the latter? I strive to be creative and at the same time reach out to an audience that still struggles to name what I’m doing. I hope that someday, in the not so distant future, that people will view my work with their guts or their childlike selves so that art can continue to transcend our culture rather than define something of the past.  

How do you balance paying your bills and making your art?
I’m currently Visiting Faculty at Luther College (in Decorah, IA). This regular salary allows me to continue my freelance work, project by project. This past year I’ve been working with Mathew Janczewski’s ARENA Dances, and two years before that I started with Stuart Pimsler Dance & Theater. These companies provide income, opportunity, and a training of sorts. More and more I’m finding good jobs that are enjoyable and financially viable. When I first moved to Minneapolis in 2010 I was balancing lesser paid dance gigs with child care jobs. This worked for me because the hours were somewhat flexible, and I was still able to work with people which fulfilled and inspired me. I definitely toy with the idea of getting a white collar job, even if just for a moment, to make some serious dough and then run around the world doing Contact Improvisation. Will I do that? Probably not. 

Give some advice:
  • Learn about the art forms that support your work: For example, when I’m making a dance I like to see what the lighting designer sees, and this leads to new ways of being inspired. 
  • Pinterest is great for organizing ideas and images floating around the web.  
  • Go to real people: When I need help, I get smart, talented, patient people to help me. I have found it especially inspiring to continue studying while crafting work. Good teachers inspire me: Jane Shockley, Jane Hawley, Martin Keogh to name a few.  
  • Strive to be honest: It doesn’t matter if what you make gets you rich or famous. If you’re authentic and committed, it will pay off. 
  • Follow your bliss: People are inspired by passionate people. And find ways to laugh-- at yourself and others. Laugh at the irony and the mistakes. Laugh because you get to do what you love-- this is a great privilege.  
What's next?
I’m really excited about this piece I’m working on now called “Forgiveness Lunch.”  It’s a new solo I'll show at Luther College February 20-21. I feel like I’m headed down a new road with my choreography, adding more depth to my personal narrative and integrating my personal dance technique as I continue growing and changing as a dancer. I love blurring the lines between dance, theater, story, clowning, surrealism, memories…  I’ve always found it hard to call my work “dance” because people already have an idea of what “dance” is.  But they don’t know what I’m going to do.  

You can find Blake on twitter, read more about him here, and find more 5 With interviews here

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