PaperCity Magazine

April 2017 - Dallas

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B Y C H R I S T I N A G E Y E R . P O R T R A I T E R I C P O L I T Z E R . T his month, Catherine Ellis Kirk performs for the first time on The Kennedy Center stage. She's not a newbie to Washington — her parents are Ron Kirk, the first African American mayor of Dallas and a former U.S. Trade Representative, and Matrice Ellis-Kirk, managing partner for RSR Partners and chairman of the AT&T Performing Arts Center board of directors. The family spent much time over the last several years in D.C. with their friends, the Obamas. But there is something decidedly different about this trip. A professional dancer with New York-based, Kirk performs The Gettin', choreographed by the company's founder Kyle Abraham, and part of Ballet Across America, a multi-company event orchestrated by New York City Ballet's wunderkind resident choreographer, Justin Peck. "Kyle Abraham took great inspiration from South Africa and the Apartheid, segregation, uprising, and protest," Kirk says. "It is an extremely challenging piece to perform … but the spirit of resilience and protest onstage gives us a heightened energy that is not always a given in dance." Last month, the company showed the same piece in Vancouver. Post-performance an audience member approached Kirk to tell her that she lived in South Africa during Apartheid. MOVEMENT "She was so proud of us for presenting work that reflects and gives justice to our histories and societies, and questions our growth — or lack thereof — especially pertaining to racism, classism, gender, and sexuality," says Kirk. The multimedia piece is particularly exciting for Kirk because of its lighting and video design by Dan Scully, costumes by Karen Young, set design by visual artist Glenn Ligon, and music composed by Grammy Award-winning producer and jazz pianist Robert Glasper. Politically charged art that taps into social and racial issues is familiar territory for the 25-year- old dancer, who studied dance at Dallas' Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts, before attending New York University's Tisch School of the Arts. "It's not about telling people what to think," says Kirk of the reasons she is drawn to thought-provoking work. "But about making people think and question their own views." Kirk was first exposed to Kyle Abraham's work during a performance at St. Mark's Church in Manhattan. He performed a solo from his piece, Live! The Realest MC, which uses the tale of Pinocchio as a means to explore gender roles and sexuality, particularly the notion of masculinity, the pressures of machismo, and Abraham's struggle of being a gay black man growing up in Pittsburg. Kirk left knowing she wanted to be part of a company that wasn't afraid of producing bold pieces often considered controversial in the world of traditional dance., which is well regarded for its provocative work that pushes boundaries and explores human behavior and histories, was her answer. As Kirk will now tell you, "It is my calling." Case in point? Asked who inspires her most, she notes Houston native, Jasmine Hearn, a prolific dancer, choreographer, vocalist, and solo artist. The pair first met while working for Helen Simoneau Danse — Kirk is in her second season with the Winston- Salem, North Carolina, company — and it was magnetic from the beginning. "Every time I witness her art, I feel seen and important; beautiful and unashamed of my pain and heartaches," says Kirk. "Her honesty in her work and presence as a black queer woman, IN HER Catherine Ellis Kirk 32 GEN NEXT

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