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Five Minutes With...

Shay Kuebler

Artist-in-Residence Shay Kuebler is sharing work in progress from his new collaboration with tap dancer Danny Nielsen in an online studio showing, January 25-February 1.  We sat down (virtually!) with him to ask about his dance career, his collaboration with Danny, and how he’s adapted to the pandemic.

Tell us about your dance career to date.

Wow. That is definitely a lot to unpack, which in saying so, I recognize how I’ve been so blessed to be a busy performing artist. It was not a straight shot to where I am now, but from reading about flow and synchronicity, it makes sense that the journey to where I am now has taken many turns.

I moved to Vancouver when I was 19 years old with the goal to become a full-time performer and choreographer. I was really focused on hip hop and tap and hoped to someday be choreographing for music videos, films, stage shows etc. Rather than go through all the ups and downs, I can definitely say that successes and failures occurred equally across 16 years in both Vancouver and Montreal. The failures always redirected my focus and reinforced my will to keep moving forward. This led me through lots of unique opportunities where I’ve performed and created for aqua shows, circus shows, dance shows, theatre shows, tv shows and films. I’ve been extremely fortunate to train and learn in many different movement forms, and this has enabled me to work in numerous fields of the performing arts including dance, theatre and martial arts.

It is a beautiful gift to look back and gain a greater perspective. Back in 2004, I had a steadfast goal to become a choreographer. Now, my company Radical System Art is in the process of developing its 6th full-length work. The roads to get here were, at times, unexpected, but they certainly brought forward the necessary challenges I needed to develop into who I am. I’m extremely grateful for all the opportunities that I’ve had.

You have been collaborating with tap artist Danny Nielsen for over 6 years. Tell us about that partnership.

Danny is a formidable dancer and choreographer. He is absolutely a beast at what he does and he inspires me every day to be better. I first met Danny many years ago at a tap festival in Edmonton, Alberta, around 2006/2007. We were both teaching and performing at the time. I wouldn’t formally get to know Danny till he invited me to be a part of his first full-length tap work love.be.best.free. in 2014. This work pushed me to such a depth, both mentally and physically. It is was an extremely fulfilling and rewarding project. Our relationship really started to grow out of the project and this led to me asking him to collaborate on RSA’s newest project at the time, Telemetry.

Telemetry has gone on to be the company’s most successful work, touring multiple times nationally and internationally. Danny and I have said, “It’s the show that just keeps on going.” I think its longevity is a testament to the collaboration of all the artists, the visual/audial technology and the relationship between Danny and me. It all came together to make something unique.

I would say Danny and I collaborate in a unique way as well. Danny supports and upholds the art of tap to such a high level and I have this multi-disciplinary background. We create material that can bounce off of each other, where percussive dance and non-percussive dance can meet, counterpoint, share and challenge the other. Danny’s musicality and technical proficiency always humble me. I’m literally dancing with the most range I have in order to maintain and further the creative dynamism at play. I think Danny feels similarly – that our collaboration asks him to reach and do different things as a dancer.

Tell us about Figure Eights, the piece the two of you are working on.

Figure Eights in its simplest form really celebrates the power of dance and the performing arts. The show places a great focus on virtuosic dance and the interdisciplinary collaboration between Danny and me. It also connects to the dynamic that Danny and I have as friends and our uniqueness as characters. In doing so, it celebrates the classic duet “act”.

Creatively, we are creating performance material to the title track “Figure Eights” by Max Roach and Buddy Rich – two of the most celebrated percussionists of their era. This drum music is quite literally the most intricate and fast music I’ve ever performed to. That in itself has been epic. We are exploring a lot of duet and solo material, continuing to expand theory on our interdisciplinary collaboration. We are also exploring and looking to build unique “novelty acts” in this work, which references the “golden era” of tap and the performing arts where acts found unique elements to make your performances standout. We want this work to highlight the relationship and dynamic that Danny and I have. Bringing forward our friendship, our sense of humour and the archetypes we hold – what we believe people perceive about us from a first glance.

If you didn’t have a career in dance, what might you be doing? 

There’s a good chance that I would be doing something with the martial arts. At the age of 4, my journey began in Karate and I was extremely motivated to become a stunt performer, actor and martial arts choreographer. I would have likely considered getting into mixed martial arts and competing professionally. My mom is definitely happy with this outcome.

What might people be surprised to know about you?

I’m quite good at bleach tie-dying and making my own essential oil mixes.

How have you adapted your practice during the pandemic?
This has definitely been a substantial time of pivoting, adjusting and contemplation. The arts sector has been hit so hard by this time. I feel a great deal of sadness for the artists, companies and organizations who have been impacted so heavily.

I have been fortunate to find ways to keep creating and developing my craft. I spent a solid amount of time working on music, writing and drafting up plans for some new projects. RSA was also fortunate to continue research on a new project, which we completed primarily through one-on-one Zoom sessions. It was a unique and interesting process. The online one-on-one session revealed some great ways to work with the artists. It opened a unique way to discover their unique perspectives on themes and ideas within the new project. We then could apply this with their unique skills, training and backgrounds to build performance material.

As an individual artist, I’ve continued to find pockets to perform, create and instruct. I believe continuing to pivot and find solutions is what artists do. I was able to support two summer intensives with The Dance Centre in July and August, and in the fall, I was able to create an online film version of Feasting on Famine, co-produced by The National Arts Centre and The Dance Centre. Outside of these projects, I’ve been able to find time to do in-studio research with Danny and continuing building this new duet project. I should also be jumping into a screenwriting workshop in the coming weeks to help build my skills and training in that direction of creativity.

What is your next project?
The next project for the company is MOI – momentum of isolation. MOI is built around the topics of social isolation and loneliness. I started initial research on the topic in 2017, which lead to some initial studio research in 2018 and 2019 – the project we researched over Zoom in 2020 was this work. Being online and in isolation in 2020 brought forward even more how relevant this project is. I think that everyone in 2020 has now gone through some form of isolation and loneliness. It feels like a really important project and a critical topic to talk about.

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The Dance Centre presents
Artist-in-Residence Studio Showing
Radical System Arts: Figure Eights
Streaming January 25-February 1, 2021 | 5pm PST
Tickets on sliding scale $0/$10/$20

Buy Tickets

Supported through The Dance Centre’s Artist-in-Residence program.

Photos: Joyce Torres and TDC