Helanius J. Wilkins of EDGEWORKS Dance Theater: Dance Chose Me
Since moving to Washington, DC, Louisiana native Helanius J. Wilkins has had the good fortune to do what he loves for a living – dance. In addition to founding all-male contemporary dance company EDGEWORKS Dance Theater, he has taught dance classes at Joy of Motion, the American Dance Institute and The Washington Ballet.
“Dance chose me,” he said. “I feel like it’s a calling and I was able to recognize that at an early age.” Helanius shared a memory from his childhood of him watching Alvin Ailey on PBS. Upon seeing Ailey dance, he thought “that’s me” and his journey started from that point on.
Since founding EDGEWORKS Dance Theater 10 years ago, Helanius has developed a unique style of contemporary dance. It is a style that is athletic, about real people and one that often reconnects the past and the present. There is dance for entertainment, dance for movement’s sake and then there is dance that communicates. Helanius believes his style speaks to people and goes beyond the physical. It challenges viewers to think and reflect about the issues being presented.
According to Helanius, two things lie at the base of his creative process – community engagement and diverse perspectives. He conducts dance workshops, open rehearsals and discussion groups to give viewers an opportunity to be part of the process. These sessions also provide Helanius the chance to hear different viewpoints on the themes he explores in his work.
My goal is not to create work that reflects my own personal viewpoints, he said. Instead, the objective is to portray an honest account of complex social issues such as race, gender, class and sexuality. “It’s an ongoing process of better understanding how we as a society move beyond simply tolerating.”
Inspiration comes from a variety of sources, but it is the desire to shatter stereotypes that keeps the creative process going. “I’m trying to create something honest and real. Often times those things are socially-inspired and politically relevant,” he said. “I’m interested in our world and how I can contribute to a greater dialogue leading to greater understanding, progress, change.”
Helanius not only challenges stereotypes through his movement, but also through the members of his company. EDGEWORKS Dance Theater is a predominantly African-American all-male dance company in an industry dominated by females. One of his company members, Mervin Primeaux, is a deaf dancer which Helanius notes is uncommon among mainstream dance companies.
Up next for Helanius is the company's RED HOT & RIOT GALA: Celebrating EDGEWORKS Dance Theater's 10th Anniversary on Thursday, May 5th. The event at Woolly Mammoth Theatre will feature a short performance by EDT followed by a sizzling dance party featuring live reggae music. Pulitzer Prize journalist Clarence Page is the honorary chair and News4 anchor Aaron Gilchrist will be the Master of Ceremonies. For more information about the gala, visit their website.
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