Kiyon Ross wears many hats at PNB: PNB School faculty member, DanceChance mentor, and NEXT STEP program manager, a position he has held since 2012. Originally from Baltimore, Maryland, Kiyon trained at Baltimore School of the Arts, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre School, the School of American Ballet, and Pacific Northwest Ballet School before joining Pacific Northwest Ballet in 2001. Kiyon retired as a soloist in 2015.
Kiyon is also an established American choreographer: since creating his first work in 2001, he has made ballets for PNB, PNB School, New York Choreographic Institute, Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet, Cornish College of the Arts, and Spectrum Dance Theater, and was resident choreographer at Ballet Arkansas from 2015 – 2018. Kiyon brings a wealth of experience both as dancer and choreographer to his NEXT STEP role, and today he’s sharing some of that knowledge with our readers.
On how his experiences as an emerging choreographer shaped his work with NEXT STEP:
While I believe that becoming a choreographer is a constant evolution in which we are continually learning and growing and changing, there are some elements from my years as a novice that informed how the program is structured. First is access to information. One of my struggles when I first began was finding information about what it really means to be a choreographer, which is a lot like being self-employed. You are responsible for marketing yourself, negotiating your contracts, communicating with your artists and the organization you are working for, as well as creating the art itself.
Learning how to express your ideas through your art as well as your words and through your writing is something else I learned was quite important. The NEXT STEP program has, over the years, built an in-house community of dance-makers. While I oftentimes act as a mentor to the choreographers who have participated in our program, an unintended benefit of the program is that there is a network of choreographers working in the field who are still accessible for both current and future participants. Many of our NEXT STEP veterans act as mentors for our program.
On the opportunity for collaboration with living composers:
Early in my choreographic career I had the opportunity to attend the New York Choreographic institute. One of the “challenges” given to my cohort was to work with a composer that you were paired with from Juilliard. I found this experience to be exciting and extremely stimulating, creatively. Prior to this experience, I would spend months searching through recordings trying to find music that was inspiring, or the right length, or with the right number of repeats. Making cuts and edits to pre-recorded music is very time consuming. Working with a living composer provides choreographers with the opportunity to collaborate on yet another element of their production. Having the ability to ask for specific styles, tempos, repeats, extensions, and cuts and have it produced for you the way you envisioned is a very special experience. I believe that it also adds to the innovative spirit that drives the creative process. Oftentimes, I was very inspired in unexpected ways by being involved in collaboration with my composers.
On NEXT STEP’s resident composers:
I chose Avi Lasser and Garrett Overcash of Hevanti Productions here in Seattle to partner with the NEXT STEP program. I worked with Avi and Garrett on a project for my residency at Ballet Arkansas and they did a fantastic job. I thought that part of the experience of NEXT STEP could be to offer the opportunity to have new music created for these new works. Avi and Garrett have been working with the program for the past 3 years and have created several symphonies, and helped with other musical production elements for NEXT STEP as well. This opportunity is very valuable because it furthers the exploration of the choreographer’s process and many times reveals possibilities that may not been initially apparent.
On highlights from his time managing NEXT STEP (so far):
For me, each year it’s almost as if Christmas comes early! I (and of course our audiences) are treated to 6 new, never-before-seen pieces of art. For this reason, each season is a highlight. It brings me great joy being at the helm of a program that is helping to move our art form forward. Many of the choreographic voices that were incubated in the NEXT STEP program have gone on to create mainstage works for PNB as well as works at companies around the nation. To be a part of this kind of impact in the dance world is both exciting and humbling.
Kiyon’s advice to aspiring choreographers:
Many times, I hear people talk about the fear around making art that is to be shared with other people. It’s almost as if they self-doubt themselves out of sharing a part of themselves that could touch someone else’s life.
Choreography does not always have to make some grand political statement. Sometimes it can just be beautiful. Sometimes it can help you understand something about yourself that you never knew. If you have ever had the desire to choreograph then you should explore this. You will not be able to determine your skill at something if you never try. Taking the first step is the most important one!