Kyra Jean Green, whose own smile is quite genuine, was born in Paris, where her parents had gone to spend 4 or 5 years. They decided to have a baby while there, but once she was born they brought her back to the US. Most of her childhood was spent, after a short time in New York and New Jersey, in West Palm Beach, Florida, but perhaps Kyra’s travel appetite was already whetted. At any rate, as a dancer and choreographer she has traveled and worked from Canada to Brazil.
She has also been dancing more or less since she could walk. Whenever something with music, like the Lawrence Welk Show or ice skating, came on TV, little Kyra would dance to it. So, her parents thought she should have dance lessons. There was an interruption in her high school years, when she wanted try to live more the life of a regular teenager, but in the long run she couldn’t keep away.
After graduation, Kyra went on to get her BFA from the Julliard School. And then it was a lot of work in many places. For about a decade, she never stayed in one place for more than three years, but eventually decided it was time to settle in one place for longer. She felt that Montreal was the right environment. “There’s a good dance community and work I like.” And despite the cold (or maybe partly because of it?) rent and the cost of living are affordable in Montreald, while Canada’s support of the arts is also a great attraction. “I am really grateful,” Kyra delicately puts it, “given all that’s going on in the arts in the US.” So Montreal is where she started her dance company, Trip The Light Fantastic in 2017.
The only real drawback with the title, Trip The Light Fantastic, says Kyra wryly, is that’s very hard to translate into French. “We needed to put the work ‘Danse’ in front of the title in order to register our business name in Quebec.”” For Kyra, Starting this company gave me a chance to create and opportunities for other dancers. It was a kick in the butt for me too, to stop waiting for others.” There is a core group of 7 dancers and others are added as needed for particular works. The company “aims to uncover the truth beneath the surface of human perception. We question and dive unto the raw brute realities of the individual psyche and social stigmas that take us away from reaching our own true liberation. Our goal is to harshly pose these questions through the language of dance and mixed media in order to inspire positive change within our audience members.
Kyra decided to apply for the current Whim W’Him program because, as she says with a grin, “I try to practice in life to apply for more things than I can remember.” She knew Karl Watson too and had heard about WW the way people in the quite small contemporary dance world do. This year’s application was actually her second for the Choreographic Shindig, only this time she was one of the 3 choreographers selected by the Whim W’Him dancers.
Classic techniques of ballet and modern and jazz are Kyra’s own background, but in recent years has been inspired by “the culture of hiphop, a dance genre created by people of color, and when the movement makes a body looks like it isn’t human. I’m really drawn to these movements, these magical qualities. Also, the face. It really adds something to the movement quality within the body. But it’s a pain in the ass to do small, isolated and synchronized movement. First very slow creation, then fast implementation.” She notes that “The Whim W’Him dancers work really well, and I feel honored they picked me. We laugh a lot.” She laughs herself.
When I asked how her Shindig project has changed from when she applied this year’s program, she admits candidly that she can hardly remember, “I could pull up the application for fun if you want me to…” “Sure,” I said, but it wasn’t obvious on her computer. She smiled finally and said, “I don’t have the application, only the acceptance.” So, in fact, she came into the studio with ideas that had germinated much closer to the time rehearsals began, and grew out of a process begun during her company’s summer intensive this year.
I asked Kyra how she begins a piece, at least this one, what she has prepared ahead of time. “It varies with the project,” she replied. “I have a theme I’m interested in exploring to foster change for better.” This piece, The Smile Club, originated with her learning that in the 1930s, a period not known in most parts of the world as a happy time, Budapest got the soubriquet of ‘City of Smiles.’ Following a spate of suicides, a public campaign was launched to make people happier by encouraging them to smile (in the same vein, I suppose, as expecting the tears from peeling onions to make you really feel sad).
“Creepy smiles,” says Kyra. “It was a great starting point. Playing with facial expressions affects how you move.”
The Smile Club looks not just at smiles, but at the more general question of whether, as Kyra asks in her program notes for the piece: Can we teach ourselves to be happy? Is happiness something we can create or that happens to us? The Smile Club examines what drives human emotions and our ability to manipulate how we feel.
Bringing in the face and making it the center of the movement is an unusual approach in Western contemporary dance. So often pieces are conceived in the opposite order, with neutral or low affect facial expressions being encouraged so that the movement of the rest of the body can carry the weight of meaning. Here, however, the emotion shown by the face propel and inform the nature of the movements in the rest of the body and give central meaning to them.
Photo Credit: except for the color photo of Trip the Light Fantastic from the company website, all photos are of Whim W’Him and are by Stefano Altamura