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Interview with Tristan Koepke, Co-Director of the Young Dancers Workshop

By July 15, 2016July 21st, 20162016 Young Dancers Workshop

As the three week long Young Dancers Workshop winds to an end I sat down with Tristan Koepke, Co-Director and modern technique faculty member of the Workshop and longtime BDF community member to talk about the impact that the Festival has had on him over the past twelve years.

Tristan introduces the Young Dancers Workshop faculty during their Final Showing

Tristan introduces the Young Dancers Workshop faculty during their Final Showing

BDF: How long have you been here at Bates, and how did you originally find the Festival?

TK: I came as a Young Dancer. Twelve years ago. Some of the students at my small studio in central Wisconsin found the Festival through Dance Magazine, sort of randomly, and they really enjoyed it, so I came a couple of summers later. I came back the next year, and since then I’ve been here in many different capacities… this is my tenth summer! Total.

BDF: And what roles have you played here?

TK: Young dancer, general participant (of the Professional Training Program), I was a counselor, then head counselor… and now co-director and teacher of modern dance technique.

BDF: Can you give a short bio of your dance experience as influenced by BDF?

TK: I can say when I first came here I only had a couple years of formal training under my belt, I was pretty new to dance. Not new to movement because I’d practiced a lot of taekwondo as a kid, and then I found tap and then eventually ballet, modern, etc. But coming to BDF was the first time I saw professional dance companies.

BDF: Do you remember the first show you saw here?

TK: Larry Keigwin, Keigwin and Company. Back in one of its original incarnations. Larry and his dancer, Nicole Wolcott, together taught repertory, so I was able to work in this immersive way with this exciting company. I made some of my best friends and I started collaborating with them right then. It’s been a really great home-base check in. I came a bunch before college, and then I went to school and didn’t come until I was finished with university, it was a really nice bookend to kind of be back in a similar place and see what had shifted. I’ve probably found my biggest dance mentors here. Karl Rogers mainly, he’s a big friend/mentor of mine, someone I’ve worked with for many years. Jobs I’ve gotten from here, best friends I’ve gotten from here… it’s home.

BDF: How have the relationships you’ve made at Bates impacted your experience in the dance world?

TK: I wouldn’t be where I am professionally, beyond this role and in the dance world at large. I’m currently doing some work for Doug Varone, who I met here. I’ve made specific relationships here, but I also learned an approach for building relationships in dance; in every city around the country are people from here that I’ve taken class with and shared intimate community space with, that I feel I can trust and rely on if I’m visiting or touring, or can call up if I’m coming through town — and I’ll both have a place to stay and they’ll say, “oh do you want to teach a master class while you’re here?” and that sort of thing. Just about everywhere.
BDF: How has the Festival changed during your time here?

TK: My experience has changed more than the Festival has. What’s so great about the community is that a lot of people return, so a lot of people feel like this is home in a lot of ways. I’ve definitely gotten to know it in so many different capacities, living in an immersive way (as a counselor). And now I’ve gotten a bit more space and I can see it all with a bit more clarity. I think it’s been interesting as I get older and step into different positions here to see people coming in for the first time, and have their eyes widened so quickly. I always experience that with Young Dancers, but now with more space and experience I see that in the Professional Training Program too. I come to the Festival as a dancer or a guest or I’m working, etc., and I see all these college students or just recently post-college students just suddenly being exposed to so much outside of their comfort zone. So my relationship to that has changed, but I think that’s what’s so special about being here, that eye opening experiences are really fostered and created in a non-competitive space.

BDF: What do you think it is specifically that opens people’s eyes, that seems new?

TK: I think that sometimes just simply that dance can be supportive. That dance is many different languages, but culminating in this one idea, this texture of life that we’re all working with, that we’re using as a means to build community and healthy relationships with each other. That dance can be a tool for that, not just a tool for wanting to one up or each other, or get the job, or do the trick better than anyone else. But that we can really find value in other people’s skill sets, artistry, approach, philosophies, in movement and life, etc.

BDF: Building on that response, how does the Festival differ from other places you’ve been in the dance world?

TK: I think that its focus is less on who’s the latest voice within the dance community at large that’s getting the most attention; we’re less focused on that and more on who are the best teachers, who is really going to offer people the best training and cultivation of self, how do we cultivate these dancers that come here to empower them to go out into the world and do what they want to do, either in the dance world or not, and our focus isn’t on just promoting trendy artists to seduce more people into coming. Which is not to knock other places or say there isn’t value in giving platforms to cutting edge voices. But what we really excel at here is long-term cultivation of community and artistry through dance. And following artists consistently through the trajectory of their careers, not only at the moment when they’re “hot.”

BDF: Can you describe the ethos of Bates in one or two sentences?

TK: Development of community by exploring dance and artistry in a nurturing environment.

BDF: Any favorite memories from your time here?

TK: Here’s one: that time that I ugly cried during the Young Dancers showing when they took their first port de bras because I was so moved by the work and the passion and eagerness they had. Another favorite memory, those times when I step outside the dorm and I find one camper who plays the fiddle, one camper who plays the guitar, and two campers having an improvisation contact jam on the lawn in front of these musician friends. Little magical moments like that don’t happen everywhere. Sometimes I think this is like a collection of the best freaks. We find kindred spirits here, and especially for teenagers, for young dancers who live all over the country, the world, etc., it’s so special for them to find one another here. There’s common ground. At least there’s dance, even if it’s not the same kind, or the same training, there’s one commonality in our activities, but it goes beyond just being in the activity of dance. People who find dance often have a similar approach to life, or how they want to live, or how they engage in their interest, and I think that’s why a lot of dancers become tight friends with other dancers, and there are these little webs of community. It’s not just because we like to dance, that’s part of it, but it’s a philosophy of living that draws us to dance, beyond making shapes with our bodies.

BDF: Do you have a piece of advice for someone who would be coming for the first time?

TK: Stay curious about as much as possible for as long as you can.


This post was written by Chava Lansky.  Chava is the BDF Social Media Intern for the 2016 summer.