Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Gotta Dance

Posted By on Wed, Feb 19, 2014 at 6:00 AM

Until now, I've appreciated Tommy Lewey's artistry through his work with NoExit Performance. As part of this local theater troupe, he's proven himself a delightful actor and very capable director.

But until now, I haven't seen him ply his true craft. As an '09 grad from Butler in dance pedagogy, those talents in choreography definitely translate in theater pursuits. But it's high-time we see more of this kid dance.

Thankfully, his New Year's resolution involves us all in a very personal development of his craft. With Project 52, Tommy aims to produce what he calls "a video-choreographic exploration of found space" each week.

Lewey chooses spaces for Project 52 that challenge and restrict his movement. - ANNA PETERS
  • Anna Peters
  • Lewey chooses spaces for Project 52 that challenge and restrict his movement.

I caught up with him over coffee recently to discuss the methods and goals for his dance mission.

I begin our conversation by asking him about his inspiration for Project 52.

"The photography craze, 365 Project, partly influenced this process," he says. "I was really impressed with these visual artists' commitment to work every day at their craft, and I wanted to appropriate this idea to my work as a choreographer."

As a setting for each performance, Tommy plans to use "found spaces," which is probably not a surprise to anyone who's caught one of NoExit's plays, which often take place in nontraditional settings.

"If my work with NoExit Performance has taught me anything, it's that performance can be created anywhere," says Tommy. "As a young artist with hardly any conventional resources at my disposal, I thought that I would try to broaden my expectations of how I create work and the work itself."

For the dance teacher at Broad Ripple Magnet High School, the more constrictive a space the better: His fourth entry takes place in a bathtub with running water. Gone is the traditional expansive floor space, high ceiling and mirror-covered walls.

"Right now I am most interested in spaces that drastically limit my ability to move in certain ways," he explains. "While traditionally not good places to dance, what they offered inherently were perimeters and specifications for how I was able to move. In some ways, you can say that the space dictates the choreography, because I can only move a certain way within the given space."

So then I asked him how far ahead he has planned his locations and dances. "I don't have all 52 weeks planned out yet, and sometimes I don't decide on a place until I see it," he confesses. Further discussion led me to believe that the pressure of producing and performing a weekly dance adds to the excitement of the locations he does choose. He's also open to ideas or commissions.

But surely he has some dream locales in mind.

"Currently I have my eyes on those stadium seats from Bush Stadium that are placed by bus stops," he interjects. "I would also like to get inside those creepy hallways of Footlite Musical's stock, maybe the staircases at the IRT and other iconic Indy landmarks and buildings ... and some less-than-iconic Indy places."

Tommy is producing this project entirely by himself, as a kind of video dance selfie.

"I set up my iPhone to record on this funny contraption that's basically a gigantic binder clip attached to an industrial-strength pipe cleaner," he illustrates. "Part of this process is also learning about video editing software. Hopefully, as I get more comfortable with it, the quality of the editing will improve as well."

As another evolution of this project, look for Tommy to not only get out of his house (especially when the weather's better), but expect guests in future performances.

"I have a feeling that people, including myself, are going to get bored of seeing my face in this series," he confesses. "I'm talking with colleagues about making videos in which I am choreographing and directing behind the camera. The more bodies I get to work with, the more enriched my process comes."

Each week, Tommy posts the video of the finished dance on his website, Tumblr, Twitter and Facebook. And, yes, he encourages your feedback, both praise and critique.

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Hugh Vandivier

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Hugh Vandivier is an online editor for Angie’s List. He’s a proud alum and volunteer for Wabash College, holds an MSJ from Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism and was a board member and director of grassroots arts nonprofit Primary Colours. He also interviewed Indy native Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. in 2002.

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