Friday, May 22, 2015

Kiyon Gaines, It's So Hard To Say Goodbye!

PNB's Kiyon Gaines soars as Puck in Balanchine's "A Midsummer Night's Dream"
photo by Angela Sterling
Pacific Northwest Ballet soloist Kiyon Gaines says he didn’t find ballet; ballet found him.

The Baltimore native didn’t start dancing until he was 10 .  He studied tap and jazz. Somebody told him he needed to work on his port de bras; they said ballet would help. So his mother enrolled him in a local class.

He recalls the teacher pulled his mother aside. “Does Kiyon want to take more ballet classes?” the teacher asked. “He would be great at this.”

Gaines was 12 at the time; incredibly late to start ballet training. Despite the fact that he was the only boy in the class, he embraced the challenge.

“And I got hired at PNB when I was 19,” he laughs. “So in the span of seven years, there was a lot of improvement!”
PNB's Lesley Rausch and Kiyon Gaines in Susan Stroman's "Take Five...More or Less"
photo by Angela Sterling

Now, at the ripe old age of 33, Kiyon Gaines will retire at the end of PNB’s artistic season. Say it ain't so!

Gaines' decision to step away from ballet was not an easy one. Like every professional dancer, he knew he couldn’t continue to perform much past the age of 40. From the get go, he had this idea that he'd carve out a second career.

Plus, his mother had urged him to make contingency plans, in case this ballet thing didn’t pan out. 

So, early on, Gaines decided that age 35 would be the perfect time to step away.

“That’s me wanting to be in control of my own career. I wanted to be the one to make the decision when I wanted to stop dancing.”

Unfortunately, Kiyon Gaines’ body didn’t cooperate with his well-made plans.

“I’ve dealt with injuries,” he explains. Specifically, three surgeries in the past four years. “My entire soloist career has been plagued with surgeries.”

So, last fall, before PNB started the 2014-2015 artistic season, Gaines told PNB Artistic Director Peter Boal that this year would be his last.

As hard as that was for Gaines, it also was a loss for PNB audiences. The exuberant, energetic dancer has been a standout during his 15 years in Seattle. Anyone who's seen him perform knows how he lights up the stage with his zillion-watt smile and the joy he infuses into his powerful dancing.
PNB's Kiyon Gaines soars in Twyla Tharp's "Waiting at the Station"
photo by Angela Sterling

We know that watching him now, but Kiyon Gaines had to fight to get here.

As a young, aspiring African American ballet dancer, Gaines had few role models. “Who do I look up to?” he remembers thinking. “Where do I get inspiration?”

After a stint in Pittsburgh, Gaines enrolled in  New York’s School of American Ballet, the feeder for the New York City Ballet. He recalls, at that time, Albert Evans was the only African American male dancing with NYCB. But even Evans wasn't the perfect role model.

Where Evans had the long, lean stereotypical ballet dancer’s body, Gaines is shorter and more compactly muscular. Not only was Gaines a black man in a predominantly white art form; he had the “wrong” body type for ballet. 

But Kiyon Gaines believed in himself. He kept working. In 2000, he came to Seattle as a PNB Professional Division student. Former PNB Artistic Directors Kent Stowell and Francia Russell hired him as a corps de ballet member the next year. He’s been in Seattle ever since. Gaines says he's the loyal type.

Kiyon Gaines believes the only way to challenge the traditional ballet aesthetic is to be a role model, to encourage “more people who look like me” to embrace ballet. And he'll have the chance to do that after he retires.

Starting next season, Kiyon Gaines will teach at the PNB school, and he'll work with PNB’s Dance Chance program. Dance Chance offers scholarships to kids who might not normally enroll in ballet classes, or even consider that ballet is something for them. Some of those kids have moved on to professional ballet careers, including Eric Hipolito, who also leaves PNB at the end of the season (not retiring, but heading to Ballet Arizona; our loss!)
Gaines does Balanchine at PNB
photo by Angela Sterling

Gaines also will continue to choreograph, in Seattle and for companies around the country. PNB will reprise his "Sum Stravinsky" in the 2015-2016 season.

Kiyon Gaines will give his final PNB performance on June 7th

But it won’t be his last onstage appearance. On Sunday, June 14th, Gaines will don cap and gown and stride across a platform at Key Arena to receive a Bachelor of Arts degree from Seattle University. Not only did he get the college degree his mother hoped he'd puruse; on June 12th, he's being honored with SU's Fine Arts Department Buhr Award. It goes to the student with the highest GPA in his major. 

“Mom will be here, my aunt will be here,” he says with a smile. “They’re going to be so proud!”
Kiyon Gaines works with PNB dancers on "Sum Stravinsky"
photo courtesy PNB

1 comment:

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