What are the Spotlight Sessions?
I was the child who asked “why” 150 times in a row, to the dismay and occasional annoyance of the adults around me. That curiosity and need for discovery grew with me and became a guide on my artistic path. Determination, inquisitiveness, and the drive to connect with others led me to write, dance, choreograph, produce, and educate.
I started my company, Six Degrees Dance, with the mission of creating community. Embodying the theory that all people are connected through a social network of 6 or fewer degrees, we collaborate in an environment where the exchange of ideas is the building block for innovation and growth. We approach dance making with the belief that the contribution of the individual benefits the group, and results in a body of work reflective of the sum of its parts.
To that end, we have developed several initiatives that connect artists with audiences and with each other, maintaining the idea of six degrees of separation as the foundation for those connections. Our annual showcase brings together national and international choreographers, most of whom have never met. Our Choreographic Commission series allows the dancers of Six Degrees to work with a variety of choreographers in different styles. In The Spotlight Sessions, I will present a different artist each cycle, and through interviews, short feature articles, previews, and capsule reviews, offer a behind the scenes look into their work and their process. I hope you enjoy getting to know these unique, talented individuals as much as I have, and continue to follow them on their creative paths.
Braeden Barnes, a native from Chicago, Illinois, received his training from Faubourg Ballet and San Francisco Ballet school. Braeden was then accepted into the Joffrey Ballet training program under the directors Alexei Kremnev and Anna Reznik.
Braeden has worked professionally with Balletmet, Joffrey Ballet Chicago, Ron de Jesus Dance, Billy Elliot the Musical, Cocodaco Dance Project, C5, Nevada Ballet Theatre and Visceral Dance Chicago. Braeden has performed both nationally and internationally. He has worked with choreographers such as James Canfield, Paul Vasterling, Danielle Agami, Kevin O’Day, Mónica Cervantes, Marguerite Donlon, Matthew Neenan, Lucas Crandall, Nick Pupillo, and Yoshito Sakuraba.
Braeden is an award-winning choreographer. His choreography has been featured in such cities as Chicago, Las Vegas, New York City, and Atlanta. Among these places, his work has won the first place audience choice award at REVERBDance Festival in New York, as well as first place for best choreography at YAGP. He has choreographed on various companies such as Nevada Ballet Theatre, Cirque Du Soleil, Visceral Dance Chicago, Peoria Ballet, Waterstreet Dance Milwaukee, A&A Ballet, Common Conservatory, Indiana University Contemporary Department and for New Dances: a collaboration between Danceworks and Thodos Dance Chicago.
In 2020, he started his own nonprofit company, Symbiosis Arts, which is based in Chicago. Symbiosis has produced full evening shows in Chicago and Denver and has commissioned choreographers such as Anna Long, Francisco Aviva, Shannan Alvis, Jason Parsons, and Noelle Kayser. For more information, visit symbiosisarts.org.
1. How did your artistic journey begin?
I started dancing when I was six. Before I started dancing, I was a gymnast, and part of the gym I went to had a small dance studio attached to it. All the gymnasts were doing ballet to help build form, and my motto actually was, “you should do it for your form.” But I was so against it, and didn’t want to dance; I only wanted the gym. Slowly but surely, I started to fall more in love with dance, and gave up the gymnastics. After a couple of years, I got into it seriously. When I was 15, I started to train at San Francisco Ballet School in San Francisco. I did ballet until I was 23 years old, and switched to contemporary. I really want to explore contemporary movement choreography. So I left the ballet world at 23. I moved to Chicago, and I freelanced with a couple of projects. I'm 31 now and recently just left Visceral Dance Chicago, where I've been for six years. I want to venture more into choreography in my own company. I’ve always been interested in exploring and doing the next thing. Even since I was young, I'm somebody that’s always wanted to do everything and instead of one style or necessary pathway.
2. What drives you as an individual artist? What do you hope to express/convey to the world through your work?
The work and experiences that come out of one process make me hungry for the next one because I feel like it's the soul being to express ourselves in this way and with other people. I feel like a lot of times in the process, I learn more about myself and learn more about other people in the room. What drives me is the thought of, “Okay, let's do the next thing, and the next thing,” and the momentum of that process.
A lot of times I feel like in my work focuses on the idea and the storyline in the message. Because a lot of times in my company, we involve a lot of dances, and we try to have it all based on one idea and story. We'll do a full evening on one idea and I want the audience to have a full experience out of it. I think a lot of times when we go see dance, it feels like there's a lot of dampening and a lot of inflammation. And we kind of leave like maybe not understanding what just happened or maybe we're overstimulated, creating a lot of questions like, what is the story? I want the idea to be portrayed through myself and the dancers to an audience.
3. When do you feel most powerful?
I feel most powerful onstage. There's a lot that goes into the rehearsal process and the pressure of putting something on stage, but once those lights go down and you're onstage infront of an audience, it all goes away. Those are those moments we all live for, and then when the applause happens, it feels like, we did it, we had that moment.
4. What has been your biggest challenge and your proudest moment during your artistic growth?
What can be hard for me is I'm all about finding confidence in my dancers, but a lot of times I doubt myself. I feel like we're the hardest on ourselves. I tend to overthink, I tend to question the decision I make. One of the biggest challenges is having the confidence to be say, we're doing this whether it succeeds or not, and that's okay if it doesn't. The proudest moments I feel is when I do take that chance and it leads to something great. I think a lot of times it's us as artists and dancers. We're faced with this risk; do I take this job? Do I do this? Do I take the risk in the studio? Like, do I show this choreographer this movement about myself, but when you do it and the positive feedback or the good stuff comes back? I think those risks are something I’m very proud that I take.
5. Can you describe your creative process?
A lot of times when I’m making a work I’ll marinate different ideas or music choices. I always make a playlist on Spotify that inspires me and think, reflect, go into the studio, and begin moving. I think it comes from the subconscious place of having all these ingredients mixing. So it comes on my body and I work very fast. I very much like to collaborate with my artists as well. I give them a solo and then I'll change it like 1000 times because I'm interested in how they interpret it and how I can build off of it. I feel like for me, I'm interested in dancers that are open to falling and trying stuff so that way I can make a dust for them. In the process, I don’t want them to dance like me. I want them to do it like them with my choreography on top of that. I look for dancers that are just kind of like really investigating themselves and individualism.
6.What do you do when you are not creating? What things outside of the dance industry inspire you and fuel your creativity?
I'm big into movies and films and narratives with a storyline and ideas. A lot of times when I'm not dancing I'm watching films or listening to music.
7. What is next for you?
Right now I’m really getting into choreography with my company. I'm looking into producing full evening shows that will be sent around one idea, but 40 minutes long. From now I'm planning to try to take that on a tour to different cities.
8. What advice would you give to younger artists?
Yeah, my advice is don't don't look at someone like don't get caught into comparing yourself to other people. I think for younger dancers the biggest thing is to be patient and just invest in the present and in the work and don't worry about anybody else. Focus on yourself and everything will come to you in time.
A quick look at Braeden Barnes' work