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Cecly Placenti, Artistic Director

  • Writer's pictureCecly Placenti

Spotlight Session: Morgan Williams

Morgan Williams is a highly accomplished and versatile performer, choreographer, and creative director in the field of dance. Starting his professional career at just 18 years old with Dance Kaleidoscope in Indianapolis, IN, he quickly gained recognition for his talent and artistry. He has been associated with several renowned concert dance companies, including Momenta Dance Company, Cerqua Rivera, Joel Hall & Dancers, Chicago Dance Crash, Deeply Rooted, Eisenhower Dance Detroit, and Visceral Dance Chicago. Beyond the realm of concert dance, Morgan has also made notable contributions to commercial projects. He lent his expertise to projects like SYTYCD (So You Think You Can Dance), the Black-eyed Peas, the Fox TV show Empire, and Pretty Lights, showcasing his versatility and ability to work in various genres.

In 2021, Morgan realized his vision by establishing The Studio in the greater Milwaukee area, which serves as the home for his professional repertory dance company, Water Street Dance Milwaukee. With his dance company, he has created numerous original and expressive choreographic works, captivating audiences across the United States. Morgan's choreography has earned him recognition and accolades, and he has been commissioned to set works on several prestigious dance companies and institutions including Madison Ballet, Noumenon Dance Ensemble, Visceral Dance Chicago, and Illinois State University. The mission of Water Street Dance Milwaukee is “to create and educate in collaboration with emerging artists of all mediums to share authentic presentations of world-class art with diverse audiences.”

1. How did your artistic journey begin?

When I was a kid, I was on a drill team called South Shore drill team which sparked my initial interest in dance, music, and movement. Growing up on the South side of Chicago, the school systems weren't necessarily as good as some of the school systems in the more diverse areas. So my mom ended up lying to the school system saying we lived in a certain neighborhood so that I could go to a better school. The school had community engagement programs and one of them happened to be The Joffrey Ballet of Chicago. When Joffrey came to our school, they said they had a free program for boys. So in the fourth grade, I was taking the train by myself. My first introduction to tights and leotards were with boys, so they made it very comfortable and normalized it in a sense. From there, I just literally fell in love with dance and knew that that's what I wanted to do. Following the program, it was recommended that I join a summer program with boys and girls.

At twelve years old, I was running on the CTA by myself going to dance classes for the summer program. I received an opportunity to audition for The Nutcracker at Joffrey Ballet of Chicago, which became my first dance show at 12 years old. I was party boy number five. To be this little boy from the South side of Chicago, doing thirty shows in the season, I was telling my mom I was famous and needed a limo because I was so excited. From there, I received a scholarship to Hyde Park School of Ballet. I then attended the pre-professional program at Joel Hall Dancers & Center. Then I graduated from Chicago Academy for the arts. And then right out of high school, I got my first contract.

2. What drives you as an individual artist? What do you hope to express/convey to the world through your work?

I know what my goal is for my organization- I want to be an international touring repertory company. That's the goal. But what drives me? I don't know. I'm trying to figure that out. Because it changes every day; one day you’re a dancer, another you’re a choreographer, then a dance teacher. I'm a hustler. So I think what drives me is the idea that there's so many different ways to make yourself known and put yourself out there as an artist. The excitement comes when you get something right, so you can get that first booking. When you get that you nailed that triple pirouette, or when you find that you can motivate your artists to be their best selves. I'm living in this constant, high and low, high and low. Because, you know, it's hard to be a leader and that's something that I've been dealing with too. It's not about the result. It's about the journey. I appreciate the journey, not the destination.

3. When do you feel most powerful?

I feel the most powerful or competent really is within myself when I'm moving within my own body. I have the sensations of the earth, in the balls of my feet, I can feel the sensation differently than everyone else. The way that I understand my body, I understand the different nuances of movement, whether it's Mambo to ballet. I'm not saying my leg gets the highest, but I know how to rotate, and I'm not saying I'm a ballroom specialist, but I can move my hips and understand weight shifts and initiation. When I'm watching something and processing, I can see it, understand, and then emulate it. That’s been the beauty of my career. I think that's why I've gotten into so many different companies and so many different jobs, is because I feel like I can see something and understand it. I don't think people really understand that dance is so much more mental than it is physical. It’s so emotional at its essence.

4. What is your biggest challenge as an artist and largest success?

My biggest challenge is managing my ego, which wants to prove to myself that I can do everything. My biggest reward has been those moments where I do everything and I come out of it happy. For example, there was one year I was dancing at Visceral Dance Chicago while having my own project in Milwaukee, while teaching at another studio. This year I have my own company. I guest dance at Visceral while still doing my own projects on the side and teaching in a studio in Michigan. It’s a curse and a blessing all at the same time. One of my biggest successes this year is my company’s six city tour in addition to showcases at many other places. My other biggest challenge to me has been understanding the business side of art, the art industry, learning about booking festivals and such because these are things that are not immune to people. If you want to start a dance company, you need to get an agent, you need to learn to write for grants, you should know about APAP. Oh, and by the way, do you want to be not for profit? Or do you want to get a fiscal sponsorship? Do you want to get investors or do you want to do it yourself? No one's telling you how to begin.

5. Can you describe your creative process?

I'm very influenced by the artists I work with. I like to look at them as paint colors and think, how can I make a masterpiece on this canvas with these colors that I'm given? It can be a rocky canvas or a smooth canvas. It could be emotional, concert or commercial. God didn't make everyone look the same- everyone's a unique color within our own. So I question, how do I cultivate something that I think is beautiful? I have artists in my company who I could just say, just do you, and they understand what I'm looking for. What gets you to the next level is if you build that trust with whoever is at the front of the room. You really have to trust each other.

6. What do you do when you are not creating? What things outside of the dance industry inspire you and fuel your creativity?

I like to play video games, hang out on the couch with my girlfriend, and sometimes try not to do anything. I love to travel.

7. What is next for you?

Actually, my company just began a five day dance festival called Water Street Dance Festival with classes and artistic directors coming in from their companies.Within this festival my company's going to show a welcome party. There's an open director circle that all this happens through this week. After that, we get a lovely week off, but I'll be going through the competitive choreography circuit because that's how I make most of my money so that I can invest it back into my company. And then my company goes on its first ever tour to Monroe, Michigan in August. As a guest, we're bringing in our first ever resident choreographer to come in and start working on my company at the end of August. And then in September, my company's back on tour for our first ever three city tour in Minnesota. I'm also commissioned to set work on Milwaukee Ballet this year.

8. Anything you’d like to offer to artists?

What I want to share with artists is to tell them just to never give up and that you have to believe in yourself the entire time.

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