Catching Up with KEIGWIN + COMPANY Funnyman Matt Baker

We can't get enough of Larry Keigwin's kooky, super-talented dancers--and if you're like us, we're sure you can't wait for KEIGWIN + COMPANY to return to The Joyce Theater in NYC this month (June 12-17) with two world premieres. We caught up with K + C's hilarious Matt Baker (one of our February 2012 cover stars!) to find out what it's like to dance with the company.

DS: What goes on behind-the-scenes during K + C rehearsals?

MB: A lot of the usual craziness you can expect from dancers—handstand competitions, turning battles and displays of flexibility (or lack there of). And then of course, Larry always needs to tell us about his story or character of the day.

 DS: What’s your biggest fear before each performance?

MB: I’m a bit forgetful, so I always double-check costumes and quick changes. I’ve learned to stay calm during mishaps. Setting your hair on fire just creates a lot of smoke.

DS: What do you think is the worst thing that can happen to a dancer onstage?

MB: Injury. I’ve been in a couple of situations where dancers have gotten hurt recently it’s always scary—whether you’re the person hurt and wondering how serious it is, or you’re concerned for your colleague/friend/family member.

DS: Describe your ultimate performance atmosphere.

MB: We’re a NYC-based company and we love our audiences the way we like our city: diverse! We definitely want a crowded house, full of strangers and familiar faces. I’ve met so many great people during my time with K + C. Some of them are long-time fans, some of them are newly engaged thanks to the exciting changes the company has seen over the last few years.

 DS: How do you gain confidence before hitting the stage?

MB: We’ve been lucky to see the company grow in the last few years. Before every show we get together for a moment to touch base. Having all that energy in a circle gears me up, and sharing the pressure of performing with other dancers calms me.

DS: How do you keep things from getting too stressful or intense during rehearsals?

MB: That's never too tough with Larry as our boss. He encourages an environment of playful exploration, or the “J.O.D” (Joy of Dance) as associate director Nicole Wolcott calls it. Plus, Larry’s work is full of personality, and it takes dancers with personality to perform it. A goof ball and a laugh are never far off.

 DS: Do the company members ever prank each other?

MB: Now, I can’t give away all our secrets, but of course we prank each other, like any loving family does. In our new work Twelve Chairs there are a lot of times where we have to sit down without looking at our chair. It sounds simple, but it can be deceptive. I keep joking that on opening night Larry is going sneak on stage and steal one of our chairs so we'd fall on our butt, but I know he'd never actually do that…would he?

 DS: What was it like learning/creating Twelve Chairs?

MB: Creating Twelve Chairs was an entirely new process. It’s our first piece for the full company of 12 dancers. We got to preview the work in Minneapolis at the Cowles Center, and that was a really nice way to connect with the piece before it hits the Joyce on June 12. Burke Wilmore’s lighting design fused with Jonathan Pratt’s music beating through the theatre’s sound system drew me into Larry’s vision.

There were lots of chair mishaps along the way. I had one in our second run and nearly bit it, but luckily Aaron Carr and Emily Schoen were close by and saved me. You learn to stop judging your performances by those moments and trust that if the work is strong enough, the audience will overlook moments like that.

 DS: What is the strangest thing you've ever had to do onstage with K + C?

MB: There have been lots of strange moments. I’ve been faux gay married twice—to two different men no less—hidden nude behind a beach towel, tumbled down a red carpet and driven an eco-friendly car on stage. Larry has a distinct style but his interests are wide-ranging and he always keeps me guessing. Adaptability and openness are key to performing with K + C.

DS: Why should DS readers see the show?

MB: Because dance lovers make the best audience members! Larry’s work is a current, exciting perspective on dance, and it’s great for a wide range of audiences. You’ll leave the evening with something to talk and think about. I can guarantee that.

 DS: What is your advice for dancers who want to join K+C?

MB: We just started our education department this summer with our intensive, Let's Make A Dance. I had an awesome time working with some really talented dancers who in turn got to know us. Company work in NYC’s modern dance world is intimate. Do your research.

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