Dancer to Dancer

Keone and Mari Madrid on Their Groundbreaking New Projects

They're blazing new trails in the dance world—and beyond it. (courtesy Keone and Mari Madrid)

Trailblazer (noun): a pioneer in any field of endeavor.

It seems like choreographic duo Keone and Mari Madrid are always exploring uncharted territory. The husband-and-wife team have a well-earned reputation as dance pioneers, starting a decade ago (long before dance videos were a thing) with their mind-bending YouTube clips, and now with their impressive multidisciplinary work. Having an open mind about where their interests might lead has allowed them to seize opportunities within the dance world—and beyond it. "We stay curious and try not to be fearful," Keone says. "We take the risk and see what happens."

We caught up with the creative couple to talk about their latest projects: a unique dance e-book, Ruth, and an innovative full-length show, Beyond Babel.




A New Medium

Ruth topped the Apple iBook and Google Play charts when it came out in June—probably because there's nothing else quite like it. A dance-centric e-book, it combines choreography, illustration, film, original music, and a touching story. Mari has a degree in creative writing, and for years the couple had searched for a way to incorporate those skills into their dancing. "It was always a recurring joke," Keone says, laughing. "I would say 'Babe, we've got to do something. These student loan dollars can't go to nothing!' "

Putting the book together was a huge, collaborative, multi-year undertaking, and the couple made a conscious effort not to get overwhelmed by the process. They realized that it's OK to fumble when you're trying something totally new. "Maybe you don't speak music yet, or the person you're working with doesn't speak dance," explains Mari. "It's about doing your best to communicate, working on problem solving, and not being afraid of not knowing how to do something."


Beyond the Conventional

Keone and Mari's next creative feat is Beyond Babel, an immersive full-length dance show set for a 10-week run in San Diego this fall. And they had a hand in almost every element of the production: They directed, choreographed, wrote, and will star in the Romeo and Juliet–inspired piece. "We feel most proud of our work when we're able to be involved in every aspect," says Mari. "It's when we feel like we have ownership and can express our true voices beyond just choreography."

That's not to say the show isn't a collaboration. Like most of the Madrids' innovative works, Beyond Babel features contributions from many talented artists, including Josh Aviner and Lyndsay Magid Aviner of the Brooklyn-based production company Hideaway Circus. It'll be presented in its own downtown space, "Beyond Babel Theater," with an elite cast of 12 and crochet set pieces designed by London Kaye. "I feel like the chance to see these dancers, and London's art installations, up close is truly a once in a lifetime opportunity," says Magid Aviner.

(From left) Josh Aviner and Lyndsay Magid Aviner with Mari and Keone Madrid (Carlo Aranda, courtesy Matt Ross PR)

The theater's orchestra sections will also move during the performance, allowing the audience to experience the show from multiple perspectives. "Keone and Mari's style of urban dance hasn't been presented in a live format like this before, and it's a very exciting opportunity to develop material and scenes with this unusual and immersive seating layout," Aviner says.

The Madrids have long dreamed of creating a full-length dance show, and with Beyond Babel, the timing finally felt right. "Current social issues and conversations are a huge motivation to this story," Keone says. "In the times that we're in, with social media and its instant gratification, we noticed that people are starting to put more value on experiences. Providing an unforgettable experience is such an important aspect of this project."


More Trails to Blaze

Where do the Madrids find inspiration for their diverse projects? Outside the dance world, much of the time—from reading, watching TV and movies, being around nature, and training as athletes. "Life somehow introduces ideas," Keone says. "We have absolutely no blinders on to any inspiration." Mari agrees. "We're constantly people watching," she says. "The human experience inspires us, and we try to express that through dance—to express how humans are."

"Wherever stories can be told with dance," Keone says, "we're going to try find a way to do it."

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