Talk Back with Peter Kalivas and The PGK Project Part II

“Talk Back” is a new interview series with dancers and choreographers.  Part II of our first interview is with Peter Kalivas, the Artistic Director of The PGK Project a contemporary dance company based in San Diego California.

Peter Kalivas in "Only" Photo by: Keith Wang

Peter Kalivas in "Only" Photo by: Keith Wang

Talk Back with Peter Kalivas and The PGK Project Part II

by Rosie Trump

Discuss an influential teacher or mentor.

Unfortunately I have several people I have to acknowledge and then hopefully discuss one or two influential people.  Wendy Perron (Formerly of The Cunningham Dance Company School and now Editor in Chief of DANCE MAGAZINE) was the strongest advocate of me leaving Bennington and pursuing conservatory training which prompted my transition.  This was during a time when she was a guest artist in residence at Bennington.  Mr. Alvin Ailey whom I auditioned for to attend The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre School and who rejected me only to insist I return later to attend the school where I then entered The Second Ailey Company.  Donald Byrd for the ridiculously challenging choreography and equally challenging atmosphere he creates which helps dancers to learn self-worth.  Donald Byrd, Pat Thomas, Carol Sklaroff and Andrew Papp are my most influential teachers at The University of the Arts who taught me that I wasn’t too late, too small, or any of those other things people tell you if I was willing to work really, really hard and catch up and be what I already was; just a little more efficient, organized, clarified.

I think however still to this day my two most influential mentors; now colleagues are John Malashock and Sean Curran.  John taught me how to trust my technique and my acquired skills and explore another way of moving.  One way was full of breath and that installed a whole other kind of power, presence and understanding of what dance does.  Sean Curran for being his tenacious, zany, and crazy self.  Joining his company at the time that I did, at the time when his company was gaining tremendous exposure and opportunity allowed me to really exercise my presence in the world in a way that I hadn’t necessarily done before.  To have someone wanting you to join them for these kinds of opportunities and to trust you with presenting their work in these kinds of times is inspiring.  His highly skilled, quirky collection of dancers created the best, most exciting, enthralling creative process both off and on stage and it was there I became most aware of the improvisational, spontaneous qualities of performance.

Name a few of your favorites: dance movies, youtube clips, books and dance songs.

Movies/Videos: Anything Gene Kelly is in, choreographing, performing.  Almost any old Hollywood Musical.  The dance sequences in the movie “Hairspray” were fresh and inventive.  Beyonce’s “All the Single Ladies” choreography is ridiculously fantastic (the first time).  The style totally reminds me of the dance wars I used to attend at Columbia University in NYC in the early 90’s.  All about “trumping”; when people first said “fierce”.

Music: Right now I am completely in love with anything produced by Hypnotic Brass Ensemble (a music group based in Chicago which is only horns).  I am choreographing a new piece to their “War” at the moment.  They perform in public spaces (subways, bus stops, street corners, etc.) around the US and the UK.

What advice can you offer to inspiring dancers and choreographers?

The best advice I give dancers specifically is to seek non-conventional ways to get jobs.  DON’T GO TO AUDITIONS if you can avoid them.  Take company class with a company you want to dance with.  Many companies will let you in especially if you present/introduce yourself as a professional.  Don’t say the word student, recently graduated, or um..sort of…and kind a….EVER AGAIN!

Many people can dance but most of those people cannot present or represent themselves properly to the rest of the world.  It all goes back to “knowing your audience”.  The ones who can represent or that have someone who can for them are the people who work.

For choreographers, I advise the exact same and then more.  At the beginning (only for a little while) sure you can pay an application fee, even a small production fee to have your work presented at a festival.  It takes money to make money right BUT…if you don’t go the next step and have influential people (Presenters of dance, other directors seeking choreographers to make work for their company, Directors of Festivals that pay fees for companies to perform) come to see your performance via your invitation, arranging press kits and tickets for them to see you then you have pretty much wasted your time and money.  Maybe you got a review but if you don’t have anyone to send your press kit to then what good is the review?  Every time you do ANYTHING it needs to produce your next thing.

Dancing, choreographing, teaching are part of a service industry that is called the performing arts.  If you “give” your stuff away then you take its value away.  If you don’t say it is valuable first then know one else will.   The next step while waiting and researching opportunities is to create them.  Start your own festival, create situations for yourself that did not exist before.  Lastly, you should be cooperating with other dance companies, theatre, music and businesses that support the arts all year long. Developing relationships creates a non-competitive, non-challenging support system built on trust, mutual understanding and constant exchange.  Talk yourself up, make yourself visible, available and willing and able to be a part of and support your community.   How can your dancing, choreographing, teaching produce income for you and your company?

Tell us about your newest projects.

Well, I have come to realize my obsession with audiences and their engagement.  I am deeply interested in convincing artists to consider audiences more in the ways they make and present work and working on ways to make dance.   We have recently developed “San Diego Dances” which is a bi-annual “roving” festival happening in unexpected spaces throughout San Diego County.  Currently, my company produces “4 x 4 x Floor” which happens at Bluefoot Bar & Lounge the 2nd Tuesday of every month and “The Movement” which happens at 8Teen Arts & Cultural Center the 1st Tuesday of every month; happening in a bar and a gallery space immediately changes the atmosphere, place and association of performance.

Our newest project, “San Diego Dances” works to fulfill a similar yet different mission.  This roving dance festival will be carefully curated to include only professional artists and companies but still will not happen in a conventional theatre space.  The first of these will be on November 6th and 7th at DK Hair (a premiere urban salon).  Titled “San Diego Dances in Hillcrest” the festival takes the name of the neighborhood where it happens acknowledging what part of the county it has “roved” to.  This first program features six different artists and companies of various sizes.  The hair salon loses its hair cutting stations temporarily making way for a performance space that is similar to a runway at a fashion show.  The audience sits in two rows on both sides of this performance space.  Each company visits the space in advance to prepare the work they are either creating or re-setting and later each gets time to space on site.  There is a catered intermission hosted by one of our sponsors.  After the show, the audience walks beyond the performance space, past the hair washing stations towards the back of the salon, up three steps to the second level color stations where they can purchase a glass of wine and edibles inexpensively.  At this point the audience has experienced these dances in an unexpected way, in an unexpected site and had an altogether different experience and association with dance.  They have also visited a premiere salon and become familiar with it as well as our other partners.   So, we the producer create for the audience new ways to experience and engage with dance, opportunities for the audience to engage with the artists, challenges for the artists to re-negotiate ways in which the artists’ work is experienced and presented and build visibility to all of our multiple community partnerships.

In addition to the monthly events “4 x 4 x Floor”, “The Movement” and our new festival “San Diego Dances” we have been commissioned by The San Diego Asian Film Foundation to create a work to accompany a film they are premiering during the San Diego Asian Film Festival happening October 19th -29th.  The film “Concrete Jungle” is looking at urban energy and qualities found in the city and I am making a work that is working to do the same to music by Hypnotic Brass Ensemble.

To read Part I of this interview please click here.

If you would like to be featured in an interview by Reading the Dance, please send us an email at


1 Response to “Talk Back with Peter Kalivas and The PGK Project Part II”

  1. 1 Talk Back with Peter Kalivas and The PGK Project Part I « Reading the Dance Trackback on September 24, 2009 at 4:04 am

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