Kalivas discussed his new work, his career up until now, and how and why the PGK Project came about.

BWW Interview:  Peter G. Kalivas, Artistic Director of PGK Project's World Premiere of INSIDE/OUT Virtual Dance Event

The PGK Dance Project (Peter G. Kalivas, Founding Artistic Director) has announced that the Company’s fall 2020 season will begin with INSIDE/OUT, an immersive virtual dance performance event, on Saturday, October 17, 2020 at 7:30 p.m PST.

Having the opportunity to discuss his upcoming new work, the World Premiere of “Inside/Out” with him, I also wanted to learn more about Peter G. Kalivas, his career up until now, and how and why the PGK Project came about.

Peter: I realize, to many people, that the world seems inside out at the moment, but that is what my company has been determined to do ever since our inception: take dance from ‘inside out’ to the people where it belongs, in ways that make it more affordable and easier to access. This immersive virtual experience will take place in familiar spaces and places, and will include moments where we can dance together.”

With INSIDE/OUT, The PGK Dance Project welcomes audiences to join from the comfort and safety of home. Together, audiences (along with Peter and PGK Company members) will begin the evening with a fun, interactive “ice breaker” via Zoom. Next, audiences will enjoy a performance of OLLIN (choreographed by Kymberly Kellems Fulton) and PERSPECTIVES, a new work by PGK Artistic Director Peter G. Kalivas. Both dance performances will be pre-produced as immersive dances for film.

The PGK Project was established in 1994. Their mission is about presenting all types of bodies and stories and working to ensure diverse professional quality dance that is easily available to everyone.

BWW Interview:  Peter G. Kalivas, Artistic Director of PGK Project's World Premiere of INSIDE/OUT Virtual Dance Event

Valerie-Jean: Peter, I would love to hear about the journey that took place, beginning with your extensive dance career in NY and around the world that ended up with you creating and forming this unique dance company in San Diego, with a mission to broaden exposure to the arts for the general public. How did this evolve?

Peter: Wow, Valerie, I will try to do the “abridged” version of all that.

I am a child of the 80’s, I am Greek-American, and was forbidden from doing anything but Greek folk dancing and playing the piano but the expectation was for me to be the first kid in our family to go to college to become an Architect which I showed an aptitude for.

Here is the short version: Despite getting a full scholarship to go to an ivy league school for Architecture after seeing the movie FAME I was more determined than ever to become a dancer.

I gave up my full ride to a fancy college, got odd jobs and paid my way through a college in Philadelphia to Major in Dance and Minor in music (Voice), which I did as well, also on my own, “behind my parents’ back”.

My senior year in college at The University of the Arts in Philadelphia I got a job as a lead dancer/understudied singer in a show in Atlantic City which I did on the weekends and also in a project with Judith Jamison, former soloist with The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater.

*There is more to both of these stories about how I “really” got these two jobs. I am a very resourceful, old-school “hustler” type and always will be.

One thing leads to another and another. I did an open-call audition for CATS On Broadway and after weeks of callbacks got Mr. Mistoffelees. Considering I am shorter, athletic, well-trained and can also sing, which the other guys on the chorus line also were, but again, using my scrappy “hustler” skills helped me with that one. I learned early on to “put myself” in front of opportunities vs. wait for them or even go to auditions unless I really had to. Instead, I took classes with working folks and I was confident with the skills I had learned from great teachers. I always wore a bright colored leotard on top, dark-colored tights on the bottom and stood in front, using my “shortness” as my excuse. Eventually I got noticed and invited into projects.

That got me around New York and eventually Europe – “keep showing up and showing out.” Vocally too, I knew I could sing well so it was all about the right song to show that off as well.

Also, I wasn’t afraid to be different – I was always a big, bold dancer and the same with my voice. Some directors loved me and others thought I was too much, and that’s the risk I had to take. Because I had to decide who and what I was going to be instead of always trying to be what I thought I was supposed to be at each audition or opportunity, which we all know is pretty much impossible.

What this did was put in the right projects for myself: where I was appreciated vs. where I was a token, or a freak, or whatever. Don’t get me wrong, that happened anyway from time to time. I was strong and flexible with excellent extensions so choreographers would exploit that. Over time, I wanted more control over how I was used, presented and that power really just comes with time. As I worked more, I felt less desperate and over time I had more leverage in rehearsal. Instead of choreographers saying “and then you do this, then this;” now it was “how about this?” “are you comfortable doing this?”

BWW Interview:  Peter G. Kalivas, Artistic Director of PGK Project's World Premiere of INSIDE/OUT Virtual Dance Event

I liked that; which informs the mission and culture of my company today. The Dance world is both an amazing and an awful place all at once. An amazing platform to share all your hard work. Dancers often don’t feel visible or that they are anything at all really unless they are moving and even better – WORKING! However, dance is an extremely manipulative field. There is so much competition and power play between those who feel they are at the top of the field (whatever that is and means) and those just trying to fit in some way, some how. Additionally, the irrational ideologies of beauty and body are ridiculous and not in any way correct. Well before now, we were having those conversations when I was training in the 80’s and dancing throughout the 90’s up through mid-2000’s before I stopped dancing.

Seriously, although I was always 5’5″ on my resume I was never more than 5′ 4″ which already typed me out of most everything. Then on top of that I am naturally muscular (thick) where, although my torso can certainly get small (no carbs), my butt is totally forever in your face. (feel free to coin that phrase!).

If folks have a problem with me and my big butt well, then I got a problem with them and their ignorance cause last time I checked I was a fierce, awesomely trained dancer – who will rock your show – The End.

Hence, my Company features dancers of all shapes, sizes, colors, performing work by equally diverse choreographers of varied styles and points of view. My inspiration, for sure, comes from my idol: Mr. Alvin Ailey, who for me was one of the first ever social justice choreographers and so I too was going to create a company – “in protest” of all the nonsense.

Finally, if the public can’t afford and access your work, then what is the point? Go write yourself a grant, have a fundraiser, do a car wash and subsidize your own show so your ticket prices can be low enough that folks besides your friends and family can go.

I do the majority of my shows not in Theaters but instead, alternative spaces (parking lots, a hair salon, a rooftop). This is not: “site-specific” but instead creative placemaking which is a strategy where the traditional use of a space is temporarily interrupted for another important purpose. I’ve been taking this approach from my company’s beginning in 1994, again, in protest of the mistakes I think others have done putting their shows up in theaters.

I get it: Artists think theaters are ultimate spaces – where only the best of the best aspire, and having your name put on something means something. Been there done that.

But, if your theater is almost empty; now what?

I have spent years pondering why folks don’t go to theaters just as much as why I want them to experience my work. I’ve learned the problems around the theater space for the audiences I want to serve the most, and as a result my shows are on average consistently sold out, our fan base is diverse, engaged and participate in our surveys consistently telling us what they liked, didn’t like and telling us what they want.

It’s a dialogue where they help me serve them and myself at the same time. That is also why we are called: The PGK DANCE Project vs. Company. A project is something you constantly work at and strive towards; things society wants and needs. A company is often something very different – despite and in spite of what it often promises.

Almost forgot to answer, I wound up in San Diego after retiring from my work in New York City and Europe because I was a guest artist here a few times and it seemed like a wonderful place to live next.

Valerie-Jean: Due to our lifestyle changes during this horrid pandemic that seems never-ending, most Dance companies have no theatres to perform live in, now. How has your vision for the PGK Project already coincided with what is now our new reality, and going forward, how will you adapt and elaborate on your initial purpose?

Peter: I pride myself the “pivot” man, too. If part of the vision of my company was already not to produce our work or present our work in theaters but instead in ways that were trying to make who we are and what we do more easily affordable and accessible, then shifting to online formats, outdoor formats, etc. was already something we were doing.

Outdoor socially-distant events with masks worn by the audience – we are doing that on Oct 24th in the parking lot of our studio.

To be clear however, our dancers are never masked when they are dancing and instead we’ve been maintaining levels of distance and avoiding contact instead. We made this choice so that our work was not tied to this moment in time like so many others might be doing. We are intentionally not also making “covid dances” either, etc. because we want the arts, our art, to be “safe” and free from that, and remain a place of entertainment and departure vs. a reflective reminder.

BWW Interview:  Peter G. Kalivas, Artistic Director of PGK Project's World Premiere of INSIDE/OUT Virtual Dance Event

If anything, this time period has made me more creative because I have thrived on obstacles. Tell me “no” and trust me I will do it anyway – even just to prove you wrong (sorry, just true).

Build a wall in front of me and I jump over it – simple as that. If you thought I was too short, too loud, to bold – I dance past you towards someone without issues.

So, again and to summarize what we are doing now: hosting in-person classes but at the minimum percentages allowed – no more than ten people in our very large studio, distanced, no masks; temp checks, etc.

Same for rehearsals with added ventilation and other precautions required. Monthly testing for all – Free from the county.

Our shows currently are 90% hosted online yet still interactive. In June we did our first online show via Zoom so we could in “real time” say “hey” to the audience like we always did and also in real time get the audience to stand up and do a fun dance with us as an ice breaker. Then we switched to screen share to pre-recorded content then flipped back to “real time” to do a Q & A with the audience of 100+ who attended; over 7 states and 3 countries!

BWW Interview:  Peter G. Kalivas, Artistic Director of PGK Project's World Premiere of INSIDE/OUT Virtual Dance Event

We sold distinct access for $5 which felt in line with our mission and also the fact that we were not all together doing a 1.5 hr event but instead a 30-minute zoom event. We invited folks to have a drink with us too, via zoom. At various times we prompted the audience to turn their video on so we could see they were dancing with us and then for the Q & A, including unmuting. This way we could still interact like we normally would at our shows.

I do a fair amount of banter back and forth (I am a New Yorker, after all).

That was really fun, but also stressful. Getting people in, having people help monitor, making sure audiences were muted, videos off at the right time so everyone was having the same easy experience. This is a whole new kind of stage management. This season we are doing all pre-recorded contact using distinct password access via Vimeo. $5 a ticket.

We are replicating all the interactive parts: As in my welcome speech walking around the studio with a cameraman following me as I speak and move around; same when I introduce the dancers from different spaces and places around our building. I am doing this so it is not visually static – same background, them just listening to me talk, but just enough other things happening that it is also interesting and I get to accomplish many things at once.

This includes me saying something about the show, telling the audience how to expand their screen to full view, to feel free to write comments in the comment box below your screen and we will be writing you back. We are on Vimeo because it is a film/video specific viewing platform which Zoom is not. Therefore, there is less quality reduction for what we made.

In our pre-recorded version we still say “Okay, now we invite you to get up off your couch and do this fun dance with us as an ice breaker before we start the show!” We simulate the time it generally takes for folks to get ready and I joke around that I can see them “come on Martha, you too!” Our dancers teach them a super simple dance exercise we do together with music and again we simulate the normal time, the normal things we would say and do as if they were in the room with us, including my stupid jokes.

We have always done this bit where the audience does something with us, for two reasons: One, I want them to be reminded about how great it is to also move, and two, people today like to be part of the action!

When that is done I intro the first dance, which flows easily because now there is no clunky “Okay, hold on while I share my screen; oh, and please Debi, we still need you to mute yourself and turn off your video so we don’t see you watching the film and eating chips the whole time, next to our dance.”

When the first piece ends, the film transitions back to me and my dancers and we get the audience up one final time for an even more fun, super simple “shake it off” dance and then I intro the second final dance.

I always do a “thank you” and remind the audience to comment away in the comment box and we will respond. (Vs. direct address you could do on zoom) Our comments back-archive and stay as long as the video remains accessible – like on Youtube when you go to a video and you can read all the archived comments and add your own.

Now, one very important point I have to make is this: The way we present our dances now are dramatically different online. This, perhaps, is the thing that has changed the most. The money I would normally spend renting spaces, equipment, etc. I am now investing in cinematographers and camera crews. I work with them to capture my choreography at interesting locations and in interest ways including: of the work, from inside the work, from around and throughout the work.

Nobody, well at least me, I don’t want to watch a dance from the view of an empty theater recorded flat from the house and be charged $10 – $20 to watch something that feels like an archive vs. a performance. That is not sustainable, because people will do that, maybe once.

There still has to be something artistic going on and I don’t think just the work recorded on a stage will be enough. I know some people are doing that, but then, for me, again, it’s about being different and standing out.

The level of competition around how people choose to spend their time and money in the arts and entertainment hasn’t changed so I have to think about how I will maintain and continue to develop and grow my audience.

PGK DANCE! (The PGK Dance Project) is in residence at La Vie Dance & Culture on the border of Linda Vista and Point Loma where the company’s classes and rehearsals are open to the public to engage discourse and appreciation for the training and creative process.

Valerie-Jean: Thank You, Peter, for your unique take on dance in the future, and I wish you much success!

Check out the Fall Season of “INSIDE/OUT” August 10th – Nov. 8th – outdoor and virtual shows and classes on their website.

“Inside/Out” WORLD PREMIERE: October 17th @ 7:30pm (PST) Online

All tickets: $5

Following the purchase, the Zoom viewing link will be sent via email.

Photos Courtesy of Sue Brenner, Elwood Nickerson and Dena Bloom Meeder. Video production by MEDIA ARTS San Diego. Cinematographers are Maximos Koukos and Ryan Kuratomi. Sound by Peter G. Kalivas.

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Valerie-Jean Miller