Kesha McKey is in constant movement.
In between finishing the full-length work “Raw Fruit,” which just received a grant from the New England Dance Fund, and heading to California next week to perform in “Hair & Other Stories” with New York-based Urban Bush Women, she’s curated a program of new works to celebrate the fifth anniversary of her company, KM Dance Project. “Journeys: Celebrating Five Years” runs Friday through Sunday at the Contemporary Arts Center (CAC), where she is in the middle of her second Southern Crossings artist residency.
“KM Dance Project encourages members to set choreographic pieces, to be an artist, to have a voice,” McKey says before a rehearsal at the CAC. “We do a showcase (of current work) every other year.”
“Journeys” features five live dance pieces and one presented on film by choreographer Jeremy Guyton. McKey choreographed two of the works and company members Catherine Caldwell, Millenique Brown and Kristal Jones created the others.
McKey’s “In a Word or Two,” is an ensemble piece she has reworked for the company. Set to overlapping tracks of music and poetry by Gil Scott-Heron, it’s inspired by the national social and political climate of the past couple years.
“It’s surrounding this idea of the African American experience,” McKey says. “How it can feel suffocating — there’s a lot of resistance and anger that gets built up by institutionalized racism. There’s vulnerability and wanting, needing and desiring to be free of that. Through this energetic and spiritual encouragement lies this sensibility of standing inside your power and who you are – not necessarily being free of it but being able to manage and persevere and be resilient.”
The show is the first production of The Mighty Lincoln Company, formed by theater artists who live in Algiers Point.
Addressing social justice was a founding principle of KM Dance Project. McKey has worked with Urban Bush Women, Junebug Productions and Ashe Cultural Arts Center on dance productions and community engagement.
Most of the company’s pieces rely primarily on movement, minimalizing the use of props. McKey focuses on telling stories through choreography.
“When I create movement, you see the vocabulary from my training – from ballet or modern or jazz or whatever – but the movement is not rooted in that,” McKey says. “It’s rooted in the idea of ‘What is this feeling?’ ‘What is this emotion?’ ‘Is there tension?’ ‘What is this person feeling as they’re experiencing this moment?’ That is where the movement is being generated. It’s not spelled out; it doesn’t have to be literal for someone to feel what she’s going through.”
Director Diane Lala takes a traditional approach to the classic musical ‘42nd Street.’
For “Journeys,” she also has choreographed a piece that will be performed by dancers from NOCCA and local youth programs. It explores lineage and passing down traditions and values.
“It’s about all of these different layers and things we’ve been taught and taught to value,” McKey says. “They may not be as pertinent as when my great-grandmother was growing up.”
Caldwell moved to New York in January to take a job with Urban Bush Women. In “Journeys,” she’ll perform a solo piece “IONO,” which is based on studies that showed that subjects would stand at angles that matched their surroundings, even if the rooms were purposefully full of tilted objects. Caldwell was drawn to the social implications of it.
“I have a cousin with a disability,” Caldwell says. “She has a limp. She fakes it so she wouldn’t look like she limps. But she told me it hurt to do that.”
Caldwell also will return to perform in “Raw Fruit,” which she has helped choreograph. The piece also incorporates images by photographer Chandra McCormick and an original score by Ben Kahn. McKey expects to take “Raw Fruit” on tour, including to New York.