Portrait Stills: Julian De Leon, Risa Steinberg. Photo: Kia S. Smith by Michelle Reid

Introducing The Portrait Project

As a longtime choreographer, I’ve spent years in dialogue with contemporary dancers while creating stage and film work. When I say dialogue it can be misleading because so much of our artistic exchange doesn’t involve speaking.

Instead we dialogue with movement (dancers dancing) and the perception of movement (me watching, directing) and yes, that last part does (but not always!) involve language.

Words are not necessarily a dancer’s primary tool of communication; dancers articulate inner worlds with their bodies. And while movement is fundamental to human existence, we rarely contemplate moving as its own form of intelligence.

We idolize our athletes for dazzling feats of prowess; we recognize the depth of intellect and interpretive agency in our great actors and musicians. Dancers combine both of these worlds - athleticism and artistry - yet are often not seen for their unique brilliance.

Portrait Project Still, Julian De Leon

As a culture, when we think of dancers at all we may picture ballet dancers, perhaps Broadway dancers. A strange cliche persists that the choreographer fills an empty vessel - a dancer - with meaning. I can tell you that’s an entirely wrong perception.

The Portrait Project focuses on contemporary dancers.

Contemporary dancers are brilliant thinkers; sensitive as antennae to the world of sensation, emotion, and fine technique required for their craft. Watching dancers think-out-loud-in-movement is a privilege I’ve enjoyed for years.

Now I hope to share that experience with you in The Portrait Project.

My film collaborator Jack Flame Sorokin and I look closely at dancers in dual modes; language and movement. Our first three portraits engage dancers at different stages of life and career, making them lively companion pieces.

Portrait Project Still, Risa Steinberg

Our pilot study for The Portrait Project catches New York-based Filipino-American dancer Julian De Leon at the moment of transition from being a working professional dancer to becoming something else; in Julian’s case, a barber.

In our second portrait, we look intimately at the renowned New York City dancer and master-teacher, Risa Steinberg, in her New York City apartment as she reflects on her prolific and ongoing lifetime in the dance world.

Our third film profiles South Side Chicago dancemaker, Kia S. Smith, during a liminal moment in which her career is taking off. We’re with Kia as she mounts her very first large-scale work, crossing a threshold into wider recognition.

You can watch the trailer for our pilot portrait, Julian below and the full film in The Screening Room, our new on demand viewing platform! We plan to release Risa in Winter 2023-24 and Kia some time in 2024.

Portrait Project Still, Kia S. Smith

Share your thoughts

We’d like this to be an exchange of ideas, rather than a one way message, so we genuinely encourage you to reach out with your thoughts, observations and questions. Kate will personally respond to as many messages as possible!

Email Kate email

Portrait Stills: Julian De Leon, Risa Steinberg. Photo: Kia S. Smith by Michelle Reid