SHAPESHIFT has been part of the Twin Cities arts scene since 2013, when a group of friends started craving a dance collective that reflected the diversity of their own lives. SHAPESHIFT Creative Director Ashley Selmer explains: âI was teaching in different studios around the Twin Cities and I met a lot of talented performers and dancers from different backgrounds, but I really didn’t have the felt like there was a collection of talent from different races and backgrounds performing together. . We thought it would be cool to put on a show with some really talented people from different walks of life. ”
In the fall of that year, SHAPESHIFT presented their eponymous debut show. The theaters were packed and the dance collective took advantage of standing ovations. Not a dry eye in the house. âWe carried that feeling and that fusion of our diverse collective into each of our performances,â says Selmer. “It shapes the art we create both intentionally and unintentionally.”
SHAPESHIFT has enjoyed professional success over the years, performing at huge events like the 2018 Super Bowl and the 2016 Prince Tribute Concert, but Selmer makes it clear that SHAPESHIFT’s measure of success is about people and history. . âWe use our storytelling to share complex themes from our lived experiences,â says Selmer. This central principle of personal storytelling was initiated by Selmer almost by accident. After experiencing what she describes as “a pretty horrific personal betrayal” she realized she could turn her story into “a BeyoncÃ© comeback moment. [and] decided to tell it on stage.
The personal stories that SHAPESHIFT brings to the scene vary widely; dealing with issues such as sexuality, police brutality and religion; but are united by their intimacy: each subject is deeply personal for at least one of the dancers. âIt’s not always easy,â says Selmer. âWe cried in space, we laughed in space â all things. But it is a form of therapy.
Doing such personal art together created an intense chemistry between the members of the collective, which is regularly investigated during post-performance talkbacks. “[Our chemistry comes from] mutual respect and the exchange of ideas and a genuine appreciation for each other’s talent and lived experiences, âexplains Selmer.
Selmer’s pride and love for the people who make up SHAPESHIFT shines through in everything she says. Every creative who puts their heart, mind, life, body, creativity and skills into SHAPESHIFT is directly responsible for the collective’s success. She lists everyone involved, from the all-female production staff to their videographer, actor trainer and every dancer: Gabriel Blackburn, James Gavins, Hannah Herrig, Sophia Meza, Rachel Miller, Nate Maliscke, Alan Mure and Nate Kay.
âWe use this art, dance and theater space as a cool, fresh way to bring people together,â Selmer said. âThe band does it and they’re from Minnesota. In the art world, the Midwest is considered that not sexy city, but it’s the new cool.
SHAPESHIFT is a new kind of cool, a cool one who cares about what’s going on in the world and prioritizes inclusion and transparency without compromising on fun. âIt’s colorful, vibrant and alive. You get a bit of all the flavors, in people and personalities and in music.
Gen Z understands: ready to embrace the energy and excitement while delving into the topic at the heart of any SHAPESHIFT performance. âAt the Kennedy Center, we were fortunate enough to meet a bunch of the BIPOC community of schools in town who came by bus to see the show,â said Selmer. âOne of the biggest takeaways was their eagerness to discuss their love, interest and curiosity about the characters in our productions. It was the day I knew our storytelling was making an impact.
The last two years have required some recalibration. âWe wrapped up our performance of ‘Gray Skies Blue’ at O’Shaughnessy Hall at the end of February 2020, just before it all closed,â said Selmer. âWe had planned a visit to eight cities [and] were at the start of discussions about an Off-Broadway race. “
Selmer continues, âOnce Covid hit, we had to pivot, look within ourselves and decide how we were going to survive the financial and emotional effects. True to form, we’ve changed shape and evolved ever since. Over the past year and a half, SHAPESHIFT has become acclimatized to virtual spaces, initially hosting rehearsals through Zoom and later teaching a 10-week virtual residency with kids at Greenwich House Music School in New York City.
As a Minnesota dance collective, SHAPESHIFT also had to overcome the murder of George Floyd. âWe cried and protested peacefully along[side] our Twin Cities community; reflected silently at George’s memorial site, walked through grief in our living rooms, hosted a race conference with a local theater, and collected essentials for our neighbors, âsays Selmer. When the YWCA asked SHAPESHIFT to participate in their virtual memorial in honor of Floyd, the collective was âon board right awayâ.
SHAPESHIFT created a piece that played part of Martin Luther King Jr.’s speech to moving and intense rhythms. âThis particular performance was much more personal and tender,â says Selmer. âThat’s what we love to do: heal through movement and hopefully help others do the sameâ¦ to create a space where people can grieve.
There are many ways to fill your life with SHAPESHIFT, from performances (watch them October 1 at the Paramount Center for the Arts in St. Cloud, or October 3 at the Como Park Pavilion), following them on social media, and check their courses. Their six-month course series is free to the community and designed for all ages and skill levels. Of course, donations to the collective also go a long way. SHAPESHIFT has also started collaborating with brands she believes in and is excited to use their art on behalf of organizations that align with the SHAPESHIFT values ââof fairness, inclusion and openness.
SHAPESHIFT is special, a talented collective that tackles great topics without losing sight of the joy and passion that got them to dance in the first place. âI hope we are the company that not only makes people feel something and stamp their feet and the vibe, but also subconsciously our viewers all generations aware that this is what the world is up to. should look like. “
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