Rex Kennedy came to VCU as an experienced dancer, having gone to Denver School of the Arts in high school and spending the past two summers at American Dance Festival at Duke University.
Since arriving at VCU, Kennedy has already made an impact on his professors through his classes and work with VCU Dance Now.
VCU Dance Now is an annual production held by the dance department. The dance pieces are choreographed by faculty and visiting guest artists and danced by students. In August, dance students must participate in the three-hour audition process. Kennedy was cast as an understudy for the piece his current ballet and dance history teacher, Courtney Harris, choreographed.
“I was very excited when I (first) saw Rex,” Harris said. “I just thought, ‘This kid is really gifted. He’s talented. He’s really interesting to watch.’ I like his innate way of moving. … He’s very thoughtful in his approach to dance … he thinks before he moves.”
Kennedy said he thinks a lot of his success comes from him continuing to be himself as a dancer.
“I’ve been trying to stay really true to myself,” Kennedy said. “There’s a big push in the department to be technical dancers but I’ve been really strong in what I want to do and what I want to be doing in class and where I want to see myself go.”
Harris cast Kennedy into an understudy role for her piece titled “Tracking” in VCU Dance Now, knowing that very few freshmen are normally selected for VCU Dance Now. Since Kennedy is one of only five freshmen this year, Harris saw this as an opportunity for Kennedy to learn more about the process of partnering in dance and the rehearsal process.
“(Since) he’s a freshman, this will be a great opportunity for him to work on a duet,” Harris said. “He’s not going to be understudying a piece with 12 or 15 people in the dance. He’s understudying a duet which has a different responsibility. I knew that there would be a lot of partnering in the dance, and I thought that this would be good for him.”
Harris’s work for VCU Dance Now is a duet, but after two understudy partners for Kennedy dropped out from VCU Dance Now for different reasons, Kennedy has taken on a very different role in the dance studio.
Kennedy has become a rehearsal assistant to Harris, offering his thoughts and suggestions to the dancers and occasionally playing his iPod to keep the energy lifted while Harris worked directly with the dancers.
“He … has been helpful in giving notes to the cast, helping with the quality of the movement, the timing of the movement. The intention and artistic choices made,” Harris said. “He was very helpful in giving me a second pair of eyes.”
Harris had considered letting Kennedy and his understudy partner perform a few shows out of the four days of shows for VCU Dance Now. Both said they were disappointed when they realized this wouldn’t happen.
“It would be really nice to perform it and it’s crushing me a little that I didn’t get to, but I’ve gotten really good relationships with Courtney and (the dancers),” Kennedy said. “It’s been good to be more a part of a process as a rehearsal assistant because I’ve never been in that part before.”
In addition to the faculty choreographers, VCU Dance Now invited two guest artists to choreographer and work with the students for two weeks last semester. This year, those artists are Stephanie Martinez and Kate Weare, but the auditions for their pieces were opened only to juniors and seniors, leaving Kennedy out of the process.
“I wasn’t happy with it because I was looking forward for her to come and being able to work with guest artists and auditioning for them and making connections right off the bat,” Kennedy said.
Despite his disappointment and frustration about not being able to audition for higher level pieces in the department, Harris said she believes that Kennedy still has a long future ahead of him in the dance department at VCU and after his time at VCU.
“His body is very capable, but he’s also a very beautiful and artistic mover. He is where I would expect a freshman to be,” Harris said. “He’s a little green right now, but by the end of his four years here, he’ll be quite astounding and there will be dance companies that want to snatch him up.”