We are excited to start this month with an interview of EMD-newcomer, Malik Kitchen. Here he discusses his love of the arts, the challenge of working in the dance world, and his intense morning routine...
MA: What was your first experience with dance?
MK: My first experience with dance was sometime in middle school. My school would put on productions and talent shows. I started with hip hop and eventually evolved into street jazz and jumped all the way to ballet a few years later in high school. I used to always find a way to be a leader in the group in every situation whether it was brain storming ideas, creating movement, deciding on costumes, or simply remembering all the steps and counts. I just loved being creative in my younger years. Luckily that same child-like imagination has carried into my adulthood. A more mature version at least.
MA: Describe the first moment you realized you wanted to pursue dance as a career.
MK: I knew from a young age that I wanted a career in the arts. In addition to dance, I also studied creative writing, visual art, and music, among other things. My mind and body had such an effortless connection with music and movement. It felt so natural. The relationship the two disciplines have with one another was intriguing to me as a child. There was something that kept me wanting more and wanting to learn and soak up all the information I could. I think it's safe to say I was a child meant to be an artist. I think from the first time I stepped on a stage and danced, I knew I wanted to do it everyday for the rest of my life.
MA: If you could write a letter to your teenage self, what would you say?
MK: If I could write a letter to my teenage self, it would be to take advantage of any and every opportunity that presented itself to me. I would be confident in myself and in my talent, and never let fear keep me from pursuing anything I put my mind to. I'm a firm believer that everything happens as it's supposed to, so I wouldn't change my past. I think I would just like to mentally give myself the tools to create a strong, stable foundation for the future. I'd also tell myself to network more.
MA: What would you say has been the biggest obstacle pursuing a dance career and how do you cope/overcome it?
MK: I think the hardest challenge for me in pursuing a thriving career in dance has been, and continues to be, the self-motivation and encouragement that is necessary to be a successful dancer. Training, in any field, is a very individual practice. You have to get up, try and fail, make mistakes, and do all of the work on your own. People will tell you you're not good enough, people will give you both negative and constructive criticism. It is up to the individual to take these moments in stride and not let someone's opinion of you affect your opinion of yourself. I have learned this the hard way over the years, especially my more intensive years training at The Ailey School. It is very easy to let others’ extraordinary talent get you down on your own. I didn't feel I had a body necessarily built for dance, but I had a mind that was made for it. In the past, I did so much to please other people in the studio. Today, I dance for myself - because it brings me joy. It's about sharing my self and my experience with my audience in that moment.
MA: Talk to me about a day in the life of Malik Kitchen.
MK: I start my day with a timeline check on Facebook and Instagram. After that, I have breakfast - usually cereal or oatmeal, unless I'm in a cooking mood. After that, I have an intense regiment in the bathroom that I will spare you of, but I will say I spend a lot of time putting myself together. After the bathroom, I pick out an outfit. This usually involves me dressing and undressing at least twice. Once I leave the apartment, I'll go to take a class to warm up for rehearsal, or I'll go to another rehearsal to warm up for rehearsal. Depends on the day. After rehearsal, I either go to teach my students or I head home for dinner and Netflix with tea or a nice glass of wine.
MA: Are there any routines you find vital to your schedule? For example, a class you love to take, a snack or meal, and/or an exercise you find really beneficial for a tough rehearsal day?
MK: I love taking ballet class. Even though here at EMD we do primarily modern/contemporary styles, I still feel it to be very important to maintain and build classical technique. It is also a good discipline to practice. To get through a long rehearsal day, I like to have a trail mix with lots of dried fruit and mixed nuts, with a little chocolate for an extra flare. I also have been really obsessed with Greek yogurt and hummus lately. You also can't go wrong with fresh fruit. I don't go anywhere without my muscle massage stick and I'm in love with my foam roller.
MA: What makes you laugh the hardest?
MK: My favorite movie, Bridesmaids. Kristen Wig is hilarious. It never gets old.
MA: Imagine you have the permission and ability to invite 3 people, dead or alive, to a dinner party you're hosting. Who would you invite?
MK: I would invite Alonzo King, Misty Copeland, and Riccardo Tisci.
MA: Along with being a beautiful dancer you are also a talented choreographer. When were you first drawn to choreographing? Can you describe movement you're most drawn to creating?
MK: I've been choreographing and putting ideas together since I started dancing. There's this need to create inside me that I've just always had. I have a connection with art that makes me want to explore and discover new, creative ideas. I'm always looking for something fresh and unique to say. I'm inspired by dancers and their bodies and the amazing things we can do - things we shouldn't be able to do. I love pushing boundaries and creating extreme shapes and pathways. Most of the movement I create is very circular; probably because I love continuous, effortless, gooey movement. And circles never end.
MA: What is your dream tour?
MK: I would love to go back to Venice. It's beautiful there. I'd also love to experience Australia.
MA: What is one piece of advice you would pass along to someone who would like to pursue a professional career in dance?
MK: Never give up or become discouraged. Dance is a career for the strong willed, minded, and bodied. Work hard and try your best not to compare yourself to your peers. It's okay to have a dancer you look up to, but do not lose sight of what makes you unique and special. You have a lot to offer just by being yourself.
MA: Describe your ideal day off.
MK: Brunch in the meat packing district (I love Dos Caminos), TV or movies at home, and plenty of stretching and rolling out.
MA: What is one of the most cherished memories you have from your childhood?
MK: Well I wasn't necessarily a child. I was a teenager. But my favorite memory is when I told my mom I had been selected to be a cast member of a popular show I did back in 2009. She was so proud. She cried of course. I think it was the first time we both realized that my dream would maybe actually come to fruition.
MA: What's one either mental or physical trick you use to get through a particularly challenging work or show?
MK: Breathing is a MAJOR help when dealing with especially cardiovascular works. I also talk to myself. I say things like "easy", "stay calm" and "it's not hard". If you watch my mouth closely on stage, you can see it.
MA: What are your hopes and dreams for your future?
MK: I hope to set work on companies all over the world, to eventually have my own company, to own real estate, to perform on all of the most beautiful stages in the world, and to pass on the information I'll collect throughout my career on to the next generation.
MA: What is your favorite part of dancing with Elisa Monte Dance?
MK: I love everyone in the company. It's so much like a family and I look forward to seeing everyone each day. With such a talented group, it's very easy to be inspired by something new everyday.
MA: What is the greatest piece of advice you've ever received? It doesn't have to be dance related.
MK: To treat everyday like my last and to never let myself stay in any situation where I am not being treated fairly or getting treated the way I deserve. Ultimately to always respect myself.
MA: What choreographer or movement (BESIDES Elisa Monte) do you feel has made an impact on your career?
MK: Alvin Ailey has definitely influenced the way that I approach movement and the way I tell a story through movement. I am very thankful for the legacy he left and the privilege to have studied at the school. Choreographically, I absolutely LOVE Jiri Kylian's work. My favorite ballet of all time is his timeless, Bella Figura. It is the most beautiful piece I think I've ever seen. At least thus far. I'm also very much inspired by Alonzo King, William Forsythe, and Crystal Pite.