Melissa Riker '96 describes her experience organizing and choreographing various dances, including several pieces for Adelphi's Ephemeral exhibit.
Crowdfunding dance performances in public parks? Flash mobs as a key part of a business plan? It’s all in a day’s work for Melissa Riker ’96, artistic director and choreographer of Kinesis Project dance theater and a self-described “businessperson-slash-artist.”
The mission of Kinesis Project, Riker explained, “is to place dance in surprising spaces, and to change spaces with dance.” Working largely outdoors, often in public places, Kinesis Project democratizes dance, said Riker, taking it “out of the elite” and into everyday life. In October, the company premiered Secrets and Seawalls, a work inspired in part by Hurricane Sandy, performed at Fort Tilden in the Rockaways. And this fall at Adelphi, Riker choreographed Ghost Stories, a campuswide, site-specific performance collaboration that was a centerpiece of the Fall 2015 Ephemeral exhibition.
Since starting Kinesis Project, Riker has had to be as inventive about funding as she is about her choreography. The company began taking shape around the time of 9/11, when support for the arts dropped dramatically. “We just started scrappy and had to keep going in that way,” she said, and that can-do attitude is reflected in the company’s multiple business strategies. Performances in public places may mean that ticket sales aren’t an option, but crowdfunding allows appreciative audiences to support the work—and they do. In 2015, a campaign to fund the intensive rehearsals needed to complete Secrets and Seawalls surpassed its goal, raising a full one-third more than the target figure. Commissions and partnerships with other organizations are also part of the business plan. Unlikely as it may seem, so are flash mobs. In 2014, Riker and Kinesis Project worked with Pepsi and Flavorpill to create flash mobs in three cities for a Pepsi Super Bowl campaign. To date, Riker and Kinesis Project have created flash mobs for 30 events in the New York area, including marriage proposals and birthday celebrations in Central Park, Times Square and Battery Park. Flash mobs are so integral to its work that Kinesis Project maintains a 600-plus-member Meetup group, Dancing Flashmobs NYC, for volunteers looking to participate.
Riker credits her Adelphi education with readying her for the challenges of being a dancer, choreographer and entrepreneur. As an undergraduate, she studied with dance legends Norman Walker, Carmen de Lavallade and Gelsey Kirkland, among others. The strength of her training, she said, “prepared my instrument, my body, in an extreme way—a wonderful way.” At the same time, she was a student in the Honors College, which honed her capacity for “questioning things,” and for the independent thinking that she finds so valuable in running Kinesis Project.
Riker’s involvement with dance at Adelphi has continued. In addition to Ghost Stories, she choreographed projects for the two previous Ephemeral exhibitions, and looks forward to more collaborations with Adelphi dancers. “They’re so trained, and so beautiful as technicians,” she said of the students. “The level of power they’re able to exude as performers is really satisfying.” The Adelphi University Performing Arts Center (AUPAC) hosted Kinesis Project as a resident company in Summer 2014, culminating in a production development performance of Secrets and Seawalls that was crucial to the work’s creative evolution.
As a student in the dance department, Molly Rappold ’14 was a performer in DISTRACTION, Riker’s work for the first Ephemeral exhibition, and again when the piece was presented this summer at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. “Working with Melissa is really fun,” Rappold said, adding that “her material makes sense on my body. It feels good to do her movement.” Riker’s work is also inspiring on another level. Being a dancer is a difficult lifestyle, said Rappold, and “to see someone who started at the same place I started—to see what she’s created for herself and for the dance community—gives me a lot of hope. It makes me think that I’m in the right place and I’m doing the right thing.”
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