We are thrilled to have Kemba Shannon as our choreographer for James and the Giant Peach! With all of the incredible talent and experience Kemba brings to the stage, we just know you'll be dancing in your seats as you watch the show! We asked Kemba to tell us about how she first got involved in dance, her travels around the world with pop icons, and finally teaching dance to children here in the Pacific Northwest.
OCT: When did you first begin training in dance and how did you get to where you are now?
KS: I first started dancing at the age of 5. My mom put me in dance because I had too much energy. My interest in dance really grew in middle school and that is when I knew that I wanted to become a dancer. I went to college and received a BFA in dance and then started auditioning for various shows, dance companies, and musicals. My career really started to take off when I was signed by Bloc, which was my agency at the time in Los Angeles. My career took off in Los Angeles because there were so many auditions in a day, which lead to me getting a lot of jobs as a dancer.
OCT: You've danced with some of the biggest names in pop music! What was that like? Did you have a favorite performer to work with?
KS: I think that I've been blessed with my career. I say this because I was always surrounded by a lot of talented artists. I really enjoyed working with so many choreographers with various styles and techniques, meeting and becoming friends and family with the dancers, and traveling to other countries really helped to expand my knowledge as a performer. I loved all of my shows and artists the same, but overall I really enjoyed Madonna because she would push you past your limits...
OCT: What made you decide to move to Portland and teach dance?
KS: I always loved coming to Portland to perform when our shows would come through. I always felt like Portland could become my second home to Baltimore. Well, my wish came true when my daughter's father's family asked us to move to Portland. I've been here for 5 years now. I have always loved teaching children and adults, so I just went from school to school teaching workshops until I received a teacher position at ACMA Performing Arts School in Beaverton. This was a perfect fit for me because I get to choreograph and teach talented children from 6-12 grade.
OCT: How is choreographing for concerts different from choreographing for theater?
KS: When I choreograph for concerts there's always a story or concept behind it. Most concert dancers have technique which allows me to dig deeply into movement-meets-story, but in theater you have to tell the story through the body language. I can't just come up with movements that don't match the story. I've learned when I choreograph for theater I have to have movements that the audience can understand and it has to match the music, costumes, lighting, and story line.
OCT: What can we expect to see with the choreography from James and the Giant Peach?
KS: The choreography for James and The Giant Peach was created from the characters song and personality. I wanted to make the movement fun but not too distracting from the story. Sometimes I wanted the actors to do some crazy phrase, but I had to let it go because it just didn't match the theme of the song.
OCT: How have your previous experiences inspired you when choreographing James?
KS: I have been around a lot of talented directors and choreographers which I have studied from in order to find my choreographic voice. I was very excited to choreograph James and The Giant Peach because it took me back to the basic, simple style of moving, which I feel a lot of choreographers have gotten away from because dance has evolved into this competitive sport, instead of the dance phrases going with the theme. I loved working with [Director] Stan [Foote] because he made me think more about the story line, which helped me think, 'What is this character portraying and how can I match my movement to tell the story without distractions?'
OCT: Is there anything else you would like to add?
KS: I think that Stan and I will tell a lot of stories in the future. I just felt at home and safe to express myself under his direction.
We certainly hope to work with you again in the future, Kemba! Only two more weekends to check out Kemba's work in James and the Giant Peach! Get tickets here.
Kemba received her BFA from Towson State University and trained at the Alvin Ailey American Theater, Martha Graham School, The Edge, Lula Washington, Peridance, and Morgan State University. She has taught dance classes at UCLA, Loyola Marymount, El Camino College, Portland State University, and others. Kemba's stage credits include: The Lion King (LA cast), The Color Purple (Broadway cast), Cirque du Soleil (Zumanity), Aida, and FAME. Kemba's ambition and drive have won her world recognition with icons Madonna ("Drowned World Tour"), Pink ("Try This World Tour"), Celine Dion ("Taking Chances World Tour"), Rihanna (Nike "RockStar World Tour”), Kanye West, R. Kelly, and Fantasia, just to name a few. Her television credits include: American Dreams (NBC), The Oscars (Chicago Performance), MTV Music Awards (Pink performance), the Emmy’s (Kristin Bell performance), World Music Awards (Kanye West, R. Kelly) NAACP Awards, and the Grammy’s. Kemba currently teaches dance to over 200 kids every day at Arts Communication Magnet Academy in Beaverton.
Prepare to be amazed: watch the video to see Kemba dance with Madonna, Pink, Rihanna, Celine Dion, and more!