Meet the DX: Ben

Company member Ben Wegman grew up in Normal, Illinois and trained at the Joffrey Ballet and Point Park University. He joined the Dance Exchange in 2007 after spending a few years as an adjunct artist. You can see him dance in the premiere of Liz Lerman’s The Matter of Origins in September at the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center.

Talk a bit about your dance background.

I grew up as an incredibly active kid. When I wasn’t tearing through the neighborhood at full speed, I was playing soccer, taking tae kwon do, taking tap and gymnastics, performing in my church musicals, etc. Dance has always been a part of my life, but I really began to take it more seriously my last two years of high school. I began to approach ballet very seriously, and for a long time thought it would be the focus of my dance career. Thankfully some mishaps with the Joffrey Ballet led me to realize that my strengths were best focused elsewhere.

How did you come to Dance Exchange?

I met the Dance Exchange during my time as a student at the Conservatory of Performing Arts at Point Park University. Peter DiMuro, one of the former producing artistic directors of the company, made a new work with several students selected through an audition process. Working with Peter and the tools of the Dance Exchange I was exposed to methods of creation and choreography I had never even imagined. It was the first time that my voice and ideas were an integral part of creating something within a group. I had never worked so collaboratively or so intensely with a group of people in my life to make a work of art.

Do you have a favorite moment on tour or in rehearsal?

Being in Japan was a highlight of my time with the Dance Exchange. I was incredibly moved by the culture, tradition, work ethic and generosity of the people there. It was one of the only times in my life when I had to solely rely on my art and creative process to translate ideas; there was very little shared spoken language among myself and the participants. It was a struggle and also a joy to watch dance be both personal and universal simultaneously through creation of a new dance work with that community. It was also one of the first opportunities for me to flex my leadership muscles and I learned a great deal about myself and my capacity as an artist/teacher/facilitator. It is a time in my life that I hold very closely to my heart.

Do you have any pre-show rituals?

I wouldn’t say that I have a specific pre-show ritual, but I become a very specific person before shows. I used to go really crazy before shows – be very physical, warm up for hours, expend a lot of energy in the hopes of warming up my body and getting myself excited, but I’ve found that the older I get and the less physical work I do right before I perform, the better. I tend to be very quiet before I perform, very reflective. Pre-performance time is a time to center myself emotionally, physically, mentally. I find myself in deep self-dialogue before shows; you could almost say in a meditative state. It’s these moments when I have to push the rest of myself aside, and place my faith and trust in my physical being, in my training, in the knowledge that my structure holds, in all the work and study I’ve done over the years.

What is up next for you with Dance Exchange?

A lot. I just finished a residency in Lawrence, Kansas at the Lawrence Arts Center teaching modern technique and choreographic tools. The rest of the year will find me creating and teaching at our Summer Institute, preparing for the world premiere of Liz Lerman’s The Matter of Origins in September, touring throughout the fall, creating new works with students at Dickinson State University in Dickinson, North Dakota and students at University of Maryland and beginning to work with the Minnesota Chorale in Minneapolis to design a concert of dance, movement, and song with a mixed abilities cast.

What would you do if you weren’t dancing?

If I wasn’t dancing, I would probably be working/studying within the visual art world curating and presenting. I have a strong interest in how we foster new art as well as represent and make apparent what has come before. I’m interested in how art speaks across time, culture and language and how that dialogue changes as our society evolves.

What do you do when you’re not in rehearsals?

Well, I don’t think I’m ever not in rehearsal honestly. I think as long as I continue to dance, I’ll be in some form of rehearsal. My body and mind seem to be in a constant state of discovery and collaboration, be it in the studio or sitting at a coffee shop. Sometimes I feel like my entire world revolves around the discoveries of my physical structure; I just can’t shut it off.

But, when I’m not in the studio, I like to read. I’ve recently rediscovered bikram yoga and find immense strength in the practice of that. I tend to drink too much coffee and spend too much time on facebook as a hobby. I like to provide conversation and company while my friends cook, since I’m probably the worst cook ever but the perfect dinner guest. I enjoy foreign films and old movies. I am fed and nurtured by the Smithsonians and art galleries around DC, the Hirshhorn being a particularly favorite spot of mine.

You almost always have a book on you at Dance Exchange. What are you reading right now?

I’m never just reading one thing – I’m currently downing 5 back issues of the New Yorker, the new anthology of Kay Ryan’s poetry, the fourth section of Roberto Bolano’s 2666, and William T. Vollmann’s Kissing the Mask.

Photos: Ben in rehearsal in Portlaoise, Ireland in 2008 (Photo by Jori Ketten) / Ben with two community participants in Sheboygan, WI (Photo by Sarah Levitt) / Ben performing Keith Thompson’s work, Blueprints of Relentless Nature (Photo by John Borstel)

About Sarah Levitt

Sarah Levitt (Resident Artist/Communications Coordinator) is a dancer, choreographer and teacher based in Maryland.