What’s Behind “The 50s Front”

alight dance theater in The 50's Front by Wayles Haynes, photo by Enoch Chan.

alight dance theater in The 50's Front by Wayles Haynes, photo by Enoch Chan.

If you live and dance in the DC area, there’s a good chance that you know Wayles Haynes.  Wayles is an active dance educator, performer, and choreographer in the greater Washington DC community.  She choreographs and performs with alight dance theater and is the Youth Programs Coordinator here at Dance Exchange, where she’s led our Youth and Teen Exchange for the past three years.  Next week, her work The 50’s Front will premiere at Dance Place, June 29-30. (Click here to watch video clips from the work.) Wayles was selected as a Dance Exchange 2013 artist-in-residence, which included support from Dance Exchange in the form of studio rehearsal time and a Critical Response Process feedback session facilitated by John Borstel.

The 50’s Front began with a commission by the Knoxville, Tennessee Museum of Art and Arts Moves in 2006.  Wayles was inspired by a piece of visual art from the museum’s permanent collection, which she describes as a “1950’s grey scale pointillism Florida home with a pool with lounge chairs and mid-century design.”  Wayles then tried to imagine who might have lived in a house like that at the time.  She thought back to her own family who lived in Florida during the 1950’s and a grandmother who passed away at an early age before Wayles ever met her.  Wayles then let her imagination and creative process run wild.  She began creating a dance exploring the relationships between mothers, daughters and familial relationships and how women communicate.  She wanted to look at this all through a specific “Americana Lens,” she says.

Over the course of the past two years, Wayles has re-visited this work and has become interested in “the notion of accessory and object within the family setting.”  She has researched how “objects can hold meaning and legacy” when passed down through the generations.  Also how the custom or culture around a particular object can change through time.  One of these objects is a pair of gloves. In the work, you’ll see how Wayles explores the etiquette of wearing gloves and the importance they held in the 1950’s and how that object no longer holds the same value for women today.  Drawing from her experience of working with Dance Exchange “the notion of story has become important in this new work instead of just abstract movement,” says Wayles.

Wayles says “this work hits very close to home,” as she has taken a microscopic lens to draw from her experience and her own mother daughter relationship. The work also speaks to a much broader audience and is accessible through text, movement, and set design.

Being an artist-in-residence over the past year at the Dance Exchange allowed Wayles to connect the dots and larger pieces of her professional dance career in many ways.  Through her work with the Teen Exchange, she was able to explore themes from The 50’s Front on a group of younger dancers.  Wayles’ Starlight Sockhop at Dance Exchange, part of the HOME series this season, had her students perform to 1950’s music alongside her 50’s Front cast.  She says other artists at the Dance Exchange have been an important part of her process including Sarah Levitt and Ouida Maedel who helped coach the dancers on vocals and text.  This cross-platform research has helped Wayles see the arc of her work in a new way and make deeper connections to the Dance Exchange.

The opportunity to ask questions, have others ask questions and create a discourse about The 50’s Front through the Critical Response Process has served Wayles as an invaluable tool. “Going through the whole CPR process can be very exhausting because it is very in depth but it was also extremely rewarding at the same time.  The CRP helped me to see what people were seeing and to be able to craft where I wanted to go next,” said Wayles.

We’re looking forward to seeing the work onstage at Dance Place. Get your tickets today !

About Keira Hart