“Well, I’ve got a long story,” says Kevin Thomas, who founded Collage Dance Collective with Marcellus Harper in 2004. That story involves Thomas as a member of the Dance Theatre of Harlem, that troupe’s dissolution, Thomas’ and Harper’s move to Memphis, and the opening of the Collage studio in Cooper-Young last year.
Ultimately, the story turns on Collage’s mission and Memphis’ demographics. The goal of the company is to train African-American students in ballet so that seeing a black ballerina or black male ballet dancer is not so rare. “This is a great place for the company because the African-American population is a large one,” Thomas says. Collage now has 20 students ranging in age from 4 to 20, and, Thomas points out, it’s open to all races.
The “collage” aspect of the company, Thomas says, is that they train in neoclassical, classical, and contemporary dance. And the collective? “I use everybody’s opinion on every piece that’s created,” Thomas says.
Collage will present an open house this Thursday at the Jack Robinson Gallery. The evening will feature three pieces: “Rosa” about Rosa Parks; “Life Interrupted” about slavery; and “The Dying Swan.” “When have you seen a black dying swan?” Thomas says. “The show is to send a message that these dancers do exist, that it’s a possibility for all kids.” — Susan Ellis