Lafayette, Louisiana native and Boulder, Colorado transplant, Helanius J. Wilkins is a choreographer, performance artist, educator, and innovator who lives in a country where, not even for a moment, is he allowed to forget he is Black. Wilkins’ creative research and projects are rooted in the interconnections of American contemporary performance, cultural history, and identities of Black men. His projects examine the raced dancing body and ways ritual can access knowledge. He uses remembering to piece together and liberate Black identity through performance. Having choreographed 60+ works, honors include Pola Nirenska Award for Contemporary Achievement in Dance (DC’s highest honor, given by the Washington Performing Arts Society, 2008); Kennedy Center Local Dance Commissioning Project (2002 & 2006). Foundations/organizations including NEA, NEFA National Dance Project, National Performance Network (NPN), Arts In Society, DC Commission on the Arts & Humanities, and the Boulder Office of Arts & Culture Public Arts Program have supported his work. He founded and artistically directed D.C.-based EDGEWORKS Dance Theater, an all-male dance company predominantly of African American men that toured nationally and internationally (2001 – 2014). He is Director and a Professor of Dance at CU Boulder. He is a member of the National Board of Directors of the American College Dance Association (ACDA) for the Northwest region, and was appointed in 2018 by Governor Jared Polis to the Colorado Council on Creative Industries. https://www.helaniusj.com/
Who makes up your art circle?
My art circle is both intimate and expansive. It is made up of collaborators who are artists from a wide range of disciplines, including dance, film, video, design, and interactive technology. It is also made up of individuals, some who identify as artists and some who do not, that I have been fortunate to develop meaningful friendships with throughout my travels and over the course of my career. Furthermore, I see those who inspire me as being a part of my art circle. Although I may not have a personal relationship with some of the artists who inspire me, I find myself in ongoing conversation with them through my experiences of their work.
How do you expand your art circle?
I experience the expansion of my art circle as being organic. I center nurturing relationships/building connections when crossing paths with artists and individuals. From prioritizing seeing/being engaged with the work of artists that I am familiar and unfamiliar with to learning of artists through close friends and collaborators and everything in between, the possibilities seem limitless for expanding my art circle.
What value do you see in having a creative community?
During a recent visit to Studio BE in NOLA (one of my favorite places), a part of the exhibition includes this saying “The map to a new world is in the imagination.” A creative community keeps us connected to truth while also allowing us to hold onto hope. A creative community puts ideas into action.
How does your artistic approach contribute to your community?
My artistic approaches have always been anchored in connection, blurring lines, and creating opportunities for supporting the building up of community. Physically I do this through inviting my community/the communities I am fortunate to collaborate with into the making process, creating access through discussions, embodied workshops, and formats that meet community-members where they are. Through my current work, The Conversation Series: Stitching the Geopolitical Quilt to Re-Body Belonging, I am invested in artistic practice as creating in and WITH community – engaging in collective work toward greater understanding, dreaming, and actively doing.