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Meet 2023 Dysart Award honoree Robyn Mineko Williams

One dancer stands on top of a table, arms slightly extended. Six other dancers surround the table, leaning their body weight on it, legs and feet lifted off the floor.
Breya Jones
Robyn Mineko Williams' piece for the Spotlight Series: Women in Focus production centers around a table at her grandmother's home and decades of memories made there.

2023 Dysart Award honoree Robyn Mineko Williams choreographed a new work for the Louisville Ballet. It’s about memories, time and family.

Robyn Mineko Williams is the 2023 Dysart Award honoree. As part of her honor, Mineko Williams will debut her piece for the Louisville Ballet during their Spotlight Series: Women in Focus production.

Mineko Williams worked for many years as a dancer in Chicago. It was while she worked at Hubbard Street Dance she was given the opportunity to choreograph.

She said she caught the bug for dance design and has since grown to have many of her works produced and performed.

Mineko Williams said she’s not strong with words, but can communicate clearly through movement.

She sat down with LPM News to discuss dance, receiving recognition and the importance of giving younger generations representation.

This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

Do you think you have a signature? Something in your pieces people will see and know it’s you.

I think that's something that is constantly developing. I feel like probably those around me, or the dancers who I've worked with, or my parents might be able to tell what my signature thing is more than I can. I do have a fascination with nonlinear time and memory, or how memory is not accurate all the time, too. So maybe, the play with time, echoes and this like subconscious…stuff that's inside of you. I do like to dig into that.

How does it feel to be a Dysart Art award honoree and to have your work recognized this way?

I tried to make things from the most genuine, authentic places. And those products aren't always good, or seen as understandable or they don't always resonate. And I think that's just kind of like the trial and error of being a maker. It's like, you just keep making things and keep trying to chip away at it your way. And it's always really exciting when there is another person who can see something in what you're making, or can relate to it. I guess in that way, it's amazing to be recognized. It feels great, you know, just to have someone like they're lifting you giving you a little bit of wind beneath the wing.

Robyn Mineko Williams uses dance and movement to convey ideas words can't capture.
Ricardo E. Adame
Louisville Ballet
Robyn Mineko Williams uses dance and movement to convey ideas words can't capture.

Can you tell me a bit about the piece you’re working on for the Spotlight Series?

It's basically seven dancers, table and chairs. And it is loosely inspired by a table that's at my grandma's house. It's a table that has been in our family for before I was born, probably 55 to 60 years. And I feel this table has been kind of a touchstone. You know, for all of us over the years. It's the place where we gather and we eat and we fight. I don't remember a lot of fights actually as the granddaughter but a lot of conversation, a lot of laughter. And now this table, it might be seen as last life, my grandma's moved out of her house. I went to visit after she moved away, and the table is still there. And so I think it's just been on my mind like how a piece of furniture or a place or a space can hold all of these memories and moments of our human existence. And yeah, I've just been thinking about that. So I put a table on stage.

What do you hope folks leave with after seeing one of your pieces?

Hopefully, that they didn't waste their time by just spending their evening going to see some art. I think you never know what your reaction is going to be. It's like, whatever they take away, I'm just happy that they showed up and decided that's how they want to spend their time… taking a moment out of their life to experience a creation of some kind. And I think that's all I can ask for.

From what I understand, in dance, we’ll see a lot of women on stage, but not reflected as much backstage. Why is it important for productions like the Spotlight Series to exist to challenge those things?

It's a tricky question for me to answer because I, as an artist, and as a maker, I just want the work to speak for itself. I think in terms of our kids that is where I feel this is very important is that kids grow up with things being more normalized and more represented, like our world and our culture being more represented as it actually is. So I think that's what I always go to. I just think this is important for little kids growing up, to see like a woman choreographing or whoever doing, doing whatever that they can see themselves in, in these voices that are being amplified.

Mineko Williams’ piece will debut in Louisville Ballet’s Spotlight Series: Women in Focus production, which highlights the work of women choreographers and designers.

The show runs at the Brown Theatre March 2 through 4.

Correction: This story has been updated to reflect the performances are at the Brown Theatre.

Breya Jones is the Arts & Culture Reporter for LPM. Email Breya at bjones@lpm.org.

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