I had a post last week on several creative dance videos on New York City Ballet dancer Emily Kikta’s YouTube page. The dance and music videos on her page are a collaboration between Emily and fellow NYCB dancers Josh Thew, Harrison Coll, and Peter Walker. In the music videos, Josh is the vocalist while Harrison and Peter play the guitar and ukulele. Emily joined the company in 2011, Josh in 2008, Peter in 2012, and Harrison in 2013.
The music videos feature classics such as Bob Dylan’s To Make You Feel My Love and Hang Me, Oh Hang Me. I love the videos and have been watching them daily, with the tunes etched in my brain. Very impressive that these young dancers have such great musical talents in addition to their high level dancing. I interviewed Emily by email about their music and dance projects.
Balletfocus: How/where did you meet?
Emily: While Peter and I became close friends at SAB (School of American Ballet, the NYCB ballet school), I didn’t become close with Harrison or Josh until we all joined the company. Peter, Harrison and I all knew Josh had an amazing and unique voice, so the boys took it upon themselves to practice and one day be able to accompany Josh. I was just fortunate enough to be the one who got to watch it all come to life.
Balletfocus: Here is a beautiful Bob Dylan cover To Make You Feel My Love. I love Josh’s silky smooth vocals with a touch of blues along with the nice guitar and ukelele accompaniment.
Balletfocus: Is that you in the photo playing the guitar on your YouTube page? Do you have a music background?
Emily: That is a photo of me holding the guitar. Playing the guitar has always been something I’ve wanted to accomplish because it’s sound is just so unique and beautiful. My dad, who is a classic guitarist, bought me that guitar as a gift to get me started. Unfortunately, I don’t have much time to practice these days, but to me, nothing is better than the sound of a voice with an acoustic guitar, so listening to these guys is good enough for me!
Balletfocus: Are you the videographer of the YouTube videos? Could you describe your role in these videos? What equipment do you use to film the videos? Editing equipment?
Emily: When we first started making videos, I was more of a helper for the guys when they were rehearsing. They jokingly began to call me their band manager. Now I’m in charge of all camera stuff. Sometimes the camera work is very simple and easy for me, especially for these music videos, but when I have the opportunity to play a little with the shots, I like to try different stuff just to see what we can do. I use Final Cut Pro X to edit and then Peter and I nitpick over the details for hours to make sure everything is just how we want it before posting.
I use a basic digital camera with a Leica lens. It’s actually not very fancy or anything but its small size makes it easy to move a lot.
Balletfocus: I am amazed by technology today, which for around $1,000 can create great videos like this. Basically a digital camera with HD capability, a tripod and ball head, and the software Emily mentions, Apple Final Cut Pro X. Twenty years ago, it would have cost substantially more to create such videos. And YouTube didn’t exist so product distribution would have been a big problem.
Balletfocus: Are there many dancers at NYCB that have musical backgrounds? How did you get together in your music efforts?
Emily: There are a good amount of dancers in the company who have some musical backgrounds but more as side talents or hobbies. Honestly, everyone got together originally so that we could hear Josh sing more. We all believed in his talents and his voice so Peter and Harrison began playing together so that Josh could have accompaniment. Once they started jamming a bit, these projects and videos just started formulating. We wanted more people to hear how great it all sounded.
Balletfocus: Interesting music choices, Ain’t no Sunshine, Hang Me, To Make You Feel My Love. These are great songs that a middle-aged guy like me can appreciate. How did you choose these songs? Who are your musical influences?
Josh: Hang Me, Oh Hang Me I chose because I saw the Coen brothers film Inside Llewyn Davis and loved the folk and blues. The music really resonated with me so I wanted to sing it. To Make You Feel My Love has always been one of my favorites, and actually Peter asked me to sing Ain’t No Sunshine because he had this idea for a project (see my previous post for the video). As far as musical influence, gosh, there are just so many. I’ll pick four: Bob Dylan is one definitely. Amy Winehouse because she was just so talented and I’ve watched and listened to her probably the most. Joni Mitchell is the best songwriter in the world, and James Blake is absolutely an influence too.
Balletfocus: A haunting folk song Hang Me, Oh Hang Me which was featured in the movie Inside Llewyn Davis. In the beginning, the guys are outside of the Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church on 70th and Broadway in Manhattan.
Balletfocus: Josh, really enjoy your vocals. Have you considered a side career on Broadway with your singing and dancing talents?
Josh: I would definitely like to pursue singing further. In fact, I performed at 54 Below last week. While I’m not sure about a specific Broadway career, I do hope to have a career in singing post-dancing.
Balletfocus: I hope to catch up with Peter later on his interests in choreography.
Emily and the gang will be in the fall NYCB season in such performances as: Mozartiana, Tchaikovsky Suite 3, Interplay, Agon, and Movements for Piano and Orchestra to name a few.