The 3rd annual World Dance Awards for choreography will be held at the Belasco Theatre on Sunday, October 13 at 7pm. NoHoArtsDistrict.com is a proud co-sponsor of the event. I was delighted to have been able to speak with Allen Walls and Carey Ysais, the co-producers and co-founders of the WDA, in this special interview. Both men have extensive resumes from their many years of working on stage and screen. Below we learn about their recent projects, the makings of the World Dance Awards, and their mission to serve and preserve the dance community. This comical exchange happened under the trees at Priscilla’s Coffee in Toluca Lake, nodding once more to the amazing city we live in and the wonderful people who live in it.
(Allen Walls & Carey Ysais at Priscilla’s)
KF: We’d love to hear about your recent projects. Carey let’s start with you because you just had a wonderful Carnival show last night at the Avalon Nightclub in Hollywood. The Carnival: Choreographer’s Ball is in its 15th year, can you tell us how the show went?
CY: We are in our 15th year; we started on December 10, 1988. Last night was a phenomenal show. It’s almost always a phenomenal show, but last night was a little above bar – which is pretty hard to beat. We had some extraordinary choreographers, the crowd was super receptive, and it was an emotional night because we lost a part of our dance family. We lost a friend of ours, Rob Peters, who just passed the other day. A lot of people came out to support each other and it’s a very important event to the community. It is the grandfather of everything and it was a great and very fulfilling night.
KF: Sorry to hear of the loss, but congratulations on that support and successful event. What projects have you undertaken in 2013, in addition of course to the WDA? Anything about to start or just wrapped up?
CY: I actually have two weekly nights for dancers opening up. Thursday nights at the Infusion Lounge at Universal we’re going to have a weekly dance contest so dancers come out and do your thing and win $100. Also kicking off after the World Dance Awards at the Belasco Theater, I’m going to do Saturday nights downstairs, like a downtown underground hip-hop night for dancers. You can find out more about it by going to ChoreographersCarnival.com and it will link up there. What else? Just working – just choreographing and acting and dancing and directing and creating projects and trying to make a movie happen, as always. Trying to get to the next level.
KF: Of course! Always! And Allen, what has 2013 held for you project-wise?
AW: I’m mostly spending time producing and directing. I’ve had a couple of shows that I produced and directed this year. One was called Rhythm and Passion at the Alex Theatre about 4 or 5 months ago. I went on tour with that for about 4 weeks through some spots in South Florida and the Caribbean. So that’s always fun to get out and do some work like that. I actively choreograph and dance. I had done a couple of spots on Dexter and Two and a Half Men this year.
KF: So after the awards, anything on deck for you?
AW: A vacation! A well needed vacation.
KF: In your bio you have an amazing list of acting and dancing roles, choreography credits, and then it mentions very modestly your role as director and producer for events and shows. Can you tell us what other events and shows you’ve directed and produced that have lent to your experience for creating the World Dance Awards?
AW: Good question. Well, I think everything entails helping you understand the next step and you never can be too ahead of the game. I mean, you’re always playing catch-up and trying to organize things better or get things across better or have better accomplished what you did the year before or the time before or the show before. So it’s always one of those little things that you can never have enough experience I don’t believe.
KF: Can you both share with us what was the impetus for creating the World Dance Awards?
CY: It grew out of a need – which our community needed very badly. Allen and I actually came up with it almost simultaneously. We kind of suggested it to each other. Small minds think alike I guess (laughs). We approached each other about this with some tequila and beer saying, “Hey, we need to do something here that is missing.” There were the American Choreography Awards that were around for a while and I personally always felt that it was kind of a one-sided affair and could have been broadened and could have been more “urban” friendly. It was a great show and they always got a lot of great talent and it was needed. But I always think I can do it better – it’s just a fault of mine. Or, you know, maybe a good thing.
Allen and I have worked together before and love working together. We knew that the awards hadn’t happened for seven years, and that we needed to do it so that it’s more worldwide and more open to everybody. The last ones did not feel closed off as much as not as broad as they could have been. So we just felt that we would take it and broaden it and try and better it – even though it was a great show and it was produced very well and it was a very classy event. We are doing our best to expand it and really strive to give our dance world a voice and honor the people that do their best work. It’s needed badly. We are here to do it right and big and beautiful.
AW: Agreed. I think the specialty that Carey and I bring together is that we bring in the old guard and the new generation together. We are kind of in-between and the last show fell more upon the old guard – doing it the old way and not really reaching out to the young kids and trying to get them involved, or having a good portion of them being involved in the show. So I think maybe that’s where they fell short on that show. I used to be a producer on that show so I was very intricate in the makings of it …
CY: …and being 19, I come with a very young perspective! (both laugh)
AW: …and I was only 22 so no one wanted to hear my opinion!
KF: (To Allen) Ah, so you were the one buying the beer and tequila for him right?
AW: Actually the other way around (winking at Carey).
CY: Fake ID!
KF: What is your history together? How long have you known each other and what other projects have you worked on?
CW: We worked on a movie 100 years ago and then we worked on another movie 50 years ago (both laugh). We were always friends through association, through work, and had admiration for each other. Then, actually 14 years ago, KSA wanted to celebrate something at Carnival, which the show was pretty young back then, and I said “Yes” to get all the help I could get and they said “Great.” They asked if they could bring in Allen to co-direct. We ended up with a great show and decided we needed to work together as much as we could. We try to hire each other as much as we can for whatever projects we have, use each other as actors all the time, co-direct some plays together and some Carnival productions, and now this giant undertaking.
And now we’re best of buds! (laughs)
AW: Yes a match made in heaven! (laughs)
KF: Well when you find those good partnerships, you have to hold onto them. A little tighter at times I’m sure!
AW: Over the years, Carey and I have been on the same direction and there are only so many people who make a career out of it. I mean, a real career.
CY: Yes, lifers.
AW: Exactly. I was just thinking we should have a “Lifers” award because there are only so many people that dedicate their whole life to dance. I met him over 20-something years ago and there are only so many people that continue on. Everyone kind of falls to the side.
CY: Everyone else seems to grow up. Some of us just keep dancing.
AW: And mind you – you just never know. It’s funny because I was thinking about that last night when I saw an old friend of ours, who’s been with us through it – Troy [Burgess] who is in Rock of Ages in Las Vegas. I mean, 25 years later we are still involved in the game and still working it out.
CY: Exactly we are still playing the game, the great game.
AW: And that’s not as easy as it sounds.
CY: No it’s very hard to do this forever.
KF: With the World Dance Awards being held for the third time in just a few weeks, what has stayed the same and what has progressed?
CY: I think the intent has stayed the same; our mission has stayed the same. Our integrity for what the project is and our love and passion for what we are trying to do: to get the full exposure for these beautiful choreographers who mold dancers into beautiful forms on film and on stage. You know a lot has been done lately – with the Emmys for example. That’s been amazing that we are getting that recognition now, finally. There is a slot in the Oscars for choreographers now, not on the main stage, but under “technical.” We are slowly getting there and we are hoping that this will become televised and be a world-renowned event as the Oscar’s for the dance world. We are just trying to make it better is what is changing. But everything else is staying the same. We are just making it bigger and better. The intent and the integrity behind it – I don’t think that will ever change.
AW: I agree. I think that as we push forward and every year we figure out a little bit more about how to be exact about what we want to do and how to really get it out there. We try to broaden that reach every year, and bring in new groupings of people who will not only understand a little bit more about what we are trying to get accomplished but actually help us, too. You know, two guys don’t build a road. A village builds a freeway and that’s what we are looking for! (laughs)
CY: Yeah, two guys build an alley in the back of a house! We need some help getting there!
AW: But our integrity has stayed there. We are trying to reach out and make it a world-based event where we can get people from around the world involved and get them recognized as well along with, of course, the people here in the United States. The US is the broadest based, but our intent when we originally started was to get out to the world.
CY: We are trying to get more people from China and London and Australia and everywhere. We are trying to get those people to submit and get involved more.
AW: Yes, and to get the art from around the world recognized as well.
CY: We are getting some but Hollywood is the antithesis and the center of dance. Unfortunately there is a lot of run away work these days in Hollywood. Which I’ll talk to the mayor about because something needs to be done (chuckles), but this is where the greatest people come to excel, especially in dance. So of course the biggest amount of work is going to come from Hollywood. Most of the work we’re going to get, that’s hands and feet above anything else, is going to be from here. But we are really trying to reach out to the world and really make this a world event, as the World Dance Awards should be.
KF: The actual award that winners receive is in the shape of a top hat. What is the story behind that?
AW: That was Carey’s idea! (Laughs)
CY: (laughs) Yes, may I interject? We went back and forth about a lot of stuff. Speaking of old guard and going back to that, I think it’s important that the younger generation doesn’t ignore this. If you can walk up to young dancers and say “Have you ever seen a Fred Astaire movie?” they say “”Who?” Or “Have you ever seen Gene Kelly dance with the Nicholas brothers?” and they say “Who? What?”
Ok, it’s not about YouTube. We have a very rich history of American dance on film. All popular dances in the last 100 years have grown out of this country and Hollywood. The history of that alone needs to be understood if you are going to be a professional dancer. I have a very old school mentality even though I’m kind of new school hearted. When I was a kid, I would go to the discotheque. When I was really young I would go out to the nightclubs and I would dance all night. When I would come home and the only things that were on channel 13 or channel 11 at 2 or 3 in the morning were horror flicks, kung-fu movies, or musicals. I would stay up and I would watch these musicals and I was just blown away by the beauty and technique and talent of these people. So the top hat is to make people see a little history of what we are trying to honor, plus it just looks so cool. (laughs)
KF: How excited are you to have Carmit Bachar and Robert Hoffman host this year’s show?
Are we going to get to see them perform, perhaps a little razzle-dazzle for the audience?
CY: Well, we haven’t gotten that far into the scenario as of yet! Of course we do want to have them do something. Initially we had thought of perhaps a little surprise from one of the hosts. Not that that won’t happen – we always like to have them involved in some way. Last year Chris and Robert did a little gangnam style satire with the ladies in lace – it was great. They were so awesome. And you can never go wrong with Robert, ever. We are also so excited that Allen got Carmit on board this year. We are trying to figure it out. We’ve got two weeks, we’ll get it! (laughs) The rest of the show is already set and done and is beautiful. Now that we’ve gotten through Carnival and all the other madness we are getting to the segment.
AW: As the elements have come together, now we can focus on it. Now that we have the performers locked in, the hosts locked in, the presenters locking in now. Then the show starts to take form and we can add the adhesive glue that makes it what it is. I think that with the talent that we have with Carmit and Robert – their personalities and of course the improv between them being the talented performers that they are – is just a rarity to have two people like that on stage next to each other.
CY: And they are very pretty! One’s prettier than the other… (both laugh) Oh that Robert!
KF: The line up of guest performers is stellar! Many notable greats and also the 2013 Next Generation award winner, Kyle Hanagami, who was judged along with others who submitted videos to the WDA website.
AW: Yes a stellar line-up. This year Cheer Factor Inc. has picked up a little bit of giving the [Next Generation] award on their behalf. They are designing a warm-up [suit] with Kyle’s input. It will be a bonus for winning [in addition to] being able to put his piece into the show so that all the top choreographers in the world can look at his work.
KF: Another part of the mission of the WDA is to bring light to and support issues that the dance community faces. Can you speak about that aspect of your efforts?
CY: [The award show] is a community event and we’re trying to be as altruistic as possible. We always strive at Carnival, and of course at the WDA, to be relevant on what matters to dancers and how we can improve our living situation. Whether promoting Dancers’ Alliance, getting awareness to talk to your agents about stuff, and any particular hot topic that needs to be talked about at that time, we will address. Presently we’ve make making a lot of strides, SAG-AFTRA has gotten on-board with a lot of stuff with the Dancers’ Alliance. Some of it I’m behind, some of it I don’t know – I thought could have been better thought out – but I’ll save that for another interview. Thank God that we have unions and agents that care because as we were talking about earlier, it’s a very transient career for most people. Most people aren’t lifers. Most people are in it, they do videos, and then they go home and teach in Oklahoma and say “I was in a Missy Elliot video” and now that’s their credit to go and teach the next 500 kids for the next 10 years. But to be out here for life and really live this – it’s important that we set standards and a legacy for people who are still coming in the door. So any hot topic that needs to be discussed and is relevant to the issue at hand, of course we’ll talk about and will always be relevant to our events.
At the moment things are going pretty good. I mean there should be some more work. Like I said, runaway productions and casting here to take dancers to Baltimore to do a movie and they have to put themselves up and pay for their own food as though they are locals is something that I think should be addressed next, but we will talk of course to the Dancers’ Alliance and the agents and see if there’s anything that needs to be discussed and go from there.
AW: It’s also a momentous occasion just to have all of those people in the same room at one time. That’s part of what this event was really built to do is have all of the elements that are out there doing their own things most of the time, be in the same room so they all can be listening and celebrating what they have created and what they would like to move forward and better. So it’s constant, as anything is, in re-designing and refocusing and re-projecting where you would want to move into the next millennium or the next year or anything down the line.
It’s always a process to get creative people to agree how to move forward. As we do move forward, it is part of our understanding to have those people involved so we do have the influence of everyone in the community to help us also understand what is going on out there and what the issues are as Carey was just speaking about. We like to honor the past, celebrate the future as the present, and try to move forward with the understanding that we are all in this together.
Make sure you get your tickets now to this amazing show and not only witness history in the making, but also support the community that is keeping dance alive! Thank you Allen and Carey. We will see you on the 13th!