Black History Month – Atlanta Ballet Dancer Spotlight: Keith Reeves

More Than A Dancer: Keith Reeves' Journey through Atlanta Ballet and Beyond   

Darian Kane and Keith Reeves. Photo by Kim Kenney.

When Keith Reeves joined an after-school performing arts program in 2007, he could have never guessed that it would be the first of many stepping stones that would lead him to dancing professionally with Atlanta Ballet.

Keith’s interest in dance was first sparked by watching artists like Michael Jackson and Tina Turner perform on television. As a child, he would imitate their movements and perform on makeshift “stages” at home for his grandmother and aunts. At the age of 15, Keith was recruited to join the Jessye Norman School of the Arts – a tuition-free, performing arts after-school program geared towards economically disadvantaged middle and high school students. Like many inner-city kids in his hometown of Augusta, Georgia, this program was Keith’s first introduction to drama, vocal and dance classes, and where he would kick off his formal ballet training. 

Keith quickly proved that he was both naturally talented in and dedicated to dance, and was soon granted a scholarship by Jessye Norman to attend the Joffrey Ballet School’s Summer Intensive program, where he was able to further develop his technique and artistry. He later received an additional scholarship to Augusta Ballet, where he studied classical ballet, contemporary theory, and various techniques from modern masters such as Horton, Graham and Cunningham. In 2016, Keith joined the Atlanta Ballet Centre for Dance Education’s conservatory program, and has since climbed the ranks to becoming an official Company member. His most memorable roles thus far include Ohad Naharin’s Minus 16 and George Balanchine’s Who Cares?

Francesca Loi and Keith Reeves. Photo by Kim Kenney.

Like many members of the arts community, the initial and sudden outbreak of COVID-19 restricted Keith’s ability to create.  “It was rough because I wasn’t moving, creating and doing what I love, which starts to take a toll on your body and mind,” Keith admitted. Not long after lockdown began, he started playing with photography and cinematography as a way to release some of his pent-up creative energy. Those newfound hobbies-turned-talents soon blossomed into something more. 

While Atlanta Ballet has fortunately been able to keep dancers, faculty and staff employed and paid throughout the pandemic despite the cancellation of its past year’s worth of previously planned programming, other companies have sadly been forced to suspend, issue furloughs or shut down. As Keith noticed that other dancers within the Atlanta community were unable to work or secure performance gigs due to the pandemic, he developed a soft spot for artists that may not have the kind of support or resources that Atlanta Ballet Company dancers do. With a mission to provide his friends and fellow dancers the space and opportunity to work and create, Keith created his own original brand: Bodies in Motion.

On October 25, 2020, Keith premiered Bodies in Motion: A Walk-Through Dance Installation, an outdoor performance offered virtually and in-person (at limited capacity) that featured eight artists from various dance backgrounds. Working primarily behind the scenes for the first time, Keith’s main goal in producing the event was to prove that an outdoor dance program could be done in a safe and responsible way. Honing in on his newfound photography and cinematography skills, Keith also pieced together a digital press kit that included photos and video for all of the participating dancers to use for auditions, grants and personal portfolio building. “When you have a huge platform and feel comfortable and safe, I feel like that’s when it’s time to start helping other people to get on that same level or track,” he said.

Keith’s participation in several protests with the Black Lives Matter Movement last summer made him realize that Black people and people of color have the chance to take on more leadership roles in any given field, including dance. Inspired by that notion, Keith expanded his brand to include Brown Bodies in Motion to specifically spotlight various dancers of color in the Atlanta community.

Due to travel restrictions and strict safety protocols, Atlanta Ballet has not been able to bring in choreographers to set works on the Company this season. Artistic Director Gennadi Nedvigin wanted to find a way to continue sharing the power of performance with audiences, so he decided to offer Company dancers the opportunity to create their own new works on their peers. Keith and seven other dancers chose to use this unique situation to develop their choreographic voices, which they would not have been able to do during a “normal” season – hence the series’ title, Silver Linings. For his piece, Keith wanted to play with the concept of social distancing. Inspired by cane dancing, his work, also called “Bodies in Motion,” includes a pas de deux where the two dancers are separated by two poles, further evoking the idea of partners being both physically and emotionally distant.

Jessica Assef, Jacob Bush and Keith Reeves. Photo by Kim Kenney.

Reflecting on his own experiences, Keith shares that his greatest fear as a Black ballet dancer is being accepted into a company only to fill a quota, and not for what he has to offer or for his potential. He recalls times in his dance career where he felt like he was not progressing because he was being pushed in a contemporary direction instead of focusing on further developing his classical ballet technique.

How can ballet companies recruit more Black dancers and dancers of color, and provide an environment where they feel as though they can progress? According to Keith, the first step is to take a chance. “Any dancer at Atlanta Ballet will tell you that they have had someone take a chance on them.” The next step: take the time to improve their technique. “If there’s one thing Gennadi knows, it’s technique,” he said. Considering many Black dancers may not start out with a solid background in classical ballet, technique is something you learn from training. The final step: to have a real commitment and focus on getting Black ballet dancers with potential where they need to be. “You’re going to have to shave down to get to that diamond,” he said.

In addition to his role as a Company dancer, Keith is also a member of Atlanta Ballet’s Transformation Team - an internal committee made up of representatives from all sectors of the Atlanta Ballet organization who help plan and monitor diversity and inclusion initiatives within the company. “I joined because I wanted to make a difference,” he said. “There are so many issues within the ballet world, such as race, gender norms and wealth.” Although ballet is considered an elite art form, he believes that it must be more accessible to everyone in order to survive.  “My main goal is to help children that come from different backgrounds – like me – a chance to get involved with the arts and ballet,” Keith adds.

When looking back on his journey from 2007 to now, Keith says that the main piece of advice that he would give to his younger self and to future aspiring dancers is: “Don’t underestimate yourself. Focus on you and the studio. Breathe, and give yourself time and space to keep growing.”  

Keith’s hope for the future of Atlanta Ballet? To be a Company that represents diversity and reflects the diverse demographics of the city. “I would tell any dancer that if they come to Atlanta Ballet, they will grow. We have great teachers and we’re really pushing on technique,” he said. Keith also shared that he has noticed improvement in his own technique during Company class, and that Atlanta Ballet ballet master Roman Rykine is one of his favorite teachers he has ever had. Noting the works and dance careers of Dwight Rhoden, Alvin Ailey, Alonzo King, and Arthur Mitchell, Keith hopes to open his own dance company in the future and provide the same opportunities that he’s had to rising young dancers.

To witness the world premiere of Bodies In Motion, as well as some of the other works created by Atlanta Ballet dancers, and on Atlanta Ballet dancers, tune in to Silver Linings on February 12 and March 19 on the Rialto Center for the Arts at Georgia State University Facebook channel. 

Two see a clip of rehearsal and hear Keith speak about his inspiration in creating his Bodies in Motion for Atlanta Ballet click here.

Click here to learn more about Silver Linings.

To view a clip of Keith’s piece, Brown Bodies in Motion .1, featuring Atlanta Ballet company dancer Miguel Angel Montoya, click here.

Article contributed by Desiree O. Houston.