Keone and Mari Madrid's First Full-Length Takes on the Border Wall
Keone and Mari Madrid. Photo by Carlo Aranda, Courtesy Matt Ross Public Relations
Keone and Mari Madrid are hardly strangers to the spotlight. Together, the powerhouse partners have performed in a Justin Bieber music video and on "The Ellen DeGeneres Show," and have choreographed for "So You Think You Can Dance." With around 250,000 subscribers, you could say Keone and Mari are "YouTube famous," but, thanks in part to a successful stint on NBC's "World of Dance" last year, they've become much more than that. Case in point: They're currently co-creating, choreographing and starring in their first full-length production, Beyond Babel. The immersive show will debut in San Diego this month; Keone and Mari hope to eventually take it on tour.
You two are always on the go. Where are you right now?
Keone: We're actually home for a while! This year, we chose not to do much traveling so we could work on the show and a few other projects.
What is Beyond Babel about?
Keone: It's loosely based on a Romeo and Juliet theme. Two lovers from two cultures embark on a forbidden love, and there are a lot of things we want to say alongside that storyline. The seating arrangement will be on bleachers that move forward and backward on motors—that's what makes it immersive.
Mari: We're collaborating with some awesome people, including London Kaye, who's an amazing crochet artist, and the Hideaway Circus production team. We're excited to finally have more than five minutes to tell a story!
So Romeo and Juliet—does that make you two the star-crossed lovers?
Mari: For now, yes.
Photo by Carlo Aranda, Courtesy Matt Ross Public Relations
There are also 12 other dancers. What roles do they play?
Keone: The two groups of people that don't understand each other. We're looking to tell a story about diversity and the separation of mind-set. That's what's happening right now in our culture.
The show opens in San Diego, which is, of course, your hometown. Is that why you wanted it to originate there?
Keone: Yes, but it's more than that. We live right down the road from where the prototypes for the border wall are being built. Part of the story is based around that—about a wall being built between two cultures.
Mari: We want to take a timeless story and interpret it and address the things happening now. It's very powerful to speak on what people are living through and experiencing and reading about.
Earlier you mentioned "a few other projects." What can you tell us about them?
Keone: We've just published an enhanced e-book called Ruth. It's about this old woman who is stuck between two worlds—the one she knows and an alternate universe. It's a nine-chapter multimedia book, so as you go through each chapter, you go from reading to watching videos, all of which incorporate dance.
How did being on "World of Dance" impact your lives and career?
Mari: We were already working professionally and making a living with dance, but the show exposed our work to more people. It also gave us more confidence. We realized people respond to and understand what we're trying to say. If we can make that connection in 90 seconds, we can do it in bigger ways.
Keone: And we found our voice within the storytelling realm. Right now, we're at our physical and creative peaks, so we want to maximize our performance time. We can teach when we're older.
Tony Testa leads a rehearsal during his USC New Movement Residency. Photo by Mary Mallaney/Courtesy USC
The massive scale of choreographing an Olympic opening ceremony really has no equivalent. The hundreds of performers, the deeply historic rituals and the worldwide audience and significance make it a project like no other.
Just consider the timeline: For most live TV events like award shows, choreographers usually take a month or two to put everything together. For the Olympics, the process can take up to four years.
But this kind of challenge is exactly what Los Angeles choreographer Tony Testa is looking for. He's currently creating a submission to throw his hat in the ring to choreograph for Beijing's 2022 Winter Games.
In a studio high above Lincoln Center, Taylor Stanley is rehearsing a solo from Jerome Robbins' Opus 19/The Dreamer. As the pianist plays Prokofiev's plangent melody, Stanley begins to move, his arms forming crisp, clean lines while his upper body twists and melts from one position to the next.
All you see is intention and arrival, without a residue of superfluous movement. The ballet seems to depict a man searching for something, struggling against forces within himself. Stanley doesn't oversell the struggle—in fact he's quite low-key—but the clarity with which he executes the choreography draws you in.