'XXV – Anticipation of Next'
A decade after Joining Tapestry, Matthew Shields choreographs the kickoff to its 25th season
In 2003, Matthew Shields was, in his own words, "a competition kid with good technique who got lucky" – lucky in that he landed a job with the only professional tap dance troupe in North America – Austin's Tapestry Dance Company – as it was starting its 15th season. Now, Tapestry is turning 25, and Shields has graduated to the driver's seat, conceiving and choreographing the show that opens this milestone season. XXV – Anticipation of Next explores the mind of a young man on the verge of adulthood, eager to see where life will lead him. It's a work that combines rhythm tap, live jazz, and spoken word by guest artist Ebony Stewart to spin its story of youthful dreams and inspiration. The Chronicle checked in with Shields to find out what kind of dreamer he was when he came to Tapestry, how he and the company have changed, and how it feels to be the first person besides Tapestry founders Acia Gray and Deirdre Strand to create an entire stage production for the company.
Austin Chronicle: What's the most important difference between Tapestry when you joined the company and Tapestry now?
Matthew Shields: There have been some significant changes and some subtle. I think as a whole the company is continuously getting stronger. We have produced and crafted the skills of many world-class dance artists. And this is a place where the hungry dancer gets fed, but few really get to eat ... I think the fact that I am in this position speaks volumes about how much the company has changed. This place fed me when I was young; now I am helping prepare the meal, so to speak. Change is a good thing, and it's always happening.
AC: How have you changed in the time you've been with Tapestry?
MS: Basically, I came from having a unique and limited style with not much understanding of music and rhythm to now being able to dance and choreograph in multiple different time signatures with a very recognizable style and movement quality. I think it's fair to say I have changed immensely. I was very lucky when I got this job. It changed my life.
AC: Is this the first time you've built an entire show out of your artistic vision?
MS: I began organizing small, one-night-only shows in 2011 for a series called Tapestry on the Fringe. And last summer I did a production in Vancouver, Canada, called A Chronological Life Story of a Few Tap Dancers. But XXV – Anticipation of Next was a really different process for me. I didn't know what was going to happen when creating this show. I knew what music was inspiring me, I had a few ideas that I thought were on the better side of half decent. And I knew I wanted to work with Ebony Stewart – she is magical! She can capture moments with words and phrasing that make your hairs tingle. From the start, this show was really making me think, which is good. I knew it would be an experience that I would change me.
AC: Clearly, the 25th season is a big milestone for Tapestry. The company is so heavily identified with Acia, who's been on the sidelines for health reasons over much of this past year. What does it mean to you to step into her shoes, metaphorically speaking, to choreograph this specific show?
MS: Well, this is certainly the most intimidating question ever – LOL. I am most grateful to have spent 10 seasons with the only company I know of that does what Tapestry does. And having Acia as a guide has been thoroughly educational. I have been in the best position anyone can be in to learn the ins and outs of dance and theatre, plus all the necessary skills it takes to create a show: music, storytelling, comedy, timing, transition, flow, showmanship, working with musicians, how to give direction and make your ideas come to life ... I could go on. Getting to do what she does – well, no one does it like Acia. But I can honestly say I learned from one of the best. I am still a young choreographer, and my process is still developing. I did what I was taught, I trusted my gut, I listened to the dancers, and together we created what I think is a really beautiful piece. It's human, it breathes, it travels, it moves. I am happy with the results, and I can't wait to share it with an audience.
But it has been a trip – I really don't have the proper adjective to describe it. Tapestry really needed someone to step in while Acia was healing. I got this opportunity, and I ran with it. The time has been flying, and I can't believe it's been a year. Getting a shot to do a show for this, like you said, "milestone for Tapestry" – at the end of the day I really just want to make Acia and Tapestry proud. I have grown a lot here. And this show is my way of saying thank you to the organization and to my friend and mentor. This show is for her.
XXV – Anticipation of Next runs Nov. 1-3, Friday & Saturday, 8pm; Sunday, 2pm, at Stateside at the Paramount, 719 Congress. For more information, call 512/474-1221 or visit www.tapestry.org.