For their October Digest, loveDANCEmore editor Arin Lynn spoke with Joshua “Text” Perkins, executive director of 1520 Arts, a nonprofit dance organization. The organization’s They Reminisce was performed at the Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center Sept. 16 & 17. Answers have been edited for clarity.
Can you tell me a little more about 1520 Arts? I’m also curious where the name comes from?
1520 Arts is a non-profit organization that showcases Hip Hop Arts as a viable path to success through practice, performance and education. We do this through four main program initiatives.
-The Hip Hop Education & Resource Center ( HERC ) is our main facility and headquarters. We do Art and Dance programs from this space. The building also acts as a community center that can be used by other local arts and community orgs.
-They Reminisce is our annual stage production. It takes place at The Rose Wagner downtown and features an all local cast. This years story is what we call the 3 ERA story. It takes a look at three distinct eras of Hip Hop’s cultural evolution. Through dance, music, art and fashion we try to tell the story of Hip Hop and how its changed over time.
-Outreach & Education. In addition to The HERC, 1520 Arts provides education to after school programs, k-12 and colleges. We currently have a class at BYU that is in its 6-7 year (Dance 245). New for 2022, we’ve been given an int. level class as well. We are also hoping to begin teaching at Westminster and Weber State in the spring.
-Events & Performances. About once a quarter we will produce our own event/competition. We are also hired to perform at arts festivals, community events, parties and other local functions. Each year at the Utah Arts Festival we produce battles and events for the full four days of the festival. It’s one of our favorite events of the year.
Originally, we were called The BBoy Federation. We got our start producing Breakin’ battles in 2009, but over the years our programs have grown to incorporate more than just the dance. For our 10 year anniversary in 2019 we changed our name to 1520 ARTS. 1520 Sedgwick Ave. in Bronx, NY is an iconic location within Hip Hop history. It’s where DJ Kool Herc, the father of Hip Hop, first debuted his Merry-Go-Round technique. This technique and its debut on Aug 11, 1973 are considered the birth time and place of Hip Hop. We chose the name because we felt that this location represented the unlimited potential for Hip Hop’s growth and community connection, and we wanted this to be integral to our programs.
Since 1520’s origin in 2008, how have things changed? How has Salt Lake changed (or not changed) for you in that time period? Are there changes you would like to see for the SLC dance scene?
So much has changed! Our initial goal at the beginning was just to throw successful Breakin’ events. The growth of the org, non-profit status, a building, college classes, stage show, etc have all just kind of happened, often times out of necessity and not choice. We’re so grateful for all the crazy things we’ve been able to do and it’s pretty wild when we look back at how much has actually taken place over the last decade plus. SLC is always changing as well. There’s an ebb and flow to the community, it’s always growing or shrinking or moving in some new direction.
In your promotion materials and information on previous shows, I see there is an emphasis on honoring histories of hip hop culture while moving forward. Can you elaborate on this more?
Hip Hop culture has become one of the most diverse sub cultures on the planet. It also means different things to different people. Ask someone what “Real Hip Hop” is and you will get a huge variety of answers. Our goal is to provide a base level of knowledge to the audience and community alike. Saying, here are the key moments and key players in the creation of the culture. Here are the guidelines and foundations that the culture was built on. From there, you can take it and make it what you want. The culture should always be creating new things and challenging its own norms. But we feel like that can only be done if you have an understanding of why those norms exited to begin with. So we are trying to do that in a way that is fun and engaging as well as informative.
What does the process look like for creating “They Reminisce”?
Each year our production team meets around February or March to talk about the theme for that year’s show. We have three main storylines that we’ve written for REM, The 3 ERA story, The SCR story, and The SCR Reborn story. We typically try to do one of the stories for 2-3 years in a row then we change. From there, we select choreographers for the pieces we will need. Choreographers are given a set of guidelines like, this is where your piece is within the show, and this is the tone or era you need to stay within. Outside of that they have control over their music, choreography, whether they want to hand select or audition dancers, etc.
Rehearsals typically start around three months before the show. While the cast is rehearsing, the rest of the production team works on creating whatever video and lighting assets we need for the show. Around one month from show we start weekly group rehearsals where we piece together the dances and the rest of the story elements.
We try to create a skeleton for the show, where we know what we’re trying to say and what the end goal will be. Then we want the choreographers and dancers to have the freedom to add their own voice and creativity. We also try to put unique and spontaneous moments into the show. For example, there are two “battles” that take place in the show this year. These aren’t choreographed and will have different dancers and different music for each show. This means the dj, dancers, cast and audience are seeing everything for the first time in that moment. So the reactions of the cast are just as authentic as the audience reactions.
This article is published in collaboration with loveDANCEmore.org.
Arin Lynn is a movement artist, multimedia artist, and hoosier based in Salt Lake City. They have recently had the pleasure of working with local organizations such as Finch Lane Flash Projects, 12 Minutes Max, and Queer Spectra Arts Festival. Outside of art, Arin enjoys fried food and collecting vinyls.