By KJ Philp, December 2016 Web Exclusive.
December marks the three-year anniversary of MusEffect, a Los Angeles-based dance company that’s helmed by Arizona natives creative director Jessica Starr an technical director Nik Gravelle.
With the mission of elevating social awareness through the arts, the nonprofit continues to tackle such issues as violence, mental illness, marriage equality and female empowerment in front of audiences near and far.
MusEffect will kick off the tour for its newest live stage show, “The Divine Directive,” Dec. 9 and 10 at the Phoenix Center for the Arts.
Echo caught up with Starr to find out more about the new show, which is projected to keep the dance company on the road for most of 2017, and here’s what she had to say:
Echo: How has MusEffect evolved since inception as a 501(c)3 title in 2013?
Starr: After every project we create, we continue to refine not only our mission, but also our delivery. Our main purpose is to impact vast audiences and develop the work that is needed most in our world. As the years progress we stay highly tuned in to our community, listening to not only what approaches are most effective but also what topics are needed to be addressed most. MusEffect continues to stay committed to our mission of elevating social awareness through the arts, but our vehicle and perspective have and will forever evolve with as we follow the pulse of our society.
Echo: It’s been about a year since we last spoke(read “Finding Her Muse” here); what was 2016 like for MusEffect? And what plans do you have in store for 2017?
Starr: For us, 2016 was a big year of intention building and cliff jumping. We began our new film duet series entitled “Laws of Love,” in which we began to explore various elements of humanity that we need to practice more regularly. We also released three poignant PSAs centered around mental illness, texting and driving and unity over violence. Through each and every project we further recognized the need for our rare style of social awareness and became more determined to connect with the masses.
It was through the continued success of MusEffect’s work online that we decided to take the leap and move back to our roots of stage performances. While our PSAs are so accessible online, there is something so vital and tangible about the dying art of live stage work. I believe whole heartedly in MusEffect’s nonprofit work that I decided to dive head first into creating a tour and I’m banking on our donors and sponsors to surface to fund it as we move forward. I am committed about venturing beyond Southern California to expand the impact of our work, and the development of a tour was the perfect plan. MusEffect aims to spend 2017 on the road, continuing to reach communities outside of our own through our town, releasing as many online projects as we can and joining forces with the corporate sponsors and donors that will continue to allow us reach the communities that need our message of inspiration the most.
Echo: Tell us about the concept and objective behind “The Divine Directive”?
Starr: “The Divine Direction” is a live stage show weaving in and out through life’s most pivotal moments that make us, break us and mold us into the humans we are today. MusEffect uses this show to integrate social issues, as well as the life changing situations that we experience on a daily basis. We use our method of multimedia delivery integrating film, spoken word and dance to deliver a show that tantalizes the senses. MusEffect aims to leave audiences feeling empowered and moved to find a more purposeful path within their own life.
Echo: In the past MusEffect has tackled topics ranging from body image and cyber bullying to marriage equality and society’s obsessive reliance on technology. How do you decide which topics to address?
Starr: There are truly so many beautiful and equally tragic societal moments that inspire me every day. I aim to stay tuned into what effects the communities around me, and equally important listen to the ambitious, boundless artist inside myself. It is very apparent to me when I am meant to create on a topic, and once I sink my teeth into a concept and delivery that I feel will effect our audiences, there is no turning back, I am committed! Every thing we create comes from a very authentic place. Every element of production from the origin of concept to rehearsal and show prep comes from a place of intention and purpose. The MusEffect artists never go on stage and recite eight counts, but rather find a great purpose for themselves through the movement and aim to focus on the why, rather then the how.
Echo: What topics does “The Divine Directive” touch on?
Starr: MusEffect touches on a variety of new different social issues in “The Divine Direction,” including unity over violence, domestic abuse, mental illness, depression and female empowerment. Many of our pieces are centered around core human emotions that are relatable to people of all walks of life, such as forgiveness, trust, patience and deception. There are many of our pieces that we have seen to be incredibly impactful over the years as well and have become a sort of staple of MusEffect. We will be bringing the key pieces that center around cyberbullying and marriage equality as well, because we are passionate about showing our audiences how moving they can be when seen in live stage form.
Echo: In your words, what relevance do you see in these themes, and others, to the LGBTQ community?
Starr: I believe compassion and unity is a resonating theme through all of our work, a key element in diverse communities. I am confident that MusEffect challenges audience members to reflect on the topics we are addressing throughout our show and look and see how they approach these social topics in their own lives. Silence, and judgement are often the root of hate and violence, we are hoping to inspire our community of supporters to educate themselves on the lifestyles that look different than their own.
Echo: From a performance aspect, what can local audiences expect from “The Divine Directive”?
Starr: Local audiences can expect an action packed, and high intensity two-hour stage production focuses on life’s pivotal moments and society’s most important issues. We present our work in a variety of professional dance styles and music selections … “The Divine Direction” directly impacted the audience encouraging all to take action on the issues that affect them most. From uplifting topics such as a first love and female power to more difficult issues like domestic abuse and cyberbullying … you will find inspiration through our unique vehicle and delivery.
Echo: How many performers will be touring with you?
Starr: MusEffect will be bringing a total of 15 dancers on our tour with us to Phoenix – 12 of which are constant company members and three are apprentices that we’ve invited to join us this season based off of their impressive work during our summer training series of The Muse Experience …
Echo: What’s it like working with fellow phoenix native Nik Gravelle?
Starr: What a great question! So Nik and I met about seven years ago working together for a dance competition company that traveled across the U.S.. We in fact did not know eachother while we lived in Arizona, our working relationship was developed while Nik was in college at Scottsdale Film School and I was already in LA.
What started as a friendship, quickly grew into a very synergistic working relationship. Both of us had a strong interest in dance, film and a desire to create something impactful in our own realms. Nik initially began filming workshops for Muse Dance Company across the globe. But our addiction for expansion led us into developing short dance films together, which was laying the groundwork for what would later be known as MusEffect.
Since Nik was there since the beginning his sincere investment in the Muse vision and all of the artists involved was undeniable, and it showed in everything he did. We have grown together, truly! Each of us becomes stronger and more proficient in our craft through every project we work on together. These days its sincerely a collaborative effort. Often times my creative process is so right field, that Nik can step in, bring me down to earth and find a way to actualize my vision in a way that is understood by the masses … He seamlessly integrates elements of pop culture, artistic integrity and social purpose into everything we do together. His effortless talent and commitment to all things Muse inspires me daily.
Nik and I are the kind of balance that even science can’t explain. There was so much chemistry built up behind our working relationship, that two years ago we ventured into a new arena and developed a personal relationship as well. It’s the stuff movies are made of, I know! It is a blessing to be able to take on this ambitious vision of social change with my creative partner, best friend and life partner.
Echo: What would you say to one of our readers to encourage them to come out and catch the show?
Starr: “The Divine Direction” will empower your soul and set your senses on fire. Although we all have different life paths we are truly cut from the same cloth and have more in common than we think. MusEffect’s stage show is more than just dance, it is a celebration of our diversity and will guide each and every audience member through poignant self reflection and leave you ignited to create a more purposeful path for yourself. The movement is raw, honest and the stories [are] intriguing … It’s not often a show of this soulful magnitude comes to Phoenix, so join us in the journey. We hope to see you there!
“The Divine Directive”
7 p.m. Dec. 9-10
Phoenix Center for the Arts
1202 N. Third St., Phoenix
Tickets: presale, $15; at the door, $20