Mathew Janczewski of ARENA Dances.

Shining in the shadows

With his new work Picturing That Day, Mathew Janczewski and his company ARENA DANCES look back on the choreographer’s career and his change of roles in the dance community. And they open a new Candy Box.

By Hailey Colwell

It all started with a journal entry from the year 2000. All it said was, “gold sequenced costumes to Gershwin.”

That was the first year Mathew Janczewski performed with his young company, ARENA DANCES, at The Southern Theater. Now, those notes he scribbled down inspired a full-length dance work called Picturing That Day. During the time in between, Janczewski has gone from a round-the-clock dancer to a choreographer working in what he calls “the shadows.” Rather than performing at the center of it all, he now seeks to influence dancers’ careers behind-the-scenes. He is embracing his step into the shadows by launching Candy Box, a new dance festival full of works that he enjoys and that challenge him.

Almost two decades after its premiere run at The Southern, ARENA DANCES will perform Picturing That Day as one of a three featured works in Candy Box. The eight days of performances also feature SuperGroup and Robin Stiehm’s Dancing People. During the days and early evenings, other artists will showcase works in progress during shorter “happy hour” performances, and artists from the featured companies will teach master classes. You can find more in-depth information about the schedule here.

'Saturated with awesome dance'

Having two weeks of time in the theater as part of The Southern’s ARTshare program is a “huge rarity” for a dance company, Janczewski said.

“Our community is so saturated with awesome dance happenings happening all the time that to actually get audiences to a show could be challenging,” he said. “Having more opportunities available hopefully helps people get to see all the great dance in town that is happening, and of course, Candy Box,” he said.

Janczewski plans to continue Candy Box after this year. “Hopefully, Candy Box can bring different artists and artists' audiences together and, someday, expose other national artists to all that we have got going on here as well."

In the meantime, he will be onstage in Robin Stiehm’s Dancing People show, with Forward Reminiscence. On occasions when he does dance, he dances in other choreographers’ work to keep distance between himself and the endless details that keeps him from getting lost in his own work. Returning to working with Stiehm, for whom he has danced for several years, is almost like going back to earlier days when it was easy to get lost in the dance.

“I liked to express myself and get lost in the movement. Not that that’s not true anymore, but it’s harder to get lost.”

Close and personal

Picturing That Day is a quintet following four dancers on a cruise ship just going through the motions to the tune of Gershwin. Then, a character enters from the shadows, a direct reference to Janczewski’s changing role in the dance community. This switch to more autobiographical work is no coincidence. As he has stepped away from performing in his own work, he has given his choreography room to get more self-relfective.

Blake Nellis plays the shadow. He met Janczewski six years ago at a class and at the time, he identified as a general mover and performer, but not a dancer. “‘Dancer’ didn’t feel like the right word until I started doing his work,” Nellis said. Janczewski embraced Nellis as he was, and allowed him to lean on his strengths.

Despite his virtuosity as a dancer, Janczewski keeps the pressure low in rehearsal, Nellis said. “He’s humble,” he said. “It takes off the pressure to match his abilities.”

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