When he was born on the side of a highway in Lehi, Utah, Bill Evans wasn’t expected to survive.
“I was born six and a half weeks premature,” he said. “I weighed less than three pounds. It was at 1 a.m., in the car, feet first. When the doctor came, he said, ‘He won’t live ‘til morning.’”
But survive Evans did, devoting his life to dance.
At the age of 78, professional Evans is as fluid on the dance floor as he ever was.
“I have been a professional dancer for many decades,” he said. “Really, it has been my life. I started dancing when I was three years old and I am almost 79 now.”
Appearing to be only in his 50s, Evans ascribes his good health to his profession.
“It is good for us all to move,” he said.
Continuing a years-long tradition, Evans, who moved to Port Townsend in September, will celebrate his upcoming birthday with a show.
“I have performed on my birthdays every year since I turned 40 in 1980,” he said. “It has become a tradition. I am having to do it a little bit early this year. I thought I was going to have a medical procedure in April, so I had to schedule this. I postponed the medical procedure but I am going to have the concert anyway.”
This year’s Bill Evan birthday shows will take place at the Madrona MindBody Institute,
located at 310 Fort Worden Way. The shows will include tap dance, performance art, lyrical modern dance and fusions of voice and movement.
The first performance will be at 7 p.m. March 15, with the second at the same time on March 16.
Tickets are available online at MadronaMindBody.com or at the door the nights of the performances.
For more information, call 360-344-4475.
The concerts will include solos by Evans, Don Halquist and guest artist Christian Swenson, who was a member of the Bill Evans Dance Company in Seattle in the late 1970s and early 1980s, and is well-known in Port Townsend, where he often teaches and performs, Evans said.
The performances will also include a duet by Evans and Halquist.
Halquist has been dancing with, and learning from, Evans for the past 33 years, developing chemistry on stage together.
“I think we have synchronicity and I am fortunate to do a number of the pieces together for a significant number of years,” Halquist said. “For example, the pieces that we are doing for this concert next week, some of them we have been doing maybe ten years. There is a lovely history and a level of comfort that I can draw on each time I dance with Bill. It has been exciting to continue to watch Bill evolve in terms of an artist and a choreographer. That is always wonderful to witness.”
As Evans’ student, Halquist said his mastery of dance has deepened profoundly.
“In recent years, we have been performing pieces with text, so there is that acting component,” Halquist said. “Some of these pieces require a level of acting, but there is not always spoken text with it. That kind of pushes the artistic boundaries a little bit.”
The show will also include group work performed by Port Townsend area residents who are participating in a performance workshop taught by Evans.
Coordination between the various dancers is key, Halquist said.
“I think one of the things that helps is the rehearsal process so that everybody comes to each rehearsal deeply invested in the process. There is a willingness on the part of each participant to be engaged and collaborate and to be sensitive to timing. Sometimes the movement is given by the music, so through that rehearsal process I think we establish a comfort and level of collaboration that enables us to be successful.”
“I am doing three solos,” Evans said. “One of them is a tap piece to a classical piece of music. Another is a piece where I speak text and move. It is very humorous. The third solo I do is with Christian Swenson. He is very amazingly funny and highly skilled.”
The two will dance to blues style music, Evans said.
“I am going to do two duets with Don, and both of them have text. We speak as we dance. One of them is called ‘See You Around,’ and it is about two corporate executives, very corrupt. It is very funny. The other one is called ‘In Gloves,” and it is more whimsical and lighthearted and we have hundreds of gloves on the stage.”
The Bill Evans Dance Company was founded in 1975 in Salt Lake City, moving to Seattle the following year, Evans said, when the company was touring full time.
Evans also spent a decade teaching dance at the College at Brockport in Rochester, New York before teaching for 16 years at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque.
“I think being a teacher is a very noble thing to do with one’s life, guiding young people into finding better versions of themselves,” Evans said. “Witnessing that positive transformation has enriched my life.”
Just as Evans influenced his students, his students in turn influenced him, he said.
“Many of my students were first generation Navajo or Pueblo. They would speak of Mother Earth and of the sacredness of Mother Earth. The earth is sacred and we honor her with the dance reverentially — that is part of the imagery that I am using.”
Working with the Native Americans had a profound impact on his choreography, Evans said.
“They each have a different perspective and I had lots of Mexican American students. The way that the native people mix their traditional beliefs with catholicism. They integrate various western and non-western cultures and keep dancing. T
eaching at the University of New Mexico was fascinating because the Anglos were in a minority and that is the only place I have ever been where that is the case.”
Evans has toured extensively throughout North America and has performed in 20 other countries.
He said he first taught and performed in Port Townsend in 1980, when Centrum brought his professional dance company, then based in Seattle, for a month-long residency at Fort Worden. Since then, Centrum has produced 15 more residencies by Bill Evans Dance, and Evans has produced his own workshops and performances at Fort Worden three more times. He will do so again in August.
Evans said he has never wanted to anything else professionally.
“The only time I have made a living not being a dancer, a teacher or a choreographer was when I was in the Army,” he said. “But even then, I was stationed in Fort Knox, Kentucky, and I danced with a ballet company.”
Evans served from 1963 to 1965 at the onset of the Vietnam War.
“I had many friends who were sent to Vietnam, friends who I made there at Fort Knox who shipped out to Vietnam and not one of them came back alive.”
Expression through dance
Evans has created over 300 works during his professional career.
“I have gone through many phases,” he said. “I try to deal with what interests me. The new piece is coming from my awe of the beauty of the natural world. My house, the first thing I see on a clear morning is Mount Baker. The view is just staggeringly beautiful.”