Theater Buff: Pilobolus Dance Theater’s Antoine Banks Sullivan
Every month, a fabulous actor/singer/dancer fills out editor Matthew Wexler’s questionnaire and offers a glimpse of what he looks like from a bit closer than the mezzanine. This month, Theater Buff chassés off The Great White Way and chats with Pilobolus Dance Theater’s Antoine Banks Sullivan.
Renowned for its unique, diverse collaborations that ignore preconceived barriers between creative disciplines, Pilobolus reaches more than 300,000 audiences members each year. Pilobolus Dance Theater plays two programs in repertory at the NYU Skirball Center for the Performing Arts from November 16 through December 4.
Antoine Banks Sullivan
Chicago, IL – born and raised!
How would you personally describe Pilobolus Dance Theater?
Four guys at Dartmouth College founded Pilobolus in 1971. They were non-dancers enrolled in a dance composition class taught by Alison Becker Chase. Over the years it’s grown into the company we are today. Pilobolus doesn’t look for one specific type of mover. My background is in contemporary and ballet, but others come from martial arts, gymnastics, and hip-hop. You end up with different opinions in the room. All the dancers get choreographic credit for the pieces we work on.
Of the pieces that you’ll performing this month at NYU Skirball Center for the Performing Arts, which ones resonates with you most and why?
“Rushes” is the closing piece for Program A. It was created in 2007, and when I saw the company perform it some years ago I was blown away. It’s theatrically beautiful—nothing like you’ve ever seen before, balances theater with dance and movement. It’s a peculiar story that I won’t reveal because I want the audience to have an open mind. But I will say that the story was relevant 10 years ago and still relevant today.
“On the Nature of Things” is also a treat to dance. It features three dancers dancing on a two-foot-wide platform above the stage. It’s statuesque, bold and beautiful with heartfelt emotions. It transcends every walk of life. For me as a dancer, it’s also an exercise in living in the moment and staying tuned in—if nothing else than to stay on that platform!
What is the company’s reference point as “theater”?
We want audiences to feel something. A reach in dance—what does it mean? Is it for something or someone? We have to tell stories with our bodies through movement. It’s personal and very special to me. Yet we don’t provide program notes because we want audiences to discover the personal meaning in a piece of work.
In addition to being a dancer, you’ve been described as an outspoken advocate for LGBT rights. In what ways have you brought attention to LGBT issues and causes?
So much has happened in the past week and so much has been on my mind. When I came out I was fortunate to have a strong support system. Not every LGBTQ youth has that. I worked with the LGBTQ Task Force in Chicago to get youth off the street, along with HIV awareness and testing, and I had a great mentor there.
As I’ve gotten older, I see how we can reach the masses through social media. This was particularly important to me after the tragedy in Orlando. My first job was at Disney World and we would often go to Pulse Nightclub. I have so many memories and felt the loss quite personally from this senseless act of violence. Through social media, I dedicated each performance to every one of 49 victims of the massacre. Every performance needed to be my best for those who are no longer with us.
I have volunteered with the Human Rights Campaign in my hometown of Las Vegas. It’s important to push through and keep these issues at the forefront. We become so desensitized… one thing happens and it’s in the media for a week then it’s gone. Even the election will be old news in a few months, but its affects on minorities, immigrants, and the LGBTQ community will be felt long after. This is a country for everyone and something that we need to continue to fight for.
If I wasn’t a performer, I would be:
I’d love to be a travel blogger. Or a stay-at-home dad!
One of my favorite spots in the U.S. is Savannah, Georgia, which is so quaint and full of old-school American culture. Internationally, my husband and I love Thailand—just chilling by the beach and drinking fun cocktails. I also love Hamburg, Germany. I was there on tour this summer and one of those cities that I just immediately fell in love with.
Places, Intermission or Curtain Call?
Places! I live to be onstage. I live to go in front of the audience. That’s my calling.
Where’s the best place for a cocktail in Vegas?
Being a local, I avoid the Strip. I’d head to Fremont Street, which is going through a great resurgence.
My workout “secret” is:
I lift men for a living! Our work makes us strong, but I also practice Bikram yoga or Pilates.
Ten years from now I’d like to be:
I’d love to have a B&B somewhere near Mt. Charleston, enjoying my family and traveling the world with my children… living the dream!
Pilobolus Dance Theater
NYU Skirball Center for the Performing Arts
566 LaGuardia Place, NYC
November 16 – December 4