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Meet Brigette Dunn-Korpela of B. Dunn Movement/Dance and Theatre Company

Today we’d like to introduce you to Brigette Dunn-Korpela.

Thanks for sharing your story with us Brigette. So, let’s start at the beginning and we can move on from there.
Aged three, hands on hips, I proclaimed my desire to be a professional dancer. Lessons started early, at the Boston School of Ballet. The music, the smell of the theater, watching my dad attempt to sew my ballet slippers like the other girls’ moms. Standing in the wings watching the ballerinas enter and exit onto the stage was magical. I was struck by their grace and power. However, I was one of two maybe three brown bodies in the school at the time. I was unaware of the attempted eclipsing of my brown body, of my femininity, inside the Eurocentric, patriarchal aesthetic of Dew Drops and Marzipans. Nutcracker season was my favorite—my first role and experience on stage was as a Polichinelle, one of the little children running out from underneath Mother Ginger’s Skirt—as a boy—Black girls at that time were not cast as girls…but I was in. And I got to dance.

“Jazz is probably better for you …” whispered to me while I watched the celebration of my white counterparts…

My aspirations were not thwarted but continued to be challenged even as the Shields—former dancers with the Royal Ballet—accepted me to their newly opened school. It was small and intimate, and I felt supported—until I was made aware my progress might make some of the other girls feel “bad”. Coupled with that, puberty and the need for “normalcy”, I stepped away to be what I thought was a “normal” teenager, cheerleading, hanging out after school and such… But the call of dance never let up. Three years later, post-pubescent body in tow, I returned. Once again, the only brown body in class, trying to stay the course.

Years later, Dad and I sat in the balcony waiting to see Dance Theatre of Harlem’s “Creole Giselle”. A sea of dancers, various shades of brown, took the stage. Draped over the balcony, jaw dropped, I was in awe as they glided and bourreed like I’d never seen. Their lines, their strength—they were breathtaking! Prima Ballerina Lorraine Graves appeared otherworldly. I was transformed. Summers in NYC at DTH were on the horizon—a place where bodies like mine were the norm (spray painting my slippers and dying my tights to my flesh tone was profound!), and I would regain a sense of self-esteem that was all but lost. I received a fellowship at the Alvin Ailey American Dance Center, where years of rigorous training instilled the foundation of discipline and sense of belonging I carry with me today. Observing choreographers like the Late Ulysses Dove; rehearsing “Vespers” with a cast of divas that devoured the space with arms transformed into machetes; the palpable rhythm and power and depth of expression, or Kevin Wynn’s dynamic labyrinths of partner work was oh so exciting… this experience launched me into 20-plus years of professional dance that has been more fulfilling than I could have ever dreamed. I have worked with Nobel Prize Laureate Sir Derek Alton Walcott, danced around the world with the Cleo Parker Robinson Dance Ensemble, and performed works by legendary choreographers Katherine Dunham, Talley Beaty, Donald Mckayle, Eleo Pomare, Ronald K. Brown, Nathan Trice, Buglisi and Forman, Pascal Roult and others. I have been blessed to perform in such venues as the Kennedy Center (Washington DC), Brooklyn Academy of Music (NY), NJPAC (NJ), Aaron Davis Hall (NY), Guggenheim Museum (NY) and the Gomhouria Theatre of the Cairo Opera House, Egypt, to name a few. I have been very fortunate to travel around the country with the original cast of 1st. national tour of “The Lion King’ as well as earning a position as dance captain and dancer swing and have been blessed to share my passion with millions.

Inspired to seek my own innovative approach to dance, I pursued my MFA in choreography at CalArts, where I was able to explore authentic, creative and unapologetic self-expression. Today, as the Artistic Director of B. Dunn Movement, a tenured-track dance professor at CSU, Northridge, and guest teacher at Calarts I’m moving in creative directions I could not have imagined. Carrying the revolutionary spirit inspired in me by my artist/activist mother and other artists of color, my language of dance continues to reinvent itself as I collaborate with my fellow dancers, musicians, poets, actors, visual artists and animators. My work unites artists from different disciplines under a shared concern for our collective humanity, as well as a commitment to craft and explore new approaches towards authentic and creative self-expression.

I am a proud member of the Actor’s Equity Association, Dance Resource Center and continue to organize and facilitate educational and community outreach programs and bring dance and multiple art forms into classrooms and communities that engage and impact the lives of all people locally and globally. I am very proud and excited to announce that B. Dunn Movement has recently been awarded the California Art’s Council-Cultural Pathway’s Program for our upcoming project “It’s Not About Pretty”, a shared evening with Mallory Fabian of Fabe and Vannia Ibarguen. This project will premiere at the Bootleg Theater L.A. November 30-December 1, 2018. Other awards include the Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs Scholarship Award for the 30th International Association of Blacks in Dance Annual Conference, Caroline H. Newhouse Grant, Rocky Mountain Women’s Institute Fellowship and Alvin Ailey Fellowship Award.

I believe we don’t do what we do alone and that we stand on the shoulders of those who came before us. I am always thankful to my lineage, both culturally and artistically. I am blessed to have amazing friends, family and a creative community of artists and collaborators who continue help bring the passion of the work into fruition. A huge thank you to my husband and creative collaborator Pete Korpela. I am thankful for the journey!

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
I have been blessed but my journey has definitely had some struggles…

Living in New York City was very rewarding yet a very challenging period in my life. The rigorous training schedule required an intense level of discipline and commitment while trying to make ends meet. At times that was extremely difficult. There were days I would have to make a choice between eating or being able to get home on the train. I worked various odd jobs from bussing tables, waitressing, to hotel receptionist and retail person. However, there was a sense of community in New York at the time among dancers and other artist. Couches and futons on the floor were offered, sleeping at friend’s places until I could get on my feet definitely allowed me to pursue my dream of being a professional dancer. Had it not been for some of my friends and various family members I am not sure I would be where I am today. I am so thankful for their love and support!

So let’s switch gears a bit and go into the B. Dunn Movement/Dance and Theatre Company story. Tell us more about the business.
Dunn Movement/Dance and Theatre Company is a Los Angeles based performance collective that layers dance with music, narrative, and striking visual design. We create performance work that reveal the universal spirit of our humanity at the intersection of race, gender and identity. Our mission is to provide authentic and visceral experiences that inspire critical thinking and ignite cultural dialogues. The work unites artists from different disciplines under a shared concern for our collective humanity as well as a commitment to craft. BDM/DTC has toured nationally and within the greater Los Angeles area. Previous engagements have included performances, master classes, workshops and lecture/demonstrations for individuals of all ages.

What I am most proud of:

As Artistic Director of B. Dunn Movement my language of dance-theatre continues to reinvent itself as I layer movement with music, narrative and visual design, collaborating closely with artists from different disciplines—dancers, musicians, poets, actors, and animators. I believe B. Dunn Movement is at the forefront of experimentation and technical expertise in the Los Angeles dance scene. Even as a relatively new presence the work is at a critical point in its development. I see BDM/DTC as a voice in our community, artistically and culturally—that creates a company of leaders who contribute the community’s artistic excellence and social consciousness.

I am proud to announce that we are fiscally sponsored by Dance Resource Center, and excited to announce that B. Dunn Movement has recently been awarded the California Arts Council-Cultural Pathways Program for our upcoming project “It’s Not About Pretty”, a shared evening with Mallory Fabian of Fabe and Vannia Ibarguen of VIDA dance company. This project will premiere at the Bootleg Theater L.A. November 30-December 1, 2018.

BDM/DTC will continue to organize and facilitate educational and community outreach programs and bring dance and multiple art forms into classrooms and communities that engage and impact the lives of all people locally and globally.

I want to thank the following artists who have contributed greatly to BDM/DTC: Pete Korpela, Rebecka Jackson-Moeser, Whitney Jackson, Brance Souza,, Iain Court, Hannah Lawton, Shana Mirambeau, Dan Norman, Alexander Garland, Kevin Boseman, Kestral Leah, Alan Perez, Dom McDougal, Robyn O’Dell, Cyn Anderson, Joan Holly Padeo, Elaine Bowers, Dion Pratt, Kyreeana Breelin, Alia Kache, Ashley Williams, Shaine Raifer, Olivia Coombs, Hassan Booth, Kozue Kasahara, Jenny Oliver, Nak Choi and Jessica Monea-Evans.

What sets us apart from others:

“Dunn masterfully illustrates pain, degradation and struggle; she also focuses on the triumph of resilience and grace”. Patricia Elam-Walker, Huffington Post

I am proud of B. Dunn Movement’s commitment to seek ways for creative-kinetic expression, healing, and creating work that brings lost cultural and historical narratives to the foreground. More than an execution of craft, more than the pursuit of beauty, the work is an effort to reveal the universal spirit of our humanity at the intersection of race, gender and identity, to provide authentic, visceral experiences that inspire critical thinking, and ignite cultural dialogues. Our goal is to offer continued conversation to the local and global arena—to honor and awaken the multiplicity of eclipsed voices, experiences—and dances—within the African diaspora while engaging the audience in a process of retrieval. BDM/DTC wishes to leave a legacy of dance that goes beyond aesthetics to invite a sense of personal and social empowerment—healing and linking hands, one body at a time.

Has luck played a meaningful role in your life and business?
Not sure “luck” is the word I would use in my journey. It has been a lot of hard work, tenacity, commitment and passion for what I do to see my dream come into fruition. I never wanted to look back and say “what if?” So I think it really was the hard work that eventually paid off and brought the desired outcome into fruition. I am blessed to work with amazing humans and artists who bring their generous spirits and energy to every project we endeavor. So, I say I’m extremely lucky to have a community of friends, artist and colleagues with whom this would not be possible.

I think it’s the energy you put out that also contributes to what comes back into your life…

Contact Info:

 
Image Credit:
Paul Antico, Andre Daughtry, Halban Photography, Scott Groller, BDK, Dasha Sur

Getting in touch: VoyageLA is built on recommendations from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you know someone who deserves recognition please let us know here.

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