Dancer, choreographer and dance educator, Regina Klenjoski founded her company in 1999, making its debut at the James Armstrong Theatre. While performing throughout the Los Angeles area, the Regina Klenjoski Dance Company (RKDC) was based in Torrance, CA. until 2014 when Klenjoski and her family relocated to Wichita, Kansas. Before leaving the LA area, RKDC received 26 Lester Horton awards for Klenjoski’s choreography, her collaboration with artists in music, costuming, and performance, and her production of the SOLA Contemporary Dance Festival from 2001-2008. While in Kansas the company has continued its affiliation with the Torrance Cultural Arts Center and still maintains a long-standing dance education program there.
On October 21, 2023, Regina Klenjoski Dance Company will return to the James Armstrong Theatre for the west coast premiere of Klenjoski’s new work The Golden Apple. Klenjoski drew her inspiration for the work from a Macedonian folk tale “which explores themes of power and stewardship in a modern context.” Represented by the Torrance Cultural Arts Foundation, Tickets for the October 21 performance at 8 p.m. range from $35-$45 and are on sale now.
Due to the pandemic, it has been four years since Klenjoski has been able to bring her work back to Torrance. When I asked how that felt, she replied, “It feels wonderful. It’s just like coming home. It’s been a long wait. We’ve all been waiting through these last 3 years.” The last time Klenjoski’s company was scheduled to perform at the Armstrong, her work Far From Home was cancelled just two days prior to the opening. “I’m really thrilled to be able to come back to the South Bay community with my professional work. I am in Torrance focused on the education program so much, and absolutely love the work we have done to grow and nurture dance here over the past two decades, but it’s time to finally re-establish RKDC’s professional company within the community where it flourished for 18 years prior to my personal move.
The company’s repertory of 41 works includes intimate choreographic studies, dramatic evening-length works, dance films and site-specific installations. Klenjoski began creating The Golden Apple in 2022 and the work stems from her deep ties to her homeland, Macedonia. “For this production, she found the tale, “The Boy Who Hid in the Golden Apple” in a children’s book she purchased while in Macedonia. Her version of The Golden Apple loosely follows the narrative of a rural protagonist, who, with the help of nature’s allies, defies a kingdom’s control over wealth, land, and people. A thought-provoking and visually stunning production that challenges the audience to reflect on our interdependence with the natural world”. September 20th press release by Susan Gordon.
I asked Klenjoski to talk more in depth about what drove her to make The Golden Apple. She said that she had a couple of answers to that question.
“As I create more work, and as I travel through my career, of over thirty years, she explained. “I want to dive into topics that I care about, unearth themes that really move me, and hopefully in the process, contribute something meaningful to the collective conversation on these subjects. Right now, my focus continues to be my heritage, my culture.”
Klenjoski was born in Vienna, Austria but her parents are from Macedonia. Her family later migrated to the US. She explained that she spent most of her childhood trying to assimilate into her American life and struggled to embrace her bicultural identity as a Macedonian American. “As an adult, and more specifically as a mother, I quickly came to the realization that I want my children to know their culture and the rich heritage they come from. I want to share the Macedonian culture with my community because it’s beautiful, celebrates family and tradition first, and frankly, I feel a responsibility to represent, as there’s just not that many of us.” Klenjoski said. According to my Google search, there are just over 2 million people living in Macedonia and the population appears to be in a decline. For this reason she explained that she was driven, more than inspired, to find a story that would spark an idea for a full-length dance theater work.
Klenjoski works in a contemporary dance theater arena and says that she is inspired in the abstract sense of that form. “I think you can see narrative in my work,” she said. “If you look for it, you will find it but I really don’t go to the line of creating a full story dance. I like to keep things more surreal and spacious so an audience can interpret [her work] in their own individual way.
Narrative works that Klenjoski loves are Angelin Preljocaj’s Rite of Spring and Mats Ek’s Swan Lake. “I love works that are born from pure, true narrative, but they explore a deeper meaning, with an alternative take – that still allows me to feel like I’m seeing something new,” she stated. “I don’t want to be in a place of passive acceptance as a viewer. I want to be engaged and making my own choices on how to interpret the art I am experiencing.”
Even though Klenjoski discovered this story in a children’s book, she was quick to say that The Golden Apple is not created for children, it’s a contemporary work meant for a multi-generational audience. “This story is a traditional fairy tale. It doesn’t make sense. It skips the middle parts of relationships and has this kind of magical outcome where you don’t really know how the characters got to that happy outcome,” she explained. But it has these wonderful themes in it that deal with ecology and environment; concerns that I feel are on our collective minds right now. It speaks to the growing awareness of ‘what are we gong to do about the sustainability of our planet?’”
It was, Klenjoski said, this latter part that was the clincher and what made the story click for her. She used the term driven rather than being inspired to use the story, “The Boy Who Hid in the Golden Apple.” “I felt it right away, with all the aspects of the story, I saw ecological themes through the protagonist’s interaction with the animals in need, feminist themes between the King and the daughter and societal themes with the Kingdom’s control over resources,” She added. “I’m like, yes, I feel strongly about this. I care very much about what’s happening. Let me dive into this, learn more, immerse myself and the dancers, and let’s see how close I can walk that fine line of narrative and abstract and stay uncomfortable, but still within my aesthetic.”
Regarding the costumes, Klenjoski said that costume consultant, Denise Lichter, suggested that the dancers should stand out vibrantly and colorfully “in an almost a monochrome way” against the moving background and the stage lighting. She described how they wanted the costumes to stand out similarly to how paper figures do when one opens a pop-up fairy-tale book. This was important visually as Klenjoski wanted the film to cover the entire cyc and to be larger than life.
The poet/narrator, Cydnee A. Reese, will perform live and Klenjoski has her moving about the stage and into the audience. Reese does not quote from the book but rather created an interpretation of the work and the story after many talk with Klenjoski and observing rehearsals.
“Ultimately this is what this piece was about,” she said. “It’s riding the fine line between fantasy and reality. The fantasy is this forever- beautiful world of ours and the reality is, that’s probably not going to be our kid’s reality, or their kid’s reality. We’re already seeing the effects of climate change. So, our dream state of opulence and excessiveness is the fantasy, and our truth is not quite as pretty as we think. But there is still hope. We don’t have to give up on that magical outcome.”
The original score for The Golden Apple was composed by Salt Lake City composer Michael Wall; animation and film design by Kansas City artist Stephen Goldblatt; live poetry and spoken word by Wanderer; costume design and construction by Susan Rendell and Los Angeles costume consultant Denise Lichter; and Lighting Design by Kansas City designer Zan De Spelder.
When I first saw the photos that appear in this interview, I was stuck by how vivid the colors were and how magical. I asked Klenjoski to speak about her collaboration process with all the artists involved. There is not room to tell all, but I will try to explain as best as possible.
She explained that she recently earned an MFA in choreography and creative writing. She loves to write and it seemed so logical for her to use this tale. “I have always been drawn to collaboration and an interdisciplinary approach. Working with Wanderer, we started with the story and the words but quickly did away with them. We had a clear intention to blur the line between narrative and poetry” Klenjoski said. “I was working towards a layered interpretation and an interdisciplinary approach to sharing the story, the underlying themes, and the relationships that exist in the story.” Wanderer created a wonderfully complex set of short poems that take us through the dance, not unlike a narrator.
She said that everything developed in parallel and admitted that it was not until three nights before the premiere in Wichita that she could see how it was all coming together. Working with composer, Michael Wall, they had conversations over the telephone, sent notes back and forth, and discussed the music to end up with what Klenjoski described as a “stunningly beautiful score.”
It was a very different process with the film designer, Stephen Goldblatt in that they both spent hours on zoom, and collaborated over Pinterest. “He was interested in working with AI. I was just hearing of people using it artistically,” Klenjoski said. She had wanted to have a film of one of her dancers moving under water, but it was too costly so Goldblatt created an AI image, animated it, and used Photoshop to make it appear that she was under water. There was a lot of looking at one minute film clips. They worked with found video as well as original animation and still imagery.
Klenjoski explained that in the first act the work loosely moves through the three elements – earth, air and water. Then following intermission the dancers appear in a really “gluttonous,” fantastical and opulent kingdom. “I really tried to follow that loose narrative with the visual images I was choosing,” she said.
As the artistic director, Klenjoski likes to collaborate by sharing her ideas and vision with all of her collaborators while allowing them the space to explore those ideas and interpret them through their medium. During the creation of The Golden Apple she said that all the collaborators she worked with had strong artistic voices, and it was important to her to work in a collaborative way as opposed to a hierarchy. “It was a whirlpool of artistic ideas with everyone bringing their A-game to the work,” she said. “If you have a good partnership from the beginning, then magic happens.”
Klenjoski wants audiences to know that The Golden Apple run time is 1:40 plus intermission. She wants audiences to know the work is wonderous, visual, sonic and a will deliver a beautiful evening at the theater for dance goers and new-to-dance goers alike.
WHAT: Regina Klenjoski Dance Company presents the west coast premiere of The Golden Apple.
WHO: Regina Klenjoski Dance Company
Choreography: Regina Klenjoski
Original Music: Michael Wall
Film Design: Stephen Goldblatt
Live Poetry and Narration: Cydnee A. Reese
WHEN: Saturday, October 21, 2023; 8 p.m.
WHERE: James Armstrong Theater, 3330 Civic Center Drive, Torrance, CA 90503
TICKETS: $35 – $45 Tickets may be purchased by clicking HERE or by calling the Torrance Arts Box Office: 310-781-7171
For more information about the Regina Klenjoski Dance Company, please visit their website.
For more information about the James Armstrong Theater, please visit their website.
Written by Jeff Slayton for LA Dance Chronicle.
Featured image: Regina Klenjoski Dance Company – The Golden Apple – Elleigh McClelland in “Air'” – Photo by Fernando Salazar