We had the good fortune of connecting with Kimberly Chmielewski and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Kimberly, what was your thought process behind starting your own business?
The thought process behind starting jk-co, my new Denver-based dance company, was that I finally felt ready and supported to take this leap. I had this sense that I was not adequately serving a community that I have been immersed in for years. After performing professionally, choreographing, and teaching in the Denver metro area for nearly a decade and the relocation of my co-collaborator, Jenny Gram, to Denver, I knew it was the right time to share our choreographic vision with the Denver Dance Community. While there is such history in the prominent companies that are staging work in Colorado, I realized that the opportunities available to me didn’t serve the artistic process that I was craving. It is one thing to dive headfirst into someone else’s creative ideas, but I had a desire to explore movement material with a deeper level of investment. A good performer tells whatever story is being asked of them, but I wanted to find a genuine truth in the art I was creating; I needed the choreography to be more personal, more truthful, and more vulnerable. I feel a sense of responsibility to all the artistic directors I’ve shared rehearsal space with, but with the team I’ve established in jk-co, I know the work we are presenting will be a strong force to add to a flourishing arts community.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
The life of an artist is not an easy journey, but I do feel that it was my only option. If you can ever see yourself doing something other than your craft, you will never make a career out of your passion. I’ve never wanted to do anything other than dance. As a professional dancer, you must make your art your first priority; it takes a tireless, obsessive work ethic to hone your technique, keep your body in shape, and countless hours in the studio to get any type of results worth sharing. Dance, like all art, is a craft of preference. To hear the word “no” can be a crippling word in this field, but a mentor once told me, becoming comfortable hearing the word “no” removes the power it holds. There is such truth to this sentiment. The chance of hearing “no” is always a 50/50 chance, but understanding that it doesn’t define your worth was liberating. One person’s preference is not a universal truth. The less you allow personal preference to hold weight over your craft, your investment, and your self-worth, the more grounded you become and the stronger you stand in your value as an artist. For me, dance is a communal experience. It is never fun sharing the stage with a selfish performer (not performing the choreography in the right musical counts, making new choices on the stage that jeopardize the integrity of the group, etc.). I’ve learned to surround myself with artists and performers that I trust, respect, and hold accountable. Dance is a highly personal, vulnerable art, so I have learned to only engage with dancers that I feel safe around. For me, the only art worth sharing is art that is genuine, truthful, and invites its audience inside it. Any good song that has touched your soul, performance that imprinted in your brain, or favorite book that you’ve revisited many times holds you captive because it was truthful to you. My dream for jk-co’s work is to speak directly to our audience on a personal level. In creating movement experiences through visceral storytelling and meaningful interactions, the mission of jk-co is to examine and unearth human truths. jk-co aims to craft an innovative, inclusive, and accessible dance dialogue that ignites genuine human emotion. When there is a truthful investment, it is felt, experienced, and enjoyed by both performer and audience alike. jk-co is a Denver based dance company looking to establish a new way of making work and sharing performances based upon the values of equity, artistry, and community. We bring together Denver artists and audience members to create a hub and build a stronger and more connected foundation.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
Since moving to Denver almost ten years ago, I have had the luxury of having many friends visit me. I try to personalize each friend’s visit to incorporate their desires for making the trip. Having the accessibility of the mountains is probably Denver’s biggest draw (as a native of Chicago, IL, most of my friends are city dwellers that love an escape to the Rockys). I have personal favorite spots, because they hold sentimental value to me. For countless reasons, I always bring visitors to Ester’s restaurant. The walkability from my house, the family that owns the restaurant, the always fresh and ever-changing menu, and the variety of local craft beers on tap are among those many reasons. While Red Rocks is a forever favorite, I much prefer smaller concert halls where you can catch a show up close and personally at Larimer Lounge. jk-co is the Artist in Residence for 2020/2021 at Stanley Marketplace, so it has a very special place in my heart, amazing food options and shops, and is excellent for people watching in the greens. Denver is a growing city in its food, craft beers, opportunities for shows, performances, and art, and in its opportunities for indoor and outdoor activities.
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
My shoutout is to my team that makes jk-co a reality. I’ll start with a shoutout to Jenny Gram, who embarked on this journey with me and has supported me as my co-collaborator, co-artistic director, and dearest friend every step of this process. As my former college roommate and dance partner, she brilliantly balances me, bounces ideas with me, and holds me accountable to always creating and sharing the best version of work possible. My second shoutout will be to our third collaborator, Josh Dwyre. Joining jk-co as a co-collaborator in the Spring of 2020 has only added to the depth, artistry, and integrity of the work, process, and product jk-co shares with the Denver Dance Community. He is a wonderful partner on and off the stage, and the trust I have in him makes me feel safe and supported. Lastly, but most certainly not least, I want to give the hugest shoutout to the chair of jk-co and our producer, Skye Barker Maa. Not only did she believe in me when I first shared my aspirations of jk-co, but she made all of our performance opportunities come to life. She is endless in her work, has the super powers to get anything done, and is someone you want in your corner.
Sean Slavin of Slavin Studios Headshot credit: Martha Wirth