Christian von Howard is a soft-voiced dynamo, and he probably doesn't sleep much. Now in his third year as an assistant professor at Virginia Commonwealth University's Department of Dance and Choreography, he's also maintained a life in New York as a working artist, teaching at the Alvin Ailey School and running his own dance company, the Von Howard Project. How? By racing up and down Interstate 95 almost every weekend to teach his Saturday class at Ailey, rehearse with his company members and return to Richmond in time to teach ballet and modern classes on Monday.
This weekend the tireless choreographer presents his company's first full-fledged Richmond performance, “Re-Generate,” at the Grace Street Theater. His work along with that of seven other black artists from up and down the East Coast — New York, Philadelphia, Maryland, both Carolinas and Texas — will be featured in a collaborative program that, von Howard says, is “about spreading new ideas and thoughts on dance through different voices. It almost has kind of a traveling festival feel to it.”
“Re-Generate” names not only this concert, but also an overarching project co-founded by von Howard and choreographer Iquail Shaheed in 2008. Its mission has been “to bring together artistic directors of African American descent and their dance companies in order to collectively present a dance concert that is a current cultural representation of dance as art,” according to the project website.
Von Howard has known or worked with most of the artists — Camille A. Brown, Duane Cyrus, Iquail Shaheed, Elizabeth Gillaspy and Stephanie Milling — for years, whether through dancing in other companies or teaching at Ailey. “Our paths have crossed in many ways,” he says.
Von Howard will perform two of his works at the Grace Street Theater, one older work titled “Diffusing Borders: A Game of Inches,” created in 2003 in collaboration with Milling; and one section, titled “Light,” of an evening-length work to premiere next summer at Dance Theatre Workshop in New York. “I'm showing both sides of my work, and how it has evolved,” he says. The new work “has more of a personal construct to it. It's less movement for movement's sake.”
Along with merging old and new works into one concert, “Re-Generate” will serve to merge von Howard's double life. Even though he's been here three years, “as an artist I don't think I'm really visible in Richmond,” he says “So, it's like, ‘Here I am, Richmond.'” But he's also restructuring the face of his company, “switching it from a truly New York-based company into this mid-Atlantic construct. Because I'm still going to be working in New York and here, kind of marrying the two cities.”
With a tenure-track job, an ongoing position at one of the most prestigious contemporary dance schools in New York, and an active professional company, von Howard's growing mastery of his craft seems clear. And exhausting. “There's no slack. Everything is very tight.” He says, laughing: “Personal life, what is that? My down time is my travel day. Just being the realist that I am, I think at some point it will have to [change], but as long as I can do it, I will.” S
The von Howard Project's “Re-Generation” will be performed Oct. 15 and 16 at 8 p.m. Tickets are $10-$20. Information at vonhowardproject.com.