Art People: Kelly Silliman | dancer, choreographer

Last modified: Thursday, May 08, 2014

Dancer and choreographer Kelly Silliman is certain that the end of life as we know it on Earth is inevitable.

“I’m really pretty convinced that this lifestyle that we’re living is not sustainable; it’s not going to last much longer,” Silliman said in an interview last week at Smith College, where she received a master’s degree in dance last spring.

In response to that unsettling certainty, Silliman, 36, who lives in Leeds with her husband and four children, created tinydance, a project that encompasses a variety of dance works made for small, sustainable spaces. That includes her tinydance stage, a 4-foot-by-8-foot platform she designed and built with help from student engineers at Smith College. She tows the stage by bicycle to indoor and outdoor venues around the Valley.

Inspired by the Tiny House movement, her project, she says, is a response to her certainty that a post-apocalyptic world will be a stripped-down one, with far less emphasis on technology and consumerism.

With an eye toward that future, she wondered how her art would fit into such a world. On her website,, she asks, “What would art look like if we no longer had high-tech resources available to us?”

“My tiny stage was a way for me to pose that question in a really literal sense,” Silliman said. “Of course it would be very low-tech. When you take away the lights and the sound, the dramatic costumes, what are we left with? ... I created something that’s the antithesis to this current tech trend.”

Silliman’s goal, she writes in an artist’s statement, is to “facilitate interdisciplinary, community-building events that use live performances as starting points for broader conversations about sustainability, culture, the arts, and the future of our world.”

By working toward a more promising future, including through her art, she says, she remains “cheerfully apocalyptic,” in spite of her doomsday predictions.

“I have been interested in making the world a better place ... since childhood,” she said. Indeed, her whole life has been a blend of art and social awareness. She began dancing as a child, and was raised by parents who were activists.

Ultimately, she says, the answers to survival lie in building skills and community, ideas she shares with audiences at her tinydance project performances.

“Each piece has these themes of community and of the worlds that we create within the larger world and how we as individuals relate to the world we live in. That’s something that I’m constantly chewing on,” she said.

Silliman says her miniscule stage catches people’s attention, and draws them in. That, in turn, creates openings for conversations about the world’s future.

“This idea of community-building is really about communication and speaking and engaging,” she said. “Any time I perform, that is happening as well.”

And yet, her tinydance project is no gimmick. Nor is it a mere soapbox. It’s a serious stage, designed by a skilled artist, who, with her extensive background in classical ballet and modern dance, has the experience to create engaging works of dance.

“I want the work to be so strong,” Silliman said. “I want to make really great work on this little stage.”

— Kathleen Mellen

Kelly Silliman will perform in July at the Tuesday Farmers Market in Northampton.


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