Shaping Sound Dance Company’s Vision
By Libby Ryan
Minnesota native Justine Lutz will be returning to her hometown of Minneapolis this month for a one-night stop on tour with Shaping Sound Dance Company, a new dance group with a focus on creating entertainment for non-dancers and dancers alike. The twenty-year-old dancer will perform with the company at the State Theatre on January 31st.
Lutz began dancing when she was three years old at Summit Dance Shoppe near her house in Plymouth. She studied at various studios in the Twin Cities but never quite found the right fit, choosing instead to travel around the country for specialized training by the end of high school.
“During high school, I became more myself,” Lutz said. “I wanted to express more creativity rather than being competitive.”
So instead of sticking to one competitive dance studio or joining her high school’s varsity dance team, Lutz went to dance conventions nearly every weekend.
“When I grew up in Minnesota, I actually had a really hard time,” Lutz said. “I felt very different than everyone around me.”
Going to conventions every weekend in high school meant Lutz missed out on some typical suburban teenage milestones, but her passion for dance and big dreams for the future kept her going. Lutz moved to Los Angeles after graduation, and everything changed. She tried out for the TV show So You Think You Can Dance and made it into the top thirty contestants. During her first year away from home, she travelled with The PULSE, assisting and learning different styles of dance.
“I was so ballet-based and so jazz-based that learning hip-hop and exploring other, different genres made everything that much better,” Lutz said. “Travelling and having to dance on carpet, you learn to dance anywhere.”
After a year of school, Lutz began pursuing dance full-time. She said the year in California made her feel like she had matured and now had the confidence necessary to stand out in the pool of talented dancers in LA.
“Looking at my first headshot from a year ago, it’s a completely different person,” she said. “It’s amazing how much I’ve evolved.”
Last year she tried out for SYTYCD again, but this time, SYTYCD alum and Shaping Sound cofounder Travis Wall was one of the judges. Lutz credits that audition as her big break. After catching Wall’s attention with her freestyled solo, she performed two shows with Shaping Sound before joining the company on tour in the fall.
“It is so incredible to be travelling with these kind of people,” Lutz said. “Just so awesome.”
Beside Wall, the other masterminds behind the Shaping Sound Dance Company are Nick Lazzarini, Teddy Forance, and Kyle Robinson. Lazzarini is a contemporary dancer and the winner of season one of SYTYCD. Forance danced with Cirque du Soleil and worked as a choreographer on seasons two and three of SYTYCD. Robinson joined the team after studying ballet with Mikhail Baryshnikov and performing in a Broadway national tour.
The three founding members (Wall, Lazzarini, and Forance) created and performed a contemporary routine on Dancing with the Stars in 2011, receiving an Emmy nomination for their work. According to Robinson, who joined the effort shortly after, this was the inception of the dance group.
“It was after that performance—Teddy, Nick, and Travis all turned to each other and said, ‘Why don’t we do this all the time?’” Robinson said.
Robinson, along with Wall, Lazzarini, and Forance, starred in the reality television show All the Right Moves, which he said inspired them to seriously pursue creating a real company. Working with their network of dancers from SYTYCD and connections in Los Angeles, they created their first show in 2011.
Shaping Sound is mainly a contemporary group, although their choreography blends many styles together. The company does a ballet warm-up before every show but also uses elements of jazz, modern, and hip-hop. In the course of the show, there are group numbers, solos, and intricately choreographed duets.
“It’s wild how far we’ve come in three years. We just wanted to dance with our best friends and perform,” Robison said. “It’s just grown to this point where we’re actually touring and doing shows and selling out theaters.”
Ask Robinson about the story inside Shaping Sound’s new production and he’ll tell you it’s about dreams, nightmares, adventures, and true love.
A line from the movie Hook inspired the show. Tink tells Peter Pan, “You know the place between sleep and awake, that place where you still remember dreaming? That’s where I’ll always love you.”
In the first show in 2011, the message was focused on the dancing, but this time, the creative team has worked hard to focus on creating a clear story. The show takes the audience inside the main character’s dream, where she falls in love and navigates through all sorts of adventures. Another SYTYCD all-star, Jaimie Goodwin, plays the dreamer.
“There’s one dance that is ‘nightmare,’ where we’re all in these beautiful masks and we’re Jaimie’s nightmare,” said Lutz. “We’re crawling all over and being dark, which is really fun.”
Robinson said the reason the creative team focused so intently on the plot of the story is because many dance shows are too abstract for the audience to follow.
“You don’t have to be extremely well versed in dance to come in and appreciate the show,” he said. “We’re trying to brand ourselves as dance theater.”
Dance theater is the concept of creating entertainment through dance, almost like a dance spectacle. Instead of the traditional ballet, where the storyline must be clearly outlined in a synopsis, Shaping Sound’s stories are clear even without an understanding of dance.
“I like to think of it as a dance Cirque du Soleil,” said Robinson. “I mean, I might be getting a little ahead of myself—we’re not quite on the same pay bracket as the Cirque du Soleil gentlemen—but we’ll get there.”
The Shaping Sound creators have built a strong audience within the dance community. While on tour, they teach dance workshops for their young fans. Those fans are the ones who know their reputation, have followed their progress since their SYTYCD days, and watch their reality show.
Robinson said he loves interacting with the fourteen-year-old dancers who come to the workshops and shows but is even more proud when he talks to the fathers, husbands, and boyfriends who were dragged along to the performances.
“For me, the greatest compliment is actually hearing the dudes come up to me and say, ‘That “Bohemian Rhapsody” number was insane.’”
The accessibility of the show is what Robinson believes sets Shaping Sound apart from other dance groups.
“That’s what is great about this company, is that it is so much more than the movement,” said Lutz.
With the unique aspects of dance each creator brings to the company, their performances attempt to break out of the dance-show box. This isn’t a ballet or a dance recital. What Wall, Lazzarini, Forance, and Robinson have created is new.
“It’s not just for the dance community,” said Robinson. “It’s for anyone and everyone who loves explosive entertainment.”