For Columbia's Alex Ketley, the dance road leading to this week's national TV exposure on "So You Think You Can Dance" began under the tutelage of the late Anne Allen as a member of her Columbia Multi-Media Dance Theater Company.
That training opened doors for this Wilde Lake High School graduate, and earned him credits with the Washington Ballet. The road led eventually to California as a classical dancer with the San Francisco Ballet, where Ketley performed from 1994 to 1998 in a wide-ranging ballet repertory that included the works of master choreographerGeorge Balanchine.
Today, the smart and savvy Ketley still lives in the Golden State, where he creates masterful dances as director of The Foundry, a contemporary dance company. The Foundry has produced 14 evening-length works as well as video pieces that have screened at international video festivals.
Ketley last danced a solo in Howard County as a contestant in a Rising Stars competition that folks still talk about today. His challenging choreography was also presented by members of his company at a special AIDS benefit in Baltimore.
Listed in Dance Magazine's "25 Artists To Watch," Ketley is known as a "dancer's dancer." That means that he has followers who rush to see him perform and teach wherever he goes.
A residency in Florida with the Axis Dance Company led indirectly to this week's television gig. Axis is a company that reaches out to include performers with disabilities, and Ketley choreographed a piece for its dancers titled "To Color Me Different." That piece went on to receive the coveted Isadora Duncan Award, a premiere West Coast dance honor given to outstanding achievements in choreography.
It will be a duet from Ketley's award-winning "To Color Me Different" that will be featured on "So You Think You Can Dance," airing this Thursday, June 30, on the Fox entertainment channel at 8 p.m.
"This particular duet involves Rodney Bell, who is paralyzed from the waist down," reports Ketley from his Bay Area home. "He dances in a wheel chair and partners Sonsheree Giles, an amazing, able-bodied dancer."
"I'm not sure how the folks at "So You Think You Can Dance" got wind of this duet," he says. But the upshot was that the producers contacted the director of Axis and invited the dancers to perform on the show.
"I am going down to rehearse them on stage that day. Then I'll be watching the show with the audience," he adds with equal measures of apprehension and pride.
Then what's next for the Columbia native, whose mother still lives in Town Center?
"This fall, I will create a new work for the students at Juilliard in New York City," he says.
He is also the sole artist to receive the National Eben Demarest Award for a new project exploring remote regions of the American West. Before the year is out, he also expects to create new dances in Germany, Colorado, Texas and, good news for us Marylanders, his home state.
As for his television debut, Ketley confides that he is excited — though not so much for the applause as for the exposure it will bring to what he calls a particularly "important" dance piece.
"I really love this duet, artistically and politically. It shows that dance is accessible to everyone, and having it aired to millions of people is really exciting."
To see a video clip of the heart-wrenching duet go to Ketley's Web page at http://www.alexketley.com.