When I first moved to Providence seven years ago, as a lover of the arts and especially of work created by diverse, lesser heard voices, I went looking for the spaces where that was happening. I am forever grateful that I stumbled upon The Everett Company, Stage & School.
Founded in 1986, and now housed in a carriage house on Duncan Avenue in the Mount Hope neighborhood of Providence, Everett’s humble beginnings in the early 1980s consisted of dance lessons taught out of their home by co-founders, Dorothy Jungels, her son Aaron and daughters Rachael and Therese. Twenty-eight years later, Everett is a thriving center of creation, experimentation and performance. It is a community of diverse artists, teachers, and audience, and most of all, it is a place that seems to make all of these stakeholders feel a welcome part of the Everett family.
The namesake of the organization is the late Everett “Buddy“ Wheeden, Dorothy’s early dance partner, and friend. The pair danced together in the 1970s, bringing their artistry to various homes for the aged under RISCA’s Arts and the Elderly program.
The Company, the dance theater arm of Everett, officially formed in 1986, and soon after landed an audition to showcase their work at the prestigious Dance Theater Workshop in New York City. This put them on the map, as Dorothy recalls, and accolades followed for their innovative work with favorable reviews in The Village Voice, The New York Times and The New Yorker.
As Everett created dances of their own, they were also drawn to the energy of street dancing. Everett had begun to reach out to neighborhood kids through word-of-mouth, and to recreation centers in neighborhoods all over the city, like in Smith Hill, where they met Eddie Silvestri who would become a key figure in Everett’s early development, and was one of its early Company members. “It was so full of life, kids dancing from what they picked up on in the street,” Dorothy says. “It was like a club here. We’d have 70 kids from all over the city just dancing, and learning how to dance just by watching one another.”
She continues, “we wanted to recognize and to show that the marginalized have a voice, a body, a sound, and that this was not coming from an academic place. When we had the dance company going for a while, we wanted to be able to sustain something for them, and that is why we started the school.”
Today the company’s primary work is the development of their multi-year projects, the Brain Cafés. This year’s Brain Café is called Freedom Project, and focuses on the stories of people marginalized by the criminal justice system. Aaron Jungels, Everett’s executive director, describes the boundary-pushing Café series as “a fantastic combination of expertise, dialog and performance. The model is a popular one that people take to. We’ve been finding all these collaborators. We want to cross boundaries with what we’re doing.” Their groundbreaking work combining neuroscience and personal expression, in the multi-platform performance called Brain Storm, has gotten major attention and toured regionally.
Stage and School
Everett offers a wide array of classes to youth, ages 6-18, though Aaron is quick to point out that young adults over the age of 18 still have a home there. Classes take place after-school and Saturdays and include Improv, Hip-Hop, Story Ballet, Ballet, Polyne- sian Dance, Guitar, Film and Video, and Story to Song. Classes are reasonably priced and Everett never turns any one away if they are unable to pay for a class.
Sokeo Ros, director of Everett’s Hip-Hop Program, started dancing 18 years ago as a teenager during the space’s “club days.” Sokeo now teaches Advanced Hip-Hop, is a member of Everett’s popular Friday Night Live improv team and the Company, and is co-founder of the Everett-based dance troupe Case Closed. Sokeo recently received a RISCA grant to create From Refugee Camp to Project, a solo show about being born in a Thai refugee camp, moving to America, and finding himself trapped in a ghetto filled with poverty, violence and gangs. Through hip-hop, traditional Khmer dance, spoken word and video, Sokeo shares how self-expression helped him rise above his past and discover the beauty in life. The show premieres this fall.
One of Sokeo’s students is Laisha Crum. Laisha is 23 and has been taking Hip Hop classes at Everett since she was 12. Laisha also serves as a mentor in the Beginners class, and is a member of Case Closed. “When I first came, I was shy,” she says. “After a while I got comfortable. I love the people here. This place makes me and everyone feel very comfortable. Now I love to perform. I get lost in the dance. My stress disappears. Sokeo has a saying, ‘through negativity comes great creativity.’”
Paying It Forward
Beyond simply teaching, Everett has developed opportunities for students to grow into roles of mentor, apprentice and assistant teacher. Aaron, Everett’s chief fundraiser, feels it’s important to pay artists for what they do, and for work in the arts to be a viable thing for people. He recently received a three-year grant for a new pilot program called Barnstormers which teaching artists Ari Brisbon, Edgar Viloria and Grace Bevilacqua, Dorothy’s granddaughter, are a part of. Grace, who grew up in this family of dance and theater, and who is now an Everett Company member, dancer and teacher, shared that the three are learning the ropes of non-profit administration by taking on the tasks of grant proposal writing and research, marketing, communications and data collection.
Thinking back to the social justice elements of Everett’s work, and Edgar Viloria’s statement that he wants everyone in the audience to leave with “that feeling of welcome,” I asked Dorothy if it had always been Everett’s mission to use themes, sto- rytelling and social justice in their work. She related that it hadn’t started out that way, but that it has evolved in that direction.
“It was always a desire for this idea of the family of mankind to recognize oneness,” Dorothy says. “That everyone has the ability to create, and should have the chance to do it.”