100 Phoenix Creatives 2016: Dancer and Choreographer Liz Ann Hewett | Phoenix New Times

How Tempe Choreographer Liz Ann Hewett Tells Stories Through Dance

Every other year, New Times puts the spotlight on Phoenix's creative forces — painters, dancers, designers, and actors. Leading up to the release of Best of Phoenix, we're taking a closer look at 100 more. Welcome to the 2016 edition of 100 Creatives. Up today is 48. Liz Ann Hewett...
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Every other year, New Times puts the spotlight on Phoenix's creative forces — painters, dancers, designers, and actors. Leading up to the release of Best of Phoenix, we're taking a closer look at 100 more. Welcome to the 2016 edition of 100 Creatives. Up today is 48. Liz Ann Hewett.

As the curtain closed on Liz Ann Hewett's directorial debut, she knew she'd found it. 

"... This is what I am meant to do in my life; create quality work and share it with the world," she recalls thinking. "It seemed that others agreed."

She self-produced the dance work, titled All in the Heir, and premièred it to a full house on the main stage at Tempe Center for the Arts. Though the production had wrapped, it was the beginning of a new chapter in her dance career.

The 26-year-old got her start in the dance world with Planet Funk in Houston, Texas, where she grew up. "It was a unique start to my training. I actually began in hip-hop choreography and breaking," Hewett says. "But I was quickly exposed to new styles, began dancing full-time with their company, and became a creative director for Planet Funk before moving to Arizona."

Based in Tempe, Hewett has danced and choreographed with EPIK Dance Company, Scorpius Dance Theatre, and Halo Movement Collective. She still dances with the latter two, and says she's had many chances to share her art since coming to the desert. "I have had plenty of dance opportunities including dancing for artists, making it to Vegas Week for So You Think You Can Dance, and incredible stage shows," she says. "I had fantastic opportunities as a choreographer as well, but I never felt like I had my voice heard until I could put out something of my very own."

Her pieces are best described as dance plays. "The spine of my work is the overall storyline, a set of characters and their journey," she says. "The story is then met with super-athletic choreography, and supported by a soundtrack that helps narrate the campaign."

Hewett loves pushing her pieces into the realm of grandiose and surprising. "If you attend one my shows, you could expect anything from flower petals raining down on you, to character twists, to being asked to be involved," she says. "A little bit of shock and awe never hurt anybody."

Originally, she thought of her debut as a "one and done situation," something she needed to get out of her system. "Clearly, I was wrong," she says. "It has consumed me ever since."

Now, she's working on a new contemporary dance show titled MEMORIAM, A Tribute to the Victims of 9/11. It focuses on the events in New York City, chronicling stories from those who experienced that day, and the work will debut September 9 and 10 at Tempe Center for the Arts.

"The pressure is intense, to create something historically accurate, responsibly told, and with immense care and respect for the people who were actually there," Hewett says. "I've spent years dreaming this production into existence. Not just dreaming, but studying and researching to find every thread of what is binding this show together. I couldn't be more proud of what has been created."

I came to Phoenix without knowing a soul. I moved here in 2008 to attend ASU's Herberger Institute for the Design and the Arts. I remember hearing from my fellow freshman how free they felt, getting away from high school and choosing their own classes. Whereas I had done high school online and been touring and training full time with a dance company in Houston, so getting to college felt like the most structured and almost claustrophobic experience. That is largely why it did not work for me at first. I ended up changing majors and graduating with my BS in criminal justice with a focus on counter-terrorism. Which was a decision that shaped me for the better. It opened my eyes to issues of the world and how I could infuse that with my creations.

I make art because I can't help it. It's simply a part of who I am, and always will be.

I'm most productive when I'm not forcing it. My best ideas and moments have come from a single afternoon, where I'm suddenly struck with an idea and within minutes I have a fully formed concept because it's flowing so freely.

My inspiration wall is full of black-and-white photography, poetry, notes from fellow artists and peers, and most of all movies! So much of what I create is inspired by the consumable and impressionable effect of films. I want my audience to understand my dance productions much like they would a movie, without the dialogue.

I've learned most from the men in my life. That's not to say I haven't had some incredible women alongside me during my journey but so much of my mentorship has come from men. My father, from day one has encouraged me to explore my creative side and instills confidence in my abilities by always saying "you can do it if you work hard enough." My partner Nick, a fellow choreographer and director, who allows me the space to explore my own ideas and then helps me brainstorm them into fruition. My first dance and business mentor Shawn Welling, who showed me you can't push the boundaries far enough; you can always go bigger and better. And the many daring and beautiful men I dance alongside here in the Valley. I think it says something beautiful about where feminism is going when not just women, but the men in my world want to see me succeed and continue to create.

Good work should always leave you wanting more. You should never feel the need to look at your watch in front of good work. It should engulf your attention and tease your imagination.

The Phoenix creative scene could use more space to showcase work. Specifically in the dance world, unless you are creating site-specific choreography, finding locations that provide enough space for movement is either competitive, difficult, or expensive.

The 2016 Creatives so far:

100. Nicole Olson
99. Andrew Pielage
98. Jessica Rowe
97. Danny Neumann
96. Beth Cato
95. Jessie Balli
94. Ron May
93. Leonor Aispuro
92. Sarah Waite
91. Christina "Xappa" Franco
90. Christian Adame
89. Tara Sharpe
88. Patricia Sannit
87. Brian Klein
86. Dennita Sewell
85. Garth Johnson
84. Charissa Lucille
83. Ryan Downey
82. Samantha Thompson
81. Cherie Buck-Hutchison
80. Freddie Paull
79. Jennifer Campbell
78. Dwayne Hartford
77. Shaliyah Ben
76. Kym Ventola
75. Matthew Watkins
74. Tom Budzak
73. Rachel Egboro
72. Rosemary Close
71. Ally Haynes-Hamblen
70. Alex Ozers
69. Fawn DeViney
68. Laura Dragon
67. Stephanie Neiheisel
66. Michael Lanier
65. Jessica Rajko
64. Velma Kee Craig
63. Oliver Hibert
62. Joya Scott
61. Raji Ganesan
60. Ashlee Molina
59. Myrlin Hepworth
58. Amy Ettinger
57. Sheila Grinell
56. Forrest Solis
55. Mary Meyer
54. Robert Hoekman Jr.
53. Joan Waters
52. Gabriela Muñoz
51. ColorOrgy
50. Liz Magura
49. Anita and Sam Means
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