When Liz Monnier retired as artistic director at Fort Wayne Dance Collective, it was the end of an era. Although Monnier continues to work from an office at the Collective, she handed the reins of her baby, the organization she helped found more than three decades ago, to John Byrne, a talented and accomplished dancer and choreographer who has established himself in all corners of the county. But while he’s still deciding how he wants to make his own mark on the Dance Collective, he is wholeheartedly embracing the mission Monnier set forth from the beginning.
Byrne comes to Fort Wayne via North Carolina, where he was born, and New York, where he grew up. His commitment to dance seems to have come at the same time he came into the world.
“I started in dance from the moment I can first remember,” says Byrne. “I was always moving, and as a child I would watch MGM movies and see Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire. I think I just knew then that would be my destiny.”
There was never any question in Byrne’s mind that dance was his future, his only career goal.
“It was my only skill,” he says, laughing. “Growing up, I was very theatrical, and I think as an artist you want to be multifaceted. Usually someone who’s an artist is drawn to more than one thing. I like to think of myself as a Renaissance Man.”
His studies took him to the North Carolina School of Arts, the School of American Ballet and Julliard, where he says he focused on modern dance and the great choreographers, including Jose Limon, Twyla Tharp and Paul Taylor. Byrne’s first professional job was with the Paul Taylor Dance Company, and he recently got a call to rejoin the company for a visit.
“I had danced with Paul Taylor Dance Company for four years; then last year they called me and asked me to join them on tour. So, 10 years later, I stepped back in. I thought it would be harder than it was. It was easier than I expected because I think I had the maturity and confidence to be more present in what I was doing. Obviously the physicality becomes more difficult. There are days when I can’t get out of bed because I’m sore, but that comes from dance being such an athletic activity.”
Byrne’s talent has put him in some very high profile company beyond the dance world. He was hired to choreograph Elton John’s Las Vegas show, and his collaborations with photographer David LaChapelle had included work with No Doubt, Norah Jones, Joss Stone, Mary J. Blige and Britney Spears. He has also directed a video by Florence + the Machine and worked on a variety of television shows and commercials.
“Although I do have a classical background, I enjoyed doing commercials for Sony, Target, H&M, Clinique. I like playing between the fine art world and advertising and commercials. It’s been fun to work as a dancer, choreographer and director in all these different projects.
“When I was approached in 2013 to direct the Florence and the Machine video, I had already heard the song ‘Spectrum’ and really liked it, so I was thrilled to direct, or actually co-direct with David LaChapelle, the video for that song. I found a great local dance school in Orange County and used the dancers there for the video, and they were able to provide the costuming. It was a great art project.”
Bryne now brings this varied experiences to his work as artistic director at Fort Wayne Dance Collective, and he is happy with the approach the Collective brings to the arts and the openness that is encouraged for those who may not have thought dance was in the cards for them.
“What was not mainstream is now mainstream, and people’s minds are opening up to accept the unconventional,” he said. “YouTube is the new source of entertainment. Not that TV is obsolete, but it’s not the No. 1 place for entertainment. Everyone has a voice now, and what makes the Dance Collective so cool is that everyone is qualified to express themselves. When I’ve worked in TV and film, I’ve always used people who are interesting rather than just going with the predictable. I think my role in this organization and in this community is to help people reach their hopes and dreams and express themselves creatively. My interest is in cultivating what has already been established.”
While he is still settling into his new position and determining what his plans will be for the Collective down the road, he is getting to know the staff and has Monnier on site to help with the transition. Although he visited Fort Wayne in June to get a feel for his future home, he’s already finding things he loves about his new hometown.
“I think this is the quintessential American experience. For me, Fort Wayne offers everything you could want but also has a real intimacy about it.”
While Byrne hopes to help establish Fort Wayne Dance Collective outside the borders of Indiana, he also aspires to bring dance to people who may not have ever envisioned themselves dancing. In fact, he says, anyone who brings this article with them to FWDC will be able to take a free dance class to see if dance might be exactly what they need in their life.
“I want to bring people out of the woodwork, people who maybe are at home and haven’t moved in awhile. Come here and move in a safe way. This is your home, and my office is open for anyone who wants to come by.”
Thursday, April 27
Click on the headings below for full calendars
Click header for complete Things To Do calendar
Community Unity — Community dinner, games and prizes, and neighborhood safety forum, 6-8 p.m. Wednesday, April 26, Jennings Recreation Center, Fort Wayne, free, 427-6028
Issues and Ales — Panel of experts discuss important issues in the community with audience Q&A , 7-9 p.m. Wednesday, April 26, Calhoun Street Soups, Salads and Spirits, Fort Wayne, free, 456-7005
Click header for complete On the Road calendar
Click header for complete Music & Comedy calendar
Chris Worth — Variety at Nick's Martini & Wine Bar, Fort Wayne, 7:30 p.m., no cover, 482-6425
Fort Wayne Comedy Connection — Comedy at Latch String Bar & Grill, Fort Wayne, 9 p.m., no cover, 483-5526
Hubie Ashcraft — Acoustic at River View Tavern, Decatur, 7-10 p.m., no cover, 724-3500
Open Mic — Hosted by Mike Mowry at Pedal City, Fort Wayne, 9 p.m.-12 a.m., no cover, 415-6167
Click header for complete Karaoke & DJs calendar
Classic City Karaoke w/Bryan Lee — Karaoke at Pine Valley Bar & Grill, Fort Wayne, 8:30 p.m., no cover, 490-9464
Fort Wayne Karaoke w/Brian — Variety at AJ's Bar and Grill, Fort Wayne, 8 p.m., no cover, 434-1980
Fort Wayne Karaoke w/Josh — Karaoke at Columbia Street West, Fort Wayne, 9:30 p.m., no cover, 422-5055
Fort Wayne Karaoke w/TJ — Variety at Chevvy's, Fort Wayne, 9 p.m., ,
Karaoke w/Bucca — Variety at Wrigley Field Bar & Grill, Fort Wayne, 10 p.m., no cover, 485-1038
Karaoke with Rooster — Variety at By: Belle Haven, South Whitley, 8 p.m., no cover, 866-716-9243
Shooting Star Prod. w/Stu — Variety at Office Tavern, Fort Wayne, 8 p.m., no cover, 478-5827
Shut Up and Sing — Karaoke at Duesy's Sports Bar, Fort Wayne, 7-11 p.m., no cover, 483-5681
Three Rivers Karaoke — at Dupont Bar & Grill, Fort Wayne, 9 p.m.-1 a.m., no cover, 483-1311
Click header for complete Stage & Dance calendar
Little Shop of Horrors — IPFW Department of Theatre performance of Alan Menken-Howard Ashman musical comedy, 8 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday, April 26-29, Williams Theatre, IPFW, Fort Wayne, $5-$18, 481-6555
Click header for complete Movie times
Click header for complete Art calendar
37th National Print Exhibition — Juried exhibition featuring contemporary printmakers from around the nation, Tuesday-Sunday thru May 5, Artlink Contemporary Art Gallery, Fort Wayne, 424-7195
41st SOCA Student Exhibition — Works from students currently enrolled at USF’s School of Creative Arts, daily thru April 30, Weatherhead Gallery, USF Rolland Art Center, University of Saint Francis, Fort Wayne, 399-7999
Echolilia — Works from Timothy Archibald and his autistic son, Eli, Tuesday-Sunday thru June 11, Fort Wayne Museum of Art, $6-$8 (members, free), 422-6467
Diane Allen Groenert — Exhibition of local artist’s Downtown Series and new works, Monday-Saturday thru June 24, West Central Microcreamery & Cafe, Fort Wayne, 415-9293
Expressions of Existence — An exhibition of works by artists through history, including Jackson Pollock, Andy Warhol, Francisco Goya and others whose works have been influenced by disabilities, Tuesday-Sunday thru June 11, Fort Wayne Museum of Art, $6-$8 (members, free), 422-6467
Fort Wayne Artist Guild Exhibitions — Works by Alice Siefert at Aldersgate United Methodist Church, Jennifer Caudel at Allen County Retinal Surgeons, Anita Trick, Citizens Square (2nd and 3rd floors), Darlene Selzer Miller at The Einhaus Group for Women’s Health, Patricia Weiss at Heritage of Fort Wayne, Emily Jane Butler at Ophthalmology Consultants (Southwest), Linda Binek at Ophthalmology Consultants (North), Carolyn Stachera at Rehabilitation Hospital of Fort Wayne, John Kelty at ResCare Inc. Adult Day Service, Wiletta Blevins at Town House Retirement, Karen Bixler at Visiting Nurse Hospice and Barb Yoder and Karen Harvey at Will Jewelers, thru April 30, fortwayneartistguild.org.
Fort Wayne Photographers Club — Exhibition featuring local photographers, Tuesday-Sunday thru April 30, Foellinger-Freimann Botanical Conservatory, Fort Wayne, $3-$5 (2 and under, free), 427-6440
Glass: A Medium in Art and Automobiles — Dale Chihuly blown glass and fiberglass auto, daily thru Sept. 8, Auburn Cord Duesenberg Museum, Auburn, $7.50-$12.50, 925-1444
Jan Krist-Finkbeiner — Exhibition of ceramic reliefs, Tuesday-Sunday thru May 5, Artlink Contemporary Art Gallery, Fort Wayne, 424-7195
Kathy Funderburg & Diane Schafer-King — Acrylic paintings (Funderburg) and works in marbled paper and fabric (Schaefer-King), Monday-Saturday thru April 29, Orchard Gallery of Fine Art, Fort Wayne, 436-0927
Outdoor Sculpture Invitational — Fifteen outdoor sculptures from regional artists, daily thru April 30, School of Creative Arts campus, University of Saint Francis North Campus, Fort Wayne, 399-7999
Rhoda Gerig: The Hope of Eagles — Photographic images of eagles, daily thru June 4, Clark Gallery, Honeywell Center, Wabash, 563-1102
Sharon — An exhibition of Leon Borensztein photographs chronicling the struggles he faced raising his severely disabled daughter, Tuesday-Sunday thru June 11, Fort Wayne Museum of Art, $6-$8 (members, free), 422-6467
SOCA Graduate Program: Student Highlights — Juried exhibition of works by students enrolled in USF’s School of Creative Arts graduate program, Monday-Friday thru April 30, Lupke Gallery, University of Saint Francis North Campus, Fort Wayne, 399-7999
Spring 2017 BFA Exhibition — Exhibition of works by IPFW graduation seniors, daily thru May 3 , Jeffrey R. Krull Gallery, Main Library, Allen County Public Library, Fort Wayne, 481-6709
Spring 2017 BFA Exhibition — Senior thesis projects from Bachelor of Fine Arts candidates Brenda Drayer (sculpture), Derek Hibbs (printmaking), Ellen Mensch (painting), Nathaniel Morris (sculpture) and Kyle Snodgrass (sculpture), daily thru May 7, Visual Arts Gallery, IPFW, Fort Wayne, 481-6709
Spring Palette — New original works by more than 50 nationally recognized artists, Tuesday-Saturday and by appointment thru April 30, Castle Gallery Fine Art, Fort Wayne, 426-6568