Behind the Curtain: Steven Prince Tate, Choreographer of “ONCE ON THIS ISLAND”

Steven Prince Tate, Choreographer of ONCE ON THIS ISLAND

Steven Prince Tate is all energy and enthusiasm, especially for his craft in dance and choreography and his artistic dreams for our production of ONCE ON THIS ISLAND, coming to the Dock Street Theatre stage this April. Hear from him about his inspirations and visions for the show below:

Share with us your artistic background. How did you get into dancing and choreography?

My artistic background is a self-made journey. I was, and still am, the kid that LOVED watching BET, MTV, VH1 and whatever awards show or artist special was on TV. I would study the hottest video at the time, learn the moves, then perform them at school dances with my cousin. Everything that I learned movement-wise was self taught until I joined my elementary school’s cheer and step team. My senior year in high school was when I was introduced to my first “dance studio.” My aunt took me to a masterclass that was being held and saw how much I gravitated to learning and picking up movement – she signed me right up! Unfortunately, that was one of the worst experiences I’ve ever had and almost made me not want to pursue dance. However, when I went to college, I signed up for my first modern dance class without knowing anything about the genre. It made me fall in love with dance and choreography. 

Which styles of dance do you gravitate towards the most? Why?

This is kind of a hard question – not because of what calls to me but because of what is wanted at the moment. The first style I learned was the social/cultural form of Hip-Hop, but now I gravitate more towards the Contemporary movement. Though every style of dance has the capability of storytelling, Contemporary allows these stories to be avant-garde. In this you can stray away from the literal and become a moving parable: having the audience search for the meaning you are sharing while allowing them the space to create their own. Though it can be all over the place at times, I enjoy the task of unpacking a theme through dance. 

What has inspired you as you choreograph Charleston Stage’s production of Once On This Island?

To be honest, what has inspired the choreography for this show are the people, the landscapes being developed, and the imagination of our design team. Collaborations are very important to me as a creative person. Being in the space with the actors while making sure we pull the best out of them, seeing how they gravitate towards different movements and characters, and the ability to adapt to changes allows room for me to create beautiful moments for our actors and audiences.

What has come easily as you choreograph the show? Which aspects have proven to be more challenging?

What has come easily to me has been creating the movement, while it has been more challenging to consider the other moving parts in the show, such as our sets and props. When creating any ballet there is a blank canvas – the only moving parts a person need to worry about are the other moving bodies and costumes. However, with theatre the dancers and choreographers always need to keep the set and prop pieces in the back of their minds.

What are your favorite shows of all time?

Now this is a hard question, but I am going to answer it to the best of my abilities! I love comedies and living in fairy tales. 

1. The Lion King: the Musical: The mechanics of the costumes and how they function with the actors’ movements are fascinating to me. My favorite scene is “Mufasa’s Face in the Stars.” This was the first musical I saw in New York when it first premiered, too.

2. The Book of Mormon: This show makes me laugh so much. I loved the social awareness tone while being salacious. 

3. Tina: The Tina Turner Musical: I loved how specific and distinct the role of Tina Turner has to be. Whoever plays her MUST do their research!

Steven Prince Tate is a Memphis, TN native and began his dance training attending Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro, TN. While attending MTSU, he performed works by River North Dance Company’s Mari Jo Irbe, Bill T. Jones dancer and choreographer Stefanie Batten Bland (CSBB), Cloud Gate Dance Theater and CSU dance professor Chung Fu Chang, Venus Fly Trap B-Girl member Teena “Teena Marie” Custer, Dance Magazine’s 25 Choreographers to Watch (2006) Ursula Payne and many others. Furthering his dance training , Steven received scholarships from the American Dance Festival (2007-2009), apprenticed for Shelter Dance Repertory and Company Stefanie Batten Bland, has attended the Alvin Ailey school (2011) and Complexions Contemporary Ballet Intensive (2016) performing commissioned works by Rudy Perez, the William Forsythe project, Butoh company Dairakudakan, Laura Dean, Mark Haim, Hair: the Musical performer Judine Summerville, Kim Neal Nofsinger, and Dwight Rhoden. Steven holds a degree in Theater and Dance with a minor in Gender Studies and is a member of Alpha Psi Omega Theater Honor Society.

In 2010, Steven became a trainee and company member for New Ballet Ensemble and School. He has performed in works by Frankfurt Ballet dancers Francesca Harper (The Francesca Harper Project), Elizabeth Corbett, Pittsburgh Ballet Principal Alan Obuzor (Texture Contemporary Ballet), Soloist Kaori Ogasawara, Opera Memphis’ “Aida”, guested for Dmitri Roudnev Children’s Ballet Theater’s annual Nutcracker performance: the Prince and Arabian. In 2013, Steven’s talent was featured in a commercial for reality dance show So You Think You Can Dance Season 10 Memphis Audition. In 2014, Steven was appointed Associate Director of contemporary dance company Bridging Souls Productions and has choreographed several works for the company: From Me to You (2014), Until Daybreak (2015), HIM (2016) and social justice piece While We Are Dying (2016). He has taught classes and workshops for the Memphis Grizz Girls, Ohio University, James Madison University, University of Memphis, Sugar Strut
Dancewear: The Sugar Tour, Crosstown Arts, Crosstown High School, Project Motion, SubRoy Dance Studios, The Buckman Conservatory, Young Actors Guild, Kipp Collegiate Elementary and Middle School, DanzHouse, Studio Gray, The Boys and Girls Club of West Memphis Arkansas, St. Mary’s Episcopal School, STAX Music Academy, Christina’s Dance Center (Nashville, TN), Memphis Jewish Community Center Summer Camp, Memphis Black Arts Alliance, Company d, Dazzle Baby Ballerina Certified, Woodland Presbyterian, Marion Visual and Performing Arts Center, and Tennessee Ballet Theater, and Children’s Ballet Theater. Wanting to foster the Memphis community through dance, Steven developed his own emerging artists workshops “The Move” (2014), and “Vib-ology (2021) as well as professional and community based movement classes “ Nu-Flo & S.T.R.U.T.” (2018).

Recently, Steven’s work was featured in Essence, Yahoo! and for a viral Beyonce’ inspired “Baby Reveal” video. He has choreographed for Grammy Nominated artists Southern Avenue and Marco Pave, NBC the Voice Season 21st season runner-up Wendy Molten, featured artist Nedy, NBA Memphis Grizzlies’ Grizz Girls, Grandmas & Grandpas, NBE’s senior students and company, Memphis based female tap company Hot Foot Honeys, NPC Battle on the Bluff: Fitness Competition, The Buckman Conservatory, Tennessee Ballet Theatre, MBAA (Black Broadway Cabaret) Rhodes College (I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change), Playhouse on the Square (Ain’t Misbehavin’), Theater Memphis (Mary Poppins Jr.), Desoto Family Theatre (High School Musical Jr.), Company d, Opera Memphis and various musicians in the Tri-State area.

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