A Conversation with WEAVE’s Bernadette and Travis Upton
WEAVE is a relatively new dance company to Chattanooga, founded in 2013, that performs in a style fusing elements of ballet, hip hop, modern dance and jazz into a unique contemporary idiom. Nomadic for some time—WEAVE has offered classes and held rehearsals at Barking Legs, Scenic City Dance Studio, and the Massari-Wood Dance Center over the past several years—they now have their own studio home on Brainerd Road.
Husband and wife team Travis Christian Upton and Bernadette Upton are the cofounders of the company. Travis, the conceptual director, is an entrepreneur whose ventures include a local entertainment website, an events company, and a photography/videography studio. He has also been involved with extensive nonprofit work.
Bernadette, the artistic director, is a dancer and choreographer who has performed professionally in Atlanta and has taught dance throughout the Chattanooga area. She also skilled in web design and the graphic arts.
We sat down with the pair to learn about their unorthodox approach to choreography, the partnership that makes WEAVE work, and their vision for the years ahead.
The Pulse: You perform in such diverse settings—Chattanooga WorkSpace, Palate 2 Palette, Roller Girls matches, and now your own concert space—what is a WEAVE show like?
Bernadette Upton: You’ll see a lot of styles blended. Within those styles, we take risks and challenge the way people think dance should look.
Travis Upton: Our core form is contemporary funk, which a combination of Bernadette’s styles and is absolutely unique because it is a created genre, a mixture of ballet, contemporary and modern. Our ballet is an abnormal style of ballet; most other studios in Chattanooga teach classical variations of ballet. We also incorporate hip hop and urban jazz. We didn’t look to other programs or have a blueprint, and that worked in our favor.
Bernadette: All our dancers train in all styles, because they have to be ready for any choreography I throw at them.
TP: You two seem to do everything as a team. How did that work in terms of creating art and building a business?
Travis: All small companies have their own struggles. In our case, we were working together and lost our jobs unexpectedly when our employer went out of business. That same week, in June 2013, we got married and moved into our home in Highland Park, where we started WEAVE on the steps of 1000 S. Beech Street. We said, “We don’t have anything going on—let’s start a dance company!” We didn’t have any funding. The next week we were holding classes in Barking Legs, and our first auditions were that fall.
Bernadette: In the company, we have multiple roles. Travis is CEO and conceptual director. I’m our artistic director. We’re co-founders. I’m the webmaster and head instructor. Webmaster…[laughs]…hmm, maybe I should get paid!
Travis: We don’t separate our work life. Everything is woven together; we live and work together 24 hours a day.
TP Tell more about your classes. What will people experience?
Travis: Our hearts’ desire is to impact people, to affect people in a positive way. We want to release the love of God to human beings through dance. We’re holistic; we have a wide range of ages and ethnicities in our classes—one night I counted members of seven ethnicities in one class. We have straight dancers and dancers in same-sex relationships. We have many open-format classes where everybody can be together; adults and younger people thrive when they’re in class with each other.
Bernadette: Improvisation plays a huge role in class. It’s how dancing got started; people had to improvise dances before they were formalized into styles like ballet. We are creating artists…
Travis: …and the purest form of any art is the free flow of that art. Improv is letting out the stuff inside…
Bernadette: …and you are very carefree while you are improvising. There’s no judgment. When I’m improvising, I feel like, “This is what dancing is supposed to be; this is what it will feel like in Heaven.”
TP: What is your vision for the future of WEAVE, in both choreography and the larger trajectory of the company?
Bernadette: When God wants to be present in a piece, the choreography flows from me. I am growing spiritually and as a choreographer, which is kind of the same thing in our world. The goal is for every piece to touch people, to flow from God to me to the dancers and to the audience.
Travis: WEAVE has been blessed with this new studio and performance space. We are expanding into an art gallery and looking to weave the arts together even more. For example, we could bring in a painter and see how the artist-movers affect the painter-mover when they create their art in the same room. We might bring in a DJ who creates beats as artists paint and dancers dance. Our vision comes from Heaven; we don’t come up with it ourselves. We ask for revelation, vision and favor, and God has given it to us over the past three years.
WEAVE: A Conceptual Dance Company now has a studio and is offering classes at: 4413 Brainerd Rd. To learn more, visit WeaveDanceCompany.com, call (423) 954-0115, or email them at email@example.com