The choreographer Darrell Grand Moultrie has created works for performers like Beyoncé and the tap dancer Savion Glover, and for ballet companies around the country. This month he’s in town working on a world premier for the Oregon Ballet Theater.
Moultrie grew up in Harlem, and was inspired to get into dance when an elementary school teacher helped to pay for his dance classes. The teacher, Gwendolyn McLoud, saw something in him, says Moultrie: “I was very passionate and I didn’t care what the other kids thought.”
Moultrie still talks to McLoud, who is 91 years old, nearly every week.
“She told me and my mother, if you keep your grades right and do well – and drink a lot of water – I will pay for everything you do in the arts.”
Moultrie started doing choreography early, making up dances for kids in his neighborhood in Harlem. “I was very picky at a young age,” he says “I would pick the ones who could dance well, and the other ones, I would make them my audience.”
That’s not so dissimilar from how he designs dances today. “The dancer is 100 percent the inspiration,” says Moultrie. He didn’t have the dances for OBT planned before he landed in Portland, but let the dancers inspire his choreography.
“I have to meet the dancers and see how they move and then … movement starts spilling out of my head.”
Three of the pieces of music used in Moultrie’s OBT dances come from Portland native Kenji Bunch. Moultrie says Bunch’s eclectic style is an inspiration: “His styles are so diverse. He’s just not one thing … and that’s what I think makes him so special.”
That’s something Moultrie wishes people would see more about his own career. If you’ve worked in one style, sometimes people “want to keep you in a box.” Moultrie says he has to make sure he shows everything he’s capable of very quickly “before they get what I call the label tattoo out of their pocketbooks.”
Moultrie’s work with OBT will premier on April 16.