When Keely Cobb started attending the University of Nevada Reno in 2012, she knew she wanted to be onstage, but was torn between pursuing music and dance. She’d studied music for 12 years but was drawn to the physical act of dance and eventually settled on it for her major. To catch up with some of her peers, she began dancing 30 hours per week.
“I felt so behind everyone else, but it kind of took over my life and became one of my biggest passions,” Cobb said.
She didn’t stay behind, though, and was hired by multiple local dance companies when she graduated. She went on to found her own dance company, Around the Stage, in 2018—which now employs 13 other dancers and has recently returned from pandemic hiatus.
“We like to consider it Reno’s theatrical dance company,” Cobb said. “I really like to focus on taking Stanislavski acting techniques of building a narrative, curating characters and manifesting storylines in my evening-length works and combining that with modern and contemporary dance techniques.”
Cobb works as the manager and choreographer of Around the Stage, designing original productions and managing her team of dancers—many of whom are fellow graduates of UNR’s dance program. While her shows are not musicals per se, Cobb’s appreciation for stagecraft means that they often include obvious narratives and characters, sometimes with short dialogue or expository facial expressions. The format also allows for longer, more intricate productions.
“Sometimes we do shows where there are actual characters, like our show Showbiz Cabaret. There are specific characters and specific stories that are happening,” Cobb said. “Or the show we just did, Splattered, … there is some dialogue and there was the theatricality in a sense that everything was kind of over the top in the play with facial expressions and body language.”
Typically, Cobb shoots for two shows per year—a spring and a fall production—but she’s only recently returned to her preferred schedule. As the Covid pandemic closed all indoor events at the beginning of 2020, right after Cobb and her team had received grant funding and a spot in Artown’s lineup, the members of Around the Stage had to get creative about how to keep things moving physically, financially and emotionally.
“We had one rehearsal where we all just kind of sat down and talked about what we needed as artists and human beings,” Cobb said. “And it was unanimous. All of us agreed that we needed to meet outside, in a park, with masks on, with all the obstacles we had to go through so that we could create art—because that was the way we were going to cope with what was happening.”
The result was a socially distanced music video that Around the Stage made for Artown’s 2020 lineup of virtual events—and was eventually submitted to the Cleveland Dance Festival as well.
In the past year, Around the Stage has returned to their biannual production schedule, as well as picked up private events and city-sponsored gigs. Their next show will take place Oct. 16 at the Sierra Arts Foundation’s Fore Love of Art fundraiser event at Lakeridge Golf Course, where some of the cast will perform selected acts from their most recent show, Splattered, which was staged at Good Luck Macbeth Theater.
“We will have five dancers, and I think all of them are company dancers,” Cobb said. “Since we’re using work from the last show, they just performed it, so they already know the work.”
Cobb’s dancers are divided into either project dancers (often new hires who specialize in the choreography of a certain show) or company dancers who can adapt to different shows and off-stage environments. Regardless of experience though, Cobb makes it a priority to pay all her dancers—usually through grant funding—as a statement against what she sees as the exploitation of artists who are often expected to work for free.
“That’s actually exactly why I had created the company was because I don’t think artists get paid what they deserve,” Cobb said. “I think artists are treated like monkeys and I wanted to create a company where artists could come work professionally and I could apply for grants to pay them. I think I wanted to start a culture where artists are praised, I guess, a little bit more in our community.”
Around the Stage Dance Company will join Eric Andersen, Brüka Theatre, and guitarist Milton Merlos’ at the Fore Love of Art, a Sierra Arts Foundation fundraiser at Lakeridge Golf Course on Oct. 16 from 2-6 p.m. Tickets are $130. Attendees will have the use of a golf cart to drive around the course to view 20-minute performances. Snacks and limited libations are included. Tickets + info here.
Around the Stage will also perform in the Reno Dance Festival at The Alpine Dec. 2-4.