Headlong Dance Theater was founded by David Brick, Andrew Simonet and Amy Smith in 1993. From 1993 to 2012, David, Andrew and Amy collaborated in the creation and performance of all Headlong dances and share credit for all the company’s work. With Andrew’s departure in 2013 and Amy’s departure in 2019, Headlong is now directed by David.
Over the years, Headlong has created over forty dances. Our recent obsessions have been with audience engagement (asking audience members to DO things and take risks); site-specificity (working outside of theatrical venues and embracing the actual physical reality of the site); and creating opportunities for shifts of consciousness and awareness (drawing attention to things that already exist, but that we forget to pay attention to).
Rather than relying on a single dance style or technique, Headlong develops a unique movement vocabulary for each new piece. The Co-Directors’ eclectic movement backgrounds include modern, ballet, jazz, tap, contact improvisation, releasing techniques, theater, sports, sign language, Bharata Natyam, and Ghanaian dance. Drawing on these sources, as well as the potential movements of audience participants and the wonderfully idiosyncratic movements of non-professional performers, we create movement vocabularies that both reflect and comment on the subject matter we are exploring.
Many of our earlier works were known for their witty take on contemporary culture. Our earliest pieces were inspired by the work of Richard Bull and Cynthia Novack, pioneers and developers of structured improvisation. Headlong continues to practice choreographic improvisation in the studio and on stage, and to use the compositional ideas embedded in that form even when creating set movement material.
Headlong has performed nationally and internationally to a range of audiences, and their work — informed by a deep commitment to collaboration, and formal experimentation — has won many fans and much acclaim.
Headlong is an activator of performance research, of cultural inquiry and of overlapping layers of communities. We incubate projects by supporting and sponsoring artists and we engage audiences by asking people to participate in the work. Headlong fosters the creative eco-system by providing educational opportunities, financial advice and strategic planning as well as by asking the questions that shape the cultures in which we live.
David Brick (Co-Director) The experience of growing up in a deaf family has continually influenced David’s interest in the body as an active manifestation of culture. Moving between deaf and hearing worlds has provided an excellent vantage for seeing the body and its perceptions squarely at the crossroads of action and thought, imagination and necessity, individuality and community. Since directing Headlong’s Hotel Pool in 2004, David’s concerns have focused on the choreography of presence and perception, and the porous boundary between the ordinary world and that of performance. These ideas have been explored in Headlong works such as Pusher, Cell, Explanatorium, More, Warp and Weft, Situations for Unlikely Bodies. Other relevant works in this research include Pig Iron Theater Company’s Love Unpunished, which he co-created and choreographed and features performers travelling up and down stairs and falling—ordinary actions taken to a heightened and dilated extreme; and Wind-Up, a piece he directed at Toni Morrison’s Atelier program at Princeton University, working with ideas from Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami and Viet Nam war writer Tim O’Brien. Most recently he choreographed Island, performed in Tokyo at the International House of Japan. Island was the culmination of research as a 2012 creative artist fellow of the Japan-US Friendship Commission. He worked with visual designer Maiko Matsushima and six Japanese performers between the ages of 24 and 74. Island is a choreographic ode to the rhythm of the Japanese inland sea, the sensation of space and the luminous quality of the ordinary. He has received a Pew Fellowship in the Arts (2006); an Independence Fellowship (2005); and along with Amy and Andrew, a “Bessie” for choreography (1999).
In 2008 David co-founded the Headlong Performance Institute, a training program for creating experimental performance in Philadelphia. David is director of the program and its constantly evolving curriculum that trains artists to pursue performance as cultural research. Other teaching includes teaching improvisation with Ishmael Houston Jones at the American Dance Festival, teaching at The Volcano Conservatory in Toronto and the Whenever, Wherever Festival in Tokyo, in addition to extensive residency work and ongoing open classes in Philadelphia. Recent classes and workshops are Making and the Circle of Insight, The World is Choreography, Good Boring/ Bad Boring, Art Party/ Dance Research and Luminous Presence and the Sensation of Space. He teaches contact improvisation with a special focus on engaging sight and the sensation of space. He has taught Dance Composition at Bryn Mawr College since 1998.
Amy Smith (Co-Founder Emeritus) grew up in Ann Arbor, Michigan, where she studied ballet, jazz and tap and got early professional experience with Jazz Dance Theater. Back then, she could do triple pirouettes and lay-outs. At Wesleyan University, she took full advantage of the amazing dance department, studying modern, composition, improvisational forms, ballet, Bharata Natyam, and Ghanaian dance. She also majored in Religion. After college, she spent a year at the Center for New Dance Development in Holland, where she soaked up European New Dance and learned from incredible people like Stephanie Skura, Ishmael Houston Jones and Steve Paxton. Other important teachers/mentors include Cynthia Novack and Richard Bull, Susan Foster, Deborah Hay, and Ann Trenka. Besides Headlong, Amy has performed in the work of Deborah Hay (lamb, lamb, lamb…), Ishmael Houston Jones (Specimens), and other choreographers. She has worked in theater and cabaret, as a director and performer. She played Ivona in Theatre Exile’s Princess Ivona and Jane Fonda in their production of That Pretty Pretty. She won an Ensemble Barrymore for her work in 1812 Productions’ Suburban Love Songs. She also choreographed The Cunning Little Vixen for the Opera Company of Philadelphia and Curtis Institute.
In addition to her artistic work, Amy is Finance Director for Headlong, and often works with individual artists and small companies in Philadelphia, leading workshops and helping them increase their financial literacy. She works with Creative Capital teaching financial management skills to other artists. Amy chaired a committee that started Dance/USA Philadelphia, our local service organization for dance, and served 6 years on the Board of Dance/USA, including 2 years as Treasurer. She lives in a geodesic dome in the woods of rural South Jersey, with her rock-star-turned-teacher husband and two awesome kids.
Andrew Simonet (Co-Founder Emeritus) From 1993 to 2012, Andrew was a co-director of Headlong. Andrew’s artistic journey in Headlong focused on immersive, participatory work such as Pusher, in which we sold a dance on the street like drugs, and CELL, a performance journey for one audience member at a time guided by your cell phone, and culminating in his final project with Headlong, This Town Is a Mystery. Andrew continues to be fascinated by what happens when complicated, messy bodies meet systems.
Outside of Headlong, Andrew’s artistic work focused on dramaturging for various choreographers and performance makers: Kate Watson-Wallace, Makoto Hirano, Subcircle, and others. In 2005, Andrew founded Artists U, a professional development and planning program for individual performing artists in Philadelphia, inspired by his work as an artist leader in the Creative Capital Professional Development Program. Artists U has expanded to Baltimore and South Carolina, and a guidebook for artists is in the works. Andrew lives in West Philadelphia with his wife Elizabeth and their boys Jesse Tiger and Nico Wolf.
Mark Lord (Company Dramaturg) grew up in the suburbs of Philadelphia and discovered the pleasures of performing at about the same time. He learned that if you cut class and hide in a library or a museum they will never find you. Consequently, he learned a lot about art, philosophy, and avant-garde performance, and precious little about Physics. He is a graduate of Swarthmore College and the Yale School of Drama and is the Director of the Theater Program at Bryn Mawr & Haverford Colleges and the Academic Director of the Headlong Performance Institute. He directs plays (often site-specific adventures). He teaches. He writes articles, manifestos, and poems about performance. He tries to keep up with the unceasing adventures of his two kids. And he keeps tabs on the world of the dinosaurs through his wife, who ships them around the world.
“Does experimental dance have to be intimidating? Not according to Headlong Dance Theater, which likes to lace its cerebral offerings with sly humor… Headlong is clearly not your typical dance company, with dances in keeping with the troupes’s motto that intelligent experimentation can be compelling and, in some cases, hilarious.” – New York Times