Boykin Dance Project seeks venues off-the-beaten-path for greater audience access to dance.


It’s rare that the story behind the formation of a dance organization rivals the beauty of their dancing. Boykin Dance Project is a new company whose motives are as lofty as their movements and combines phenomenal dancing with a philanthropic spirit.

BDP is the brainchild of Brian Martinez, a founding member of the PARA.MAR Dance Theatre, directed by Stephanie Martinez (no relation). The name “Boykin” originates from Martinez’s former residential street, “Boykin Blvd,” in his hometown of Mobile, AL. Mobile and surrounding areas have fine dance teachers and studios, but seeing professional dance is a problem. “If they want to expose their students to high-quality dance art, they have to travel to New Orleans or Atlanta,” said Martinez.

Needless to say, Martinez didn’t get to see a lot of touring companies growing up.

The idea to start BDP stems from Martinez’s experience—or lack thereof—regarding a longing to view live dance as a youth. “I saw Hubbard Street for the first time when I was in college,” said Martinez, wistfully. “I traveled to Chicago to take an intensive and it wasn’t until then (that) I saw a professional dance concert—I was nineteen at the time.” Martinez hopes to save young dancers from living in the same dance desert as he did by bringing it to them. “I would love for the fourteen, fifteen, sixteen-year-old boy and girl that’s very interested in dance to see this next level, the higher caliber.”

Despite being a Chicago dance company, Chicagoans are not the focus of their attention. “I started Boykin Dance Project not with the plan of primarily presenting dance in Chicago,” said Martinez. “It was mostly to present dance in spaces that typically don’t get accessibility to contemporary dance in a professional setting.” Ingeniously, Martinez mines the city’s renowned resources (re: our dancers!) to create daring works of modern dance to be presented in dance-starved communities. “Yes, we’re located in Chicago, but we’re not necessarily Chicago-based.”

Martinez fulfilled his promise to Mobile by hosting BDP’s premiere performance on October 14, 2022, at The Social Club, debuting new work by Martinez and dancer/choreographer/actor Noelle Kayser. Since then, the company has hosted workshops and performances in Mobile, Chicago and Springfield, IL.

Dancers Kara Hunsinger and Hanna Dilorenzo inBrian Martinez's "SMART MOUTH"; Photo by Michelle Reid Photography

Is BDP really, to quote Martinez, “next level” and of “the higher caliber?” Yes, and I’ve rarely seen a new company perform so cohesively and with such joie de vivre. This is due in part to the quality of dancers Martinez has enlisted in the endeavor, many of whom currently dance with the venerable DanceWorks Chicago, directed by Julie Nakagawa.

I attended a preview of BDP’s Chicago premiere, “Boykin One,” which featured work by Martinez, Kayser and interim director of the Dance Center of Columbia College Chicago, Meredith Sutton.

The company consisted of only five dancers, and if I hadn’t asked, I would have been fooled into thinking there were a dozen, due to the frenetic way dancers climb, crawl, spring and clomp in and out of view.

“Moonlight” is a solo choreographed by Martinez and set on dancer David Anthony Scheuerman, wearing a tight, black corset and long, gossamer skirt. Scheuerman’s limbs bend like violin strings to the sway of bowed, rolling arpeggios.

In Martinez’s “Smart Mouth,” dancers Kara Hunsinger and Hanna Dilorenzo, in green dresses are both acrobatic, balletic and social, enacting a friendship that has them crawling through mud, climbing invisible ladders and club dancing to a videogame-inspired soundtrack.

Other works featured moments of tender caresses between dancers, then smooth Bob Fosse vibes and comedic butt-slapping, and even doses of existential poetry—“Everything is a metaphor for sex!”—delivered by a dancer riding a child’s Power Wheels electric car while others dressed in black interpret the words in movement.

Like master chefs, Martinez, Kayser and Sutton combine diverse ingredients—dark sardonicism, light comedy, a high level of technical grace and abstract interpretations of spoken word—in proper amounts to create a feast for the eyes.

The Boykin Dance Project in Meredith Sutton’s work, “Notes on Connection”; Photo by Michelle Reid Photography

Martinez is at home in the dark realm of abstract surrealism, and yet he chooses to keep BDP serious but lighthearted. “With my performance history in Chicago I have done mostly serious work; serious for the sake of being serious. It comes from an aesthetic point of departure, but I just want to have fun. I want to see something that I don’t see on stage all the time. Most of the big companies here, I don’t see them produce work like this. Do I want to see it all the time? No. Do I want to see it every once in a while? Yes. I have an appreciation for the unique and the different.”

While the young company has so far only performed in three cities, their plans are more ambitious. “Our goal is to be a national touring network,” said Martinez, “a cultivated infrastructure that brings dance to small cities.”

While big dance companies travel to LA or Washington D.C., BDP will be doing the work of democratizing dance by making it more accessible to audiences off the beaten path. Considering the high quality of the dancing and their philanthropic spirit, it’s not unreasonable to imagine Boykin Dance Project’s dance card filling up soon.


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