BWW Interview: Dancer Jakob Karr on His Diverse Career Since So You Think You Can Dance
Dance reality show fans will most likely remember Jakob Karr as the runner-up on Season 6 of So You Think You Can Dance. Although he didn't take the title, he was exalted by the judges as one of the most technically gifted dancers to ever appear on the show. Jakob is presently performing in New York City with Austin McCormick's, Company XIV. It's a unique dance experience that fuses dance with theatre, circus, opera, burlesque, and decadent design to create one of a kind theatrical experiences. Jakob performed in the company's production of Cinderella last Fall and is currently appearing in their revival of Nutcracker Rouge at the Minetta Lane Theatre through January 17th.
I saw both productions and it was hard to take your eyes off the gifted and charismatic Karr. I sat down with him to discuss his journey since appearing on So You Think You Can Dance.
How did you first get involved with Company XIV?
About five years ago I went to see one of Austin McCormick's shows and I had no clue of what to expect. At that point my knowledge of the dance world wasn't very vast and I only knew of television work, dance competitions and a few contemporary companies. When I saw his show I lost my mind and fell in love with it. It was an intimate murder mystery set at a dinner party. I remember it being very dancey and theatrical, but there was no element of burlesque or singing like in his more recent productions of Nutcracker Rouge and Cinderella. I met with Austin and we built a friendship from there. He kept in touch with me over the next several years and offered me parts in his shows, but the timing never worked out. It wasn't until last year when he asked me to do Nutcracker Rouge that I worked with his Company XIV for the first time.
What was it that drew you to the work?
Well, I'd never seen anything quite like it. I didn't know that you could blend true dance and theatre into the same thing without it being a Broadway show with a dance ensemble. It showed me what dance theatre is and how powerful a strong narrative in dance can be.
I enjoyed seeing you perform in both productions and I thought your intermission dance solo in Cinderella was quite spectacular. How did that come about?
Austin wanted to keep the audience engaged during the two intermissions so he created these little entr'actes to keep the rhythm of the show going. One day he asked me what I could do that would be interesting. Since I was already doing every style I knew throughout the show, I told him that I also had a little ballroom background. So we came up with the idea that I would do a Samba with a dress mold on wheels as my partner. As we waited for the dress mold to arrive I started rehearsing without it, and we found the dance was funnier that way. We ended up tossing the dress mold idea and I got a fringe skirt and a silver tinsel wig and I set sail from there! I can honestly say that it was one of the most favorite things that I've ever done on a stage.
And you did it in heels!
Yes, I did it in heels. They were the standard inch and a half Baroque heels that we wear for most of the show. But for the whole of the first act of Cinderella I either wore a 5-inch stiletto or pointe shoes.
What's it like dancing in heels for two hours?
During rehearsal it's tough and it takes a good two weeks to get used to it. They totally change the way you carry your body and posture. There's definitely a lot of ice involved. Now it actually feels weird to dance barefoot. The heels show off your lines much better but you sacrifice jumping higher and you lose power in your turns.
Given the outrageous and revealing costumes, do you think some of your SYTYCD fans might blush to see you in such a risqué show?
I think some younger fans will definitely blush! I actually invited some freshmen from both Juilliard and Marymount who I knew and they loved it. I know that the show had opened my eyes to new things and I was happy they felt the same way. I also had a personal relationship with them so maybe that made them more comfortable. If a fan saw me and didn't know me, they might think, "What the heck is he doing? Is that what I have to do when I move to New York?
It's important for younger dancers to know that there is a lot of different work out there nowadays. This whole new genre of dance is starting to well up a little bit. I'm excited to be part of a company that I think is at the forefront of that movement right now.
What did you take away from your experience on SYTYCD?
The show definitely put me out there and introduced me to some really important people. I don't know what kind of power it has on my resume as far as getting a show goes, but it made me want to dance different styles. I hadn't learned a lot of styles when I was growing up and I didn't want to be pigeonholed as just a lyrical dancer. The entire experience made me think that maybe I could do this for a living as a professional dancer.
How did you handle fame at that young age?
I think it's both a blessing and a curse. I was on the show right before social media blew up. It was just before Instagram happened, and Twitter was kind of new. Even Facebook wasn't as popular then as it is now. Dancers on the show today have millions of followers on these platforms. In hindsight, it was good for me as a 19 year old to not have that kind of pressure. There was about a year where I couldn't go outside without someone saying something to me. But I also live in New York City where so many are involved in the arts so I think I handled it well.
What opportunities came your way after your season on SYTYCD?
I was invited to dance on the Academy Awards! It was my first professional paying job and it was amazing. Right after that I moved to Maryland and began rehearsals with Rasta Thomas' Bad Boys Of Dance. I toured with them on and off for about two years and then on a whim I went out to Las Vegas to audition for Cirque Del Soleil. They offered me a job as a temporary replacement for two months so I moved out to Vegas. It was a great job and they ended up extending my contract and I stayed with the show for another four months.
Have you ever thought of doing musical theatre or Broadway?
I actually auditioned for the workshop of Flashdance The Musical and booked it after many rounds of callbacks. After we did the workshop I went out on the National tour for six months. The show was a lot of fun to do and our choreographer, Sergio Trujillo, really catered his choreography on the dancers he hired.
Are there any survival jobs you pick up between your dancing gigs?
I've worked for New York City Dance Alliance for the last seven years. They use me as an assistant and I go out on their weekend conventions and just dance. That helps me with financial stability a lot. It's nice because I also get to train as I'm assisting with 12 classes over the course of the weekend with different teachers. Traveling around the country is a big plus because I meet so many studio owners who might invite me to their studios to teach master classes.
So you've done television, company dance, musical theatre and circus work. What's left?
I would love to dance for a recording artist. Like a Taylor Swift tour or something like that. My dream is to have Adele hire dancers for her tour. I absolutely love her music and I feel it caters to dance so well.
I think I'm officially a floater because I've dabbled in so many different things and I don't feel like I'm missing anything. Of course, I'm not completely settled. I'd love to do 50 Broadway shows and go work for Netherlands Dans Theatre, but those are things I'd really have to work hard on. I'm happy to say that so far I've fulfilled what I wanted to do and became a professional dancer.
Something tells me that the world is your oyster, Jakob. Thank you so much for sitting down with me for this interview.
Thanks for reaching out to me, Bob!
You can catch Jakob in Nutcracker Rouge during it's final week at the Minetta Lane Playhouse. Performances are Tuesdays - Saturdays at 8pm, and Sundays at 5pm. Visit Ticketmaster or call 1-800-745-3000.