My interest and process are rooted in the relationship of the ordinary and the virtuosic coexisting in performance as a way to foster intimacy with the viewer. I am drawn to the numerous ways in which human(s)anity interact. I tend to extract particular characteristics from there, building material through movement and text that enhances my conceptual focus and on a broader level, compassion. My work considers the audience since they are an invited and integral entity to the process as a whole. I believe that this can reduce the pervasive mood of apathy in our culture. I am prone to polarity when moving, valuing both abrupt and smooth transitional qualities as these feel true to the every day. I love fluidity, tension, bound energy and release among other movement qualities. My process is collaborative.
Biography and Current Play
Donnell Oakley is an independent choreographer, performer and teacher based in Brooklyn, New York. Donnell co-founded everything smaller in 2002, a Brooklyn-based dance company driven by collaboration. She spent 6 extraordinary years making dances with the inimitable Jessica Jolly and David Schmidt. everything smaller performed in venues and events such as the Studio 42's Starving Artist Ball, Movement Research's Improvisation is Hard, The Flea Theater's Dance Conversations, DanceNOW NYC, the Bodyblend series at Dixon Place, the Solar Powered Arts Festival, Dancespace Center's Wave of Humanity and their Elizabeth Pape Memorial Concert for which everything smaller received the Elizabeth Pape Scholarship in 2005, the Williamsburg Free Festival, the International D.U.M.B.O Dance Festival, WAX Works, Triskelion Arts Benefit Concerts, New Jersey’s S.W.E.A.T., Teresa Wimmer's Twilight Project, the Brooklyn Dance Sampler, Middlebury College, University of Michigan, Swarthmore University, and the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.
In 2008, everything smaller disbanded to pursue other ventures. Donnell continued making dances and has had her work produced through Movement Research, the 92nd Street Y, the West End Theatre, Triskelion Arts, the Joyce SoHo, Dance Now NYC, Dance New Amsterdam, Dixon Place, The Yard, Gowanus Art + Production and was the recipient of the Bessie Schönberg Choreographic Mentorship Residency at The Yard in 2013. She has been fortunate enough to work and collaborate with the extraordinary likes of Xan Burley, Courtney Drasner, Josh Palmer, Jordan Risdon, Alex Springer, Deborah Lohse and Cori Marquis. Donnell has also had the pleasure of working with designers such as Paul Moffit, Scott Nelson and Mandy Ringger.
In addition to her own work, Donnell has had the great pleasure of collaborating and dancing with Steeledance, Chavasse Dance and Performance, Liz Staruch, Fritha Pengelly in Pengelly Projects, Cori Marquis and The Nines [IX], the collective LMn'O3 (Deborah Lohse, Cori Marquis, Donnell Oakley,) Alex|Xan: The Median Movement, and Doug Elkins Choreography Etc.
Donnell has been dancing with Steeledance since 2004. The company has performed in numerous theaters around NYC as well as the Salt Dance Festival 2011 in Salt Lake City, Utah. Most recently Steeledance celebrated their 20th Anniversary Season premiering Devastating Beauty at Peridance's Salvatore Capezio Theater as well as Strictly Personal at The Green Building in Brooklyn, both in 2015. Inner Vengeance, the company’s most recent work premiered at Gibney Dance Center's Agnes Varis Performing Arts Center in 2017.
In August of 2011, Donnell embarked on a residency with Chavasse Dance and Performance in Puglia, Italy through Res Extensa Dance Company to continue the creation ofThe Hunger For the Longing, which premiered at The University of Michigan in November of 2011. She traveled with Amy to China July of 2013 to perform a new duet, Low Winter Light, with fellow company member Jessica Jolly as part of the Beijing Dance Festival. These pieces along with Amy's solo and duet work premiered in New York in June of 2015 at Triskelion Arts in Brooklyn.
Donnell has been working with Doug Elkins & Friends’ award-winning Fräulein Maria, touring North America, since 2008. In March of 2011, acting as rehearsal director, she had a month long residency through Dance Works in California at Santa Barbara’s Lobero Theater, where Doug Elkins Choreography Etc. began working on the Bessie nominated Mo(or)town/Redux, which had it’s world premier in May of 2012 at American Dance Institute in Maryland, it’s New York premier at Baryshnikov Arts Center in December of 2012, and it’s European premier in Suresnes, France in January of 2013. Doug and company were thrilled that Mo(or)town/Redux was part of the line up for the Fall For Dance in NYC in 2013. Hapless Bizarre, the company's most recent work was in residency at The Yard and Jacob’s Pillow and previewed at The Yard in August of 2013. It began touring with its premiere at Keene State College in New Hampshire in February of 2014 and has continued to tour, having had its New York premiere in January of 2015. The company returned to open Fall For Dance's 12th Anniversary Season with Hapless Bizarre in 2015. O, Round Desire and the company’s dance film, 100 Indecisions premiered at Montclair State University in the spring of 2017 and continued with touring from there. The company’s newest work, Kintsugi, is in process since its month residency as part of Dance Works in Santa Barbara last summer.
LMnO3: Deborah Lohse, Cori Marquis and Donnell Oakley have received many exciting opportunities in the last year. Robin Staff of Dance Now NYC brought LMnO's collective creative play to the stage of Joe's Pub in 2014 and they have gone on to "grace" the stages of Triskelion Arts, Judson Church, Built On Stilts, Elm City Dance Collective and The Yard. LMnO3 were awarded multiple Silo Residencies through Dance Now and were thrilled to premier their first evening length piece at Joe's Pub on Valentine's weekend, 2016. There were multiple costume changes, snack time and license to parade their deepest desires and fears. B.A.N.G.S.: made in america landed with an abundance of excitement on both sides and LMnO3 is still reeling! We loved performing as part of the American Dance Festival's kick off season in April and up at SUNY Brockport to open their Brockport Summer Dance Festival. LMnO3 performed some juicy tidbits at Dance Now's Musikfest in August and embarked on a technical residency at the American Dance Institute in August to rework the piece for its full stage production at The Ringling International Arts Festival in Sarasota in October. unPacking Pina, LMnO3’s third and current work is in process with a plan to premiere in early 2020. The Silo and The Lumberyard has been supporting this creation.
Donnell has been invited to teach and/or set work at West Chester University, the University of Michigan, Middlebury University, Arizona State University, Prescott College, the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, North Carolina School of the Arts, NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, Marymount Manhattan College, DeSales University, Muhlenberg College, SUNY Brockport, Enloe High School and Arts Together in NC, The Yard, The Beijing Dance Festival and as a continuing part of Gibney Dance Center's Contemporary Forms program in NYC. Join Donnell every Wednesday and Friday at Gibney Dance Center for technique class from noon to 2pm!
A North Carolina native, Donnell had the great privilege of attending Arts Together in Raleigh where she received extensive training from a young age through high school. She graduated from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro with a BFA in Dance Performance and Choreography in 2001 and attended the American Dance Festival in the summers of 1999 and 2001.
Donnell feels a strong connection to her roots and believes deeply in Arts Together’s philosophy: “We believe that students who develop personal artistic vision as well as technique become creators rather than imitators.”