Throughout his 50 years in dance, Keith Lee says he has been something of a ghost writer for others.
“I used a lot of different vernaculars and subject matter within my choreography,” he says. “I wanted to be different with everything that I created. I didn’t really want to stereotype myself.”
Lee says he only started to see himself as a ghost writer of dance in 2016, but this concept has been the driving force behind his newest film project, “The Ghost Writer.”
The new film, which is being screened in Lynchburg for two weekends starting Friday, celebrates Lee’s half a century in dance not in terms of his career but in terms of his personal story.
“Keith is a visionary, and I would give anything to live one day in his mind,” says Michelle Thomas, artistic director of Forest Dance Academy, where Lee has taught classes over the years. “I imagine that it’s a place of wonder.”
Lee, who began dancing as a child, is a graduate of the High School for the Performing Arts in New York City and a former dancer for the American Ballet Theatre.
According to a biography Lee sent to The News & Advance, he has performed work by choreographers including Alvin Ailey, George Balanchine and Jerome Robbins.
“My earliest memory of Keith was when he stepped in for Dudley Williams at the Brooklyn Academy of Music when the [Alvin Ailey] company was performing there,” says Sylvia Waters, artistic director emeriti of company Ailey II, who was a member of Ailey’s company at the time.
Over the years, Lee has been a choreographer, teacher and artistic director, some of which is reflected in his film.
The first part of “Ghost Writer” features pieces Lee choreographed throughout his career, including those performed by the Lexington Ballet; the Capitol Ballet of Washington, D.C.; and Dance Theatre of Lynchburg, the company Lee founded in 1999.
“Because he has a very well-rounded classical ballet [background] and he has a lot of modern and contemporary in his background, you really get a range of movement and quality of movement,” says Waters, who brought Lee in to stage a piece for Ailey II in the ’80s. “… I find his work very dynamic. He’s a good storyteller.”
The second part of “Ghost Writer” — what Lee has named “The North and South Invitational” — is a new impressionistic dance that uses comedic parodies to explore the political and social dealings of people in the different regions, he says. The film also incorporates original poetry Lee has written. The poems, he says, serve as a kind of narration that brings the two halves of the film together.
“You can be taught how to perform the technical element of dance, but the movement and artistry behind the choreography is something that comes from within the soul,” Thomas says. “And Keith, his choreography comes from just that, a grounded, earthly place deep within.”
In addition to the screening in Lynchburg, Lee says “Ghost Writer” will have several other showings in Virginia and one in February at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, from which Lee accessed the archived footage of his dances for the film.
More than anything, Lee says he feels the film is a fitting representation of the art form to which he has dedicated his life.
“Usually when you say 50 years it’s considered a milestone, and to me it really feels that way,” Lee says. “It’s never easy to do anything, but I still love [dance] like my first day. I think the world of dance.”