Finding Her Muse
By Richard Schultz, October 2015 Issue.
Photo courtesy of Jessica Starr.
Jessica Starr’s passion for dance, as well as her conviction to create with a purpose, can be traced back to her local roots. And although this successful artist now resides in Los Angeles, she credits her years in Arizona among her greatest influences.
Growing up in Ahwautukee, Starr continually found herself seeking out opportunities to be inspired by the work of others. She tried her hand at everything from baton twirling and acting to gymnastics and playing musical instruments.
“As a young artist, I was always involved in just about everything I could get my hands into,” she said. “My mom always supported my eager attitude … Nothing was quite as fulfilling as expressing myself through dance. While I never had the strongest technique or competition scores, I was the most spirited in the room.”
By high school, Starr was largely involved in the hip-hop dance scene.
“Engaging in the many facets of the dance community educated me on the sides of dance I was not familiar with,” she said. “While not always on stage, I was constantly learning and was inspired by many talented artists.”
College was next for Starr, and she landed at the University of Arizona in Tucson where she triple majored in dance, film and photography. Starr acknowledged that the strong arts community in Tucson had a significant impact on her artistic evolution. And this diverse training would serve her well as she set out to find her niche.
After graduation, Starr stayed in Tucson to teach high school dance and save money. And, on a quest for a space that was constantly inspiring, she moved to Los Angeles in 2004.
After working numerous jobs steadily her first a year in LA, Starr said she felt a void that she attributed to missing the one-on-one experience of guiding young and eager artists.
In no time, Starr saw a clear void LA’s dance market and jumped at the opportunity to fill it.
“I saw a strong need for in-house dance workshops with professional dance choreographers,” she said. “I rallied my peers with strong teaching skills and extensive resumes and formed Muse Dance Company to provide in-house professional training.”
Throughout the next nine years, Muse Dance Company traveled the globe conducting dance workshops. The company developed a strong following of committed and uniquely talented artists who also relocated to LA to pursue their careers and maintain their Muse training. Coincidentally, she connected with fellow Phoenix native, Nik Gravelle, who was working as a videographer. Their chemistry was instantaneous and their creative approaches and work styles were highly compatible.
Gravelle began filming Muse events, which would cast the same dancers who had been trained by Starr. After the group’s first two-hour stage show in Newport Beach, Starr said inspiration struck.
“I knew I had something special with … this magical collaboration of young artists and use of film,” she recalled. “I was approached by a number of supporters and donors who encouraged me to form MusEffect in 2014.”
MusEffect is a nonprofit organization with a mission of raising social awareness through the arts. More specifically, MusEffect creates PSAs for online viewing in conjunction with live stage performances.
“In a world driven by social media, we are able to present our work to many who need to see it,” she said.
Together, Starr’s artistic vision and Gravelle’s talents behind the camera translate into creative productions with important messages.
“We use elements of dance, spoken word and film to create a multimedia platform that enables us to connect with a wide range of audiences, addressing an unlimited amount of topics,” she said. “We aim to encourage dialogue and empower healing through our work.”
MusEffect’s immediate goal is to initiate a conversation on social media, in the classroom or at the dinner table. Starr adamantly believes that “silence gives these topics power, discussing them brings us one step closer towards personal healing and resolution.”
Past projects include “Look at Me,” a 2008 commissioned spoken word piece with poet Azure Antoinette that addresses the issue of body image and eating disorders. The troupe has performed at some of LA’s biggest shows, including “Carnival,” “The Choreographer’s Ball” and “Club Jete,” and such venues as Lincoln Center in New York City. Additionally, in 2014, MusEffect created a piece to promote marriage equality titled “Same Love,” performed to Mary Lambert’s “She Keeps Me Warm.”
In August, they released their latest PSA, “When the Hashtag was just a Pound Sign,” which addresses the obsessive reliance our society has developed on technology. In October, they will be releasing “#NoHaters,” a sequel to MusEffect’s most successful PSA to date, “953k Inspiring Action Against Cyberbullying.”
“As the creative director, my focus is to remind ourselves daily that we are creating for a larger purpose,” she said. “Yes, we need to pay rent. Yes, we need to audition for bigger jobs to expand our resume. Yet, we strive to elevate social consciousness through our work.”
According to Starr, Muse’s future plans include an extensive tour of “The Divine Direction,” which will include an appearance in the Valley Oct. 23. In the meantime, visit musedancecompany.com or museffect.org for more information.
aMUSEing Valley Audiences
MusEffect and SoulEscape Collaboration
7 p.m. Oct. 23rd
Higley Performing Arts Center
4132 E. Pecos Road, Gilbert