Homegrown dancer gets big break

KU junior selected to perform with select group

Jun Kuribayashi traveled to New York for the first time in mid-July.

“I was just excited to go out there,” he says. “I tried to keep my expectations fairly low.”

Instead, the 26-year-old dancer found himself flying, leaping and kicking higher than ever before in the Big Apple.

“It really was like a dream come true,” he says, smiling. “I still can’t believe it.”

Kuribayashi, a Kansas University junior and Lawrence resident since age five, auditioned for and won a coveted contract with Pilobolus, a major American dance company known for its innovative mix of mime, acrobatics, spectacle and modern dance. He plans to leave today to begin training with the select group in Washington Depot, Conn.

Janet Hamburg, KU professor of dance, says Kuribayashi is “a natural” and very deserving of the contract.

“Jun actually came to dancing late,” Hamburg says. “But with his athleticism and intelligence, he caught up quickly.”

Kuribayashi, a 1997 Lawrence High School graduate, says most people remember him as a serious swimmer.

“I actually came to KU to swim,” he says. “But I had given up so much of my social life for swimming, and I realized I wanted a different experience in college.”

Jun Kuribayashi, a 1997 Lawrence High graduate, plans to leave today to begin training with Pilobolus.

After leaving the pool behind, Kuribayashi focused on capoeira, a Brazilian form of martial arts.

“It involves a lot of singing, dancing and clapping,” he says. “It’s very interactive.”

During a capoeira demonstration for a world music class, Kuribayashi was discovered by a KU dance professor and encouraged to join the department’s dance program.

“And so I did, thank goodness,” he says. “I’ve learned so much at KU, and I know this contract would never have happened without my professors.”

At the urging of Hamburg and Karen Christilles, associate director of the Lied Center, Kuribayashi decided to give the Pilobolus audition a shot.

“I went out there with the attitude that it was going to be a good learning experience,” he says. “And nothing more.”

Kuribayashi’s girlfriend, Casey Jones, accompanied him on the trip and knew she was seeing something special.

“Jun was jumping around with a big smile on his face, so full of energy,” she says. “I could tell they loved him.”

Thirty male dancers auditioned for the spot Kuribayashi secured. About 100 dancers tried out for a lone female opening in the company.

“The competition was pretty stiff,” Kuribayashi says. “A lot of the audition was improv, which is a strength for me. I think that helped a lot.”

Kuribayashi will train with Pilobolus, which includes six dancers, through the fall before heading out on a 35-week tour with the company in January.

“They have 85 pieces in their repertoire and no understudies, so I certainly have my work cut out for me,” he says.

As for school, Kuribayashi says he wants to finish his degree at some point, though he isn’t sure when that will be.

“I really do plan to come back,” he says. “But this opportunity is an education, too. My goal is to dance for 20 years; my dream is to have my own company.

“I want to make the most of the coming years.”

Another Kansas University dance student, Matt Abbick, also auditioned for Pilobolus and made it through the first three cuts.

“He did a great job and I was so glad he was there,” Kuribayashi says. “He’s even volunteered to help me drive all of my stuff out to Connecticut and then fly back.

“I can’t say enough about him.”

Others feel the same way about Kuribayashi.

“We are so proud of him,” Hamburg says, “and how he represents our university and state.

“The sky is the limit for Jun.”

Mark your calendars

Dance company Pilobolus, featuring Kansas University junior Jun Kuribayashi, will make two stops in Kansas in 2005. The six-member group is slated to perform on April 16 at the Stiefel Theatre for the Performing Arts, 151 S. Santa Fe Ave., Salina, and on April 17 at the Beach/Schmidt Performing Arts Center, 600 Park Street, Hays. Performance times and ticket prices are pending.

For more information about the Salina show, call (785) 827-1998. Details about the Hays performance are available by calling (785) 628-5306.