Western grad Marc Kimelman leads a life of kindness, respect and a whole lot of dancing
By Keri Ferguson
Photo by Arianne Meneses
Marc Kimelman has always loved to dance. But he didn’t always see it as a viable vocation. In fact, he thought he’d become a child psychologist after majoring in psychology at Western.
That initial plan did not materialize, but his time at Western did help him connect with artists and audiences, leading him to become an award-winning choreographer.
“I always credit my BA in psychology for helping me work with people, understanding the human psyche and what motivates us,” Kimelman, BA’02, said.
Music has moved Kimelman for as long as he can remember. As a five-year-old, he performed for his family, selling them tickets to his after-dinner shows. When he was nine, his parents enrolled him in dance. In high school, the Toronto native saw Rent at the Royal Alexandra Theatre – more than 15 times. The rock musical had a profound effect.
“It was the first time I saw queer performers in queer roles, not ashamed of who they are, out and proud on stage. That show came to me at a really pivotal time in my life. It showed me what’s possible, not only on stage but as a person in the world, living without stigma.”
Kimelman continued to dance while at Western, helping run and perform on the university’s HEAT dance team. When he wasn’t choreographing shows, he was teaching hip-hop classes, drawing up to 90 students per session.
“Seeing what dance could do for all those stressed-out students made me fall in love with teaching,” said Kimelman, who’s now on faculty at New York City dance school Broadway Dance Center, Steps on Broadway and Toronto’s Metro Movement. During the pandemic, he started, “Club Kimelman,” offering online classes, and what one dancer hailed as “emotional cardio.”
Kimelman’s big break came as a last-minute request to choreograph a Toronto production of West Side Story.
“I didn’t know any of the original choreography, so I did my own thing without researching as much as I should have,” Kimelman said. “But I thew myself into it, creating with abandon, trusting my instincts in a way only an early 20-something can.”
His intuition was on point, resonating with audiences and celebrated Canadian choreographer, director, producer and actor David Connolly (now associate artistic director of Drayton Entertainment), whom Kimelman admired and invited to the show.
“I was smitten by Marc’s attention to detail and passion for the craft,” Connolly said. That night led to the first of many collaborations, with Connolly sending a steady stream of work Kimelman’s way, noticing early what makes Kimelman stand out.
“There are countless talented people in the world, but only a handful who intentionally weave kindness into their process and product,” he said. “That’s what Marc has always done; it’s his nature, his instinct, to show kindness to his dancers and his audience as a symptom of his respect for them and the craft. Combine that with humour, tenacity, flexibility and drive, and you’ll unravel the ‘Kimelman formula.’”
It’s an approach that has allowed Kimelman to realize many dreams, including choreographing his beloved Rent at the Panasonic Theatre in Toronto. He’s also achieved his lifetime goal of working at the Stratford Festival, and making the leap to New York City.
In New York he found “a sense of community I perhaps longed for,” he said. It’s also where he found out he had Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma in his stomach, shortly after arriving there in 2010. The diagnosis brought him back to Toronto for treatment, where he was grateful for access to health care and the support of his family.
“I remember my dad telling me my only job was ‘to get better,’” he said. “That was really hard for me because the things that make me happy are usually tied to my creative endeavors. So, when I was forced ‘not to work,’ it was tough for me to put everything else aside and not feel that outlet that I needed.”
It was also hard to hear stories from fellow cancer patients who couldn’t afford to take time away from work to focus on their healing during treatments. He channeled that empathy into a creative project that allowed him to think artistically and help others.
From his hospital bed he curated, I Move Forward, a production rallying the dance, theatre and musical community together for one sold-out show that raised more than $40,000 for artists touched by cancer.
Five months after his final treatment, Kimelman was in remission and back in New York, saying “yes” to every opportunity that came his way, including a chance to work as a movement coach for a Vogue cover shoot with photographer Annie Leibovitz and actor Charlize Theron. He’s also worked with Katy Perry, Neil Young, Phish and Chaka Khan.
His work on Broadway includes roles as associate choreographer on A Bronx Tale, directed by Robert De Niro, and assistant choreographer in the 2012 Tony-nominated Jesus Christ Superstar. He recently worked as associate choreographer on Jagged Little Pill, based on the multi-platinum 1995 album by Alanis Morissette, alongside acclaimed choreographer Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui.
“I saw the show in Boston, at a pre-Broadway run,” Kimelman recalled. “It blew me away in a similar way Rent moved me as a kid, in terms of seeing nothing like it before. I reached out to Larbi online, telling him I really admired his work and that I’d like to meet sometime.” That sparked a series of exchanges, and two years later, the pair were working together on Broadway. Kimelman then headed to Australia to create the Australian version of the show. “And now I’m helping put the national tour up, which will play in Toronto next summer.”
In the meantime, Kimelman continues to follow what moves him, trusting his instincts to move others.
“So much of my job is putting myself in other people’s shoes. Having a psychology background really helps me to do that.”