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November 24, 2019

Professional Dancing, Broadway, and Bon Iver w/ Christian Warner

It didn’t take Christian Warner long to achieve excellence in the performing arts. Warner began his professional career at the age of seven in a touring production of Oliver! The Musical, and later joined the east coast tour of Disney’s The Lion King as Young Simba, making his broadway debut in the same production just two years later. In more recent years, Warner relocated to the Twin Cities upon receiving a full-time contract with Minnesota’s most prestigious dance company, TU Dance, and has become an instrumental performer in their collaborative work with Bon Iver.

BLNCD: From a very young age you were catapulted into a professional stage career for years in a national tour of Oliver! and on Broadway in Disney’s The Lion King. Nine and ten-years-old is very young to carry the pressure of a professional touring production.  How were these experiences were formative in your development as a person and as a performer? 

CW: Both of those experiences were crucial in my development as a person and an artist. In my time on the road and away from, I was exposed to not only some of the most talented human beings but also the kindest and generous. They took me in as their own and always encouraged me to stay true to myself and chase my dream. In fact, it was the dancers in the Lion King that inspired me fall deeper into the dance rabbit hole. The experiences on the road, and my experience as a student of the Humphrey’s School of Musical Theatre in Houston prior, informed me at an early age what professionalism looks like and how to keep the dream alive day in and out. 

BLNCD: TU Dance and Bon Iver have teamed up for some incredible performances over the last couple years. What has it been like working with Justin Vernon and performing in lager concert venues like The Hollywood Bowl? 
CW: It has been a dream! I never imagined that I would meet Justin and the band after listening to their music in my teen years – let alone dancing with them and providing backing vocals for the latest album. It has been an incredibly surreal and humbling experience that I will hold with me forever.
BLNCD: What do think is the biggest misconception about professional dancers? 
CW: That our finances reflect the amazing venues and events that we may perform at. Although TU Dance alone and in collaboration with Bon Iver has provided dancers with security to a certain degree – we are still facing the same struggles as artists trying to survive in the world where our compensation doesn’t equate the level of our labor. I believe that is a struggle for most arts organizations in the country – especially non profits. 
BLNCD: The rehearsal process as a company member at TU Dance is extremely rigorous. How do you prepare mentally and physically for work every day? 
CW: This year I have found some tactics that have helped my process tremendously. Mentally, meditation and mantras to keep myself calm and focused through the days have been incredibly helpful. Physically, I’ve started doing more yoga which has helped my body as well as ensuring that I stick to the nightly routine that I’ve developed. That routine includes lots of water, sometimes mixed with pedialyte to regain nutrients as I sweat quite a bit, rolling out, and stretching. I find that if I can stay consistent with that at night, my body is a bit more thankful the next day. 
BLNCD: What has been one of your most satisfying performance experiences of all time?
CW: From my younger years, it was the completion of my first Lion King tour. I vividly remember feeling a sense of pride taking the last bow on my east coast tour run. Most recently, it would have to be our Come Through preview performances at Mass MoCA in Massachusetts. We’d been working on the project for some time before our first public performance and the feeling of releasing it was extraordinary in addition to the feedback we got from viewers – most who were Bon Iver fans that had no idea about the kind of dance they were exposed to. 
BLNCD: You grew up singing and performing in the church, a place that is not exactly known for its acceptance of queer individuals. Was it a challenge to balance your personal truths with the ideologies of the church?
CW: In my early adolescence, not necessarily as I was focused on the singing and dancing however I do remember feeling very different and a sense of shame once the gay sermons rolled around. I believe that I was truly blessed to have had the opportunity to go on tour because I was able to work and live alongside other queer individuals that were again, so kind and warm and generous. They took care of me and provided for me in a way that was in direct conflict with the type of people that the church sermons might describe. It was very eye opening. However, I can say that in my adult life after years of navigating the compartmentalized issues from my childhood in the church, I am finally at a place where I feel at peace with my faith and my sexual identity. 
BLNCD: Where do you see yourself in five to ten years? 
CW: This is always such a challenging question as I have many aspirations that I am seeking to achieve. However, I see myself still dancing but also continuing to push more emphasis on my choreographic voice in concert dance and musical theatre. I’d see myself having spent some time in Europe for a bit. As long as I am happy and spiritually sound, I’m open to whatever the universe may bring in my path. 
Photography by Michael J. Spear
Interview by John Mark


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