This article was originally published in the Fall 2022 print issue.
StageKeep, a digital app allowing users to map choreography, synch music and collaborate, launched its new 1.5 version in September, three years after its initial launch in 2019. The team, led by founder and CEO Axel Villamil, is currently working to launch version 2.0 next year.
While the original iteration allowed choreographers to perform the basics of planning and mapping formations, version 1.5 is “a massive cleanup”: users are no longer required to upload music files themselves but can retrieve the latest ones from inside the app; sharing is easier because anyone with a link can now access a work in progress without an account, making it more accessible to young dancers; and users can drag-and-drop formations into place and upload the specifics of their stage.
The 2.0 version will see changes to communication: you’ll be able to upload a video, draw on it and leave comments at specific timestamps for your fellow collaborators.
The idea for StageKeep started when Villamil was studying computer science at the University of Toronto but still receiving the formations for dance competitions on paper. “And I thought it was the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever seen in my entire life because I was getting molded for this logical mindset of computer science,” said Villamil. “And then when we went back to school, I saw people using pennies and pens… there must be a better way.”
Later, Villamil developed the idea at U of T’s startup incubator, The Hub, which he now names as the main reason for his success. Ironically enough, StageKeep itself started on paper.
“What held me down [through the development process] were the performers and how hard they actually work, which is the blood, sweat and tears and rehearsal, only to be left with the crappiest technology of pen and paper. And I think we just deserved more. I think we all deserve more because of the beautiful thing that we do, which is [to] leave our souls on the stage.”
Villamil became a dancer after making his start in theatre. He remembers seeing Justin Bieber busking outside of a Stratford Festival performance he took part in in the early 2000s; 20 odd years later, Bieber is now one of StageKeep’s clients.
The app offers a few different payment options but Villamil explains he is not a stickler about them. The free version lets you create one performance that would have to be deleted before undertaking another. The two other levels, basic and pro, allow for more flexibility and sharing. During the pandemic lockdowns, Villamil responded to users who reached out with financial troubles and he offered whatever version they already had for free. With the new versions, he hopes to offer one pro package per month to someone who reaches out explaining why they need it and why they would benefit from a cost cut.
“And this is why we’re doing it: because there should be more performers. Dance is so important. It is one of the most important art forms in the world. Because it comes right from our souls. Because this is all we have. There’s no instrument, there’s no extra anything. This is what we got. And we make do.”