|A beautiful bridge I found while freelancing in Rochester, NY|
This advice is greatly true, and I fully agree with it. Yet, I disagree, as well. Before I get to my point, let me put myself on the line. Hello. My name is Barry Kerollis and I may be one of the more controversial dancers you have ever met. This statement will take some explaining. While I have always relied on the above advice, I haven't necessarily followed it, albeit unintentionally. Avoiding burning bridges is a priority and fear of mine. Yet, I have done it more than many other dancers. Each time it has happened, it was never my intention. Perhaps, a misunderstanding, hunger for maximum achievement, or out of self preservation. I want to share my honest story openly to explore this subject objectively and help others understand and learn from my experiences. And, is it even possible to never burn one bridge in this dance world?
Perhaps, the first time I ever burnt a bridge, I was a mere 18 years old. I was on the verge of graduating from the Kirov Academy of Ballet. I was kind of an underdog. Upon entering the school, I was technically behind everybody and my body lacked the beautiful classical line of every other male in the school. It came as a surprise when the director of Colorado Ballet came to watch class and offered me a full company, corps de ballet, position for the upcoming season. At the same time, I had finally made it into my dream school, the School of American Ballet, for their summer intensive. Gaining acceptance into SAB is actually what inspired me to focus on ballet at the age of 15. Three years later, it finally happened and I was set on getting the full experience.
As soon as I received my letter of acceptance, I called SAB and mentioned that I had been offered a contract with Colorado Ballet. I told the school that I had dreamed about spending the year there and would turn down the offer to become a professional to have that chance. They told me that acceptance into the summer program didn't guarantee a spot in the year-round program. They suggested I not risk losing my job offer and to sign the contract to ensure that I had something to do the following season. So, I signed my contract, sent it in, and started searching for an apartment in what I thought to be my new home, Denver.
At the end of June, I moved into my summer home in the dorms at Lincoln Center. After the first few days of the program, Jock Soto pulled me into a conference room with Michael Breeden, current Miami City Ballet dancer, and Peter Boal. They told us how much they enjoyed seeing us in class and offered both of us to stay for the year to study with them. These talks usually didn't happen for a few weeks, so the two of us were extremely excited to get "the talk" so soon. For me, I was filled with mixed feelings. Excitement that I had finally achieved a dream and goal of mine, mixed with fear and confusion that I had to choose between my dream of training at SAB or starting my career as a professional. I spent a few days mulling over this decision and determined that I couldn't turn away from what inspired me to focus on ballet in the first place. I called up the director of Colorado Ballet and, as apologetically as I could, broke my contract for the upcoming season. The director told me that he understood my decision, but was very disappointed
|Puss & Boots w/ Cassia Phillips - SAB workshop 2003|
The second time I burnt a bridge was less complicated than my first. After a very productive year training at the School of American Ballet and doing 14 auditions for companies, I had been offered a handful of contracts. The offer that most piqued my interest was to join Pennsylvania Ballet's 2nd company, as it was the best company I had been offered to dance with and close to home. I emailed the director of the 2nd company and stated that I accepted their offer and asked that they send a contract to me. The day that my contract arrived, I received a call from Stanton Welch offering me an apprenticeship with Houston Ballet. Not only was this a more substantial company, but the position they offered was with the company and not a smaller training arm of a company. I promptly called Pennsylvania Ballet and told them that I was going to accept the offer with Houston Ballet because I had not yet signed the contract to dance with their 2nd company. The response was not the understanding that I expected. I expected there to be disappointment when I called, but I didn't expect to be told that they weren't pleased that I had made the decision and fully expected me to follow through with my word. Being a naive teenager, I thought they would understand why I would take a higher position with a better company. Alas, they didn't. While they didn't completely put me off in the years to come, after auditioning again for the company years later, they eventually stopped allowing me to take company class. Essentially, the term many of us have heard, I am blacklisted.
A few years ago, I had the unfortunate experience where I didn't realize a bridge was being burnt until it had already burnt, collapsed, and fallen into a deep lake of despair. I had experienced an injury with the company that I was dancing with in Philly. They had kept information secret from me that prevented me from getting assistance to recover from this injury. After working through a freelancing opportunity in pain with assistance from that company to get therapy, I returned for the next program still in pain. I made the mistake of remaining quiet and trying to dance through it. I knew I couldn't afford to take care of it and I had already put myself out there asking for assistance. I was put off and learned to stay quiet. At the same time, a less experienced choreographer was creating a piece on us to be performed at a major dance venue in New York City.
Throughout the process, I was having difficulty with my dance partner, my pain, and the complexities of her style of choreographing that was newer to me than the other dancers in the company. Instead of supporting me through the process, the choreographer switched back and forth between ignoring me and making less than respectful comments towards me. I did my best to deal with the stress silently, as dancers are often taught and expected to do. But after a week of this situation, the pressure came to a helm. The choreographer yelled at me, claiming that I was marking a step that I had not been. The conversation went like this. Choreographer: "What is your problem? Me: "I don't understand what you are asking me." Choreographer: "You are really starting to piss me off." Me: "I really don't understand what you are talking about." Choreographer: "Why are you marking?" At this point, I lost my cool and started fighting back. The pressure of trying to be respectful and trying to respect myself became too much and I defended myself loudly in front of everybody else. After a long private conversation following the outburst, we returned to the studio with the agreement that the choreographer would be a bit more clear in her process. My efforts to ease the situation didn't work. To prove to her that I wasn't marking, I danced beyond my threshold of pain and made my injury far worse. This sped up the process of burning one bridge that eventually burnt many.
That day will always be a big day in my life. I broke dance law. I lost my cool, I lost my submission, and I created a sour relationship with a choreographer, teacher, and repetiteur of works by the very choreographer who inspired me to consider switching my focus to ballet. Not only that, the choreographer and the director of the company were close friends. Throughout all of this, I also came to realize that I really couldn't continue to dance through my injury. It was much worse than it had been prior to this argument and I feared that if I continued to dance, I would have to pull out of the program closer to the performance dates and that I could possibly incur permanent damage. I decided to take myself out of the program, which eventually led to the company unfairly, and I believe illegally, firing me. There were many complications that came out of the burning of this one bridge. But was it right for me to defend myself as a person, not a dancer? Was I valid in defending myself, effectively burning this bridge?
|Dancing my own work in the Philly Fringe exploring the situation that led to me losing my job - Gated Lies (Photo: Bill Hebert)|
So with all of this information, I ask if it is ever appropriate to burn a bridge? And returning to the original question: Is it possible to never burn one bridge in this dance world? I feel that it is impossible to give a proper answer. If you burn a bridge for a dream opportunity, is it worth it? If you burn a bridge to protect yourself from somebody that is treating you poorly, should you defend yourself? These are more questions of character than they are definitively yes or no answers. Are we dancers or are we human? When is it right to defend yourself as a human in a dance studio? If you are offered the opportunity of a lifetime, do you let it pass you up to honor a contract that can be filled by another dancer that will value the opportunity more?
What it comes down to is that these decisions are not about a right or wrong answer. Instead, the act of burning a bridge is very personal. And it is unfortunate, that in certain circumstances, one may not be aware that they are burning a bridge until after the moment happens. I will leave my readers with this. While these unfortunate happenings are to be handled at the discretion of each individual dancer, one should not fear burning a bridge if an action is damaging to oneself physically or emotionally. We can only hope that instead of burning a bridge, it can be left damaged and open to repair. For we are only human. Tread lightly.