|Myself & Gwendolyn Bye in Threnody - by Mary Anthony|
My first rehearsal started with a Mary Anthony modern class directed by Gwendolyn Bye, the director of Dance Fusion. It wasn't a hard class, but it was way out of my comfort zone. Luckily, Gwen isn't a nasty, aggressive work-horse. She is a very open-minded, thoughtful person who prefers to suggest an idea versus forcing you into her preferred method of dancing. After taking class, I started to feel that I could handle being a "modern" dancer for 5 weeks.
We moved on to rehearsal and I was thrown into the piece, Threnody, which the other company members had already been rehearsing for a handful of weeks. The process of learning this work was slower than the fast-paced world that I had come from while dancing with PNB, where we would put together a work in 2-3 weeks before it was put on stage. I definitely didn't mind this less stressful approach. It was now late July and we had until the beginning of September to perform the piece. Granted, we did only hold rehearsals twice a week in the evenings for about 2-3 hours. Nonetheless, this process was low stress. I was given more time to adjust to the foreign style. This was a godsend, as I was also adjusting to a new city, a new life, and all of the stresses that go along with that.
It was nice to develop a summer routine around my rehearsals with the company. If I wanted to experience a bit of a summer break, I could sleep in and take an open ballet or contemporary class at Koresh Dance School. If I wanted to feel more regimented, I could wake up early and take a ballet class, too. Having just moved, there were a lot of odds and ends that needed to be taken care of, as well as handling all of the disasters that were happening in our "slumlord" apartment. On top of all of that, there was a rare east coast earthquake and hurricane. The dancers of Dance Fusion quickly became family and helped me calm down when I felt like my apartment was going to fall down on top of me. What I really realized was that this opportunity was a blessing. One thing that I felt dancing for a major ballet company outside of NYC was disconnected. We didn't really associate with many in our community when our ballet company was already a huge one in itself. In Philadelphia, there are many small companies and projects happening that are under the radar due to its close proximity to NYC. Once you meet one person, you are suddenly connected to an entire community in this big-little city. I remember thinking to myself that one of the reasons I had left my previous job was because I felt so isolated. This experience helped me realize that I am not just part of one institution, but I am a smaller part of a greater whole.
Back to the experience, rehearsals continued through August and we even took a trip to NYC to hold an open rehearsal at the Mary Anthony Studios. This was, perhaps, one of the most interesting experiences I have EVER had in my dance career. Mary Anthony is in her mid-90's and still kicking. Not only that, she doesn't just own her own dance studio. She lives in it. Mary Anthony is one of the last living artists that I know of who continues to live a wild Bohemian artist lifestyle. She barely spoke, but I will tell you that she instilled great fear in me when she opened her mouth and aggressively shouted, "You are too PRETTY! You're a SAILOR...You've lived a HARD life." She was referring to the ballet technique that I still to this day am working on releasing when I am dancing extremely modern works. She sat very quietly through most of the day, but was very gracious to her entire cult following that joined us that evening.
The week of performances went by quite quickly. We performed at Drexel University's Mandell Theatre. By the time that we had moved to the stage, I was quite surprised to find that I was really enjoying myself and my fellow dancers. I was given a character to portray that was far outside of my personality and far away from anybody I have ever known. I started to feel my inner artist come out. Suddenly, I stopped worrying about how easy or hard or awkward or out of my style the steps were and I became a young, rebellious sailor that was taken from his mother by the sea.
|Jesse Sani, Sean Rosswell-Dubbs, and myself performing Threnody - by Mary Anthony|