A home-base experience - Dance Fusion

Myself & Gwendolyn Bye in Threnody - by Mary Anthony
One of my very first freelancing gigs took place in Philadelphia. I had finished the Summer series with the company that I had been dancing with regularly and I was pretty green when it came to looking for work outside of my company life. My boss at the time had mentioned that a local modern company needed a few men to be a part of their reconstruction of a modern work by Mary Anthony that had been choreographed in the 1950's. I wasn't sure if I was up to the task of dancing with a modern company and was also reluctant to commit to dancing a "modern" piece, especially of that era and which I hadn't heard of or seen before. I needed work for the rest of the summer and I didn't know how to look for other work at the time. So, I agreed to dance in the Philadelphia Fringe Festival as a guest artist with Dance Fusion.

I had only been living in my apartment in Philly for about a week at the time. And to be completely honest, it was a disaster. Although our time there was short-lived, my partner and I had to deal with issues ranging from a centipede infestation to the ceiling collapsing to rain pouring on us as we slept through a poorly installed window A/C unit. To top all of this off, one of our cats nearly died of a urinary blockage and was still quite ill after we had brought him into our new home. It was hot outside and I was exhausted after finishing out my final season with PNB, moving across the country, and beginning work with the new company a day after I moved. I remember the first day that I had rehearsal with Dance Fusion, I had been running around in 100 degree heat like a chicken with its head cut off and I was at my wits end. Nonetheless, I jumped on the subway and headed to West Philly for my first day as a "modern" dancer since I was 16.

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
From the beginning, I was slightly skeptical about diving into this experience. But in the end, I was greatly rewarded by this opportunity. Not only that, the people that I got to work with were wonderful and I continue my friendships with them today. This experience was the first thing that opened my eyes to dancing in styles outside of classical and contemporary ballet. Maybe it didn't improve my ballet technique, but it stretched me as an artist. In fact, Im looking forward to it stretching my artistry again, as I will be performing with Dance Fusion again in the Philly Fringe Festival this coming September. And this time, Im looking forward to it!

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