The Reinforcement Gig

Arts United Center - Home of the Fort Wayne Ballet
Throughout one's freelancing career, a dancer may experience a handful of different work situations. Some may be quite professional, while others may, sadly, burgeon upon frightening. We can do our best to cater our job choices towards a more professional atmosphere. But it is more common to have a middle of the line experience. After one too many rougher gigs, it isn't uncommon for a dancer to start asking themselves why they are holding out as a freelancer. Performing mediocre work for pennies when one could be working for a company or moving on to the next stage of their post-dance career can easily derail anybody's drive. Then, it happens! You jump on a plane, crash blindly into a new company, and have an incredible experience.

I really can't complain much about my performance season this year. My schedule has generally been booked up. I have danced in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and a handful of venues in smaller cities. And while I really enjoyed a great many of these experiences, no single experience shot me over the moon as a whole. As I discussed awhile back, I have been thinking about moving out of freelancing and moving back to company work or attempting to get on Broadway. But then, I had the most reinforcing experience in, of all places, Fort Wayne, Indiana.

Around the same time that I got that frantic call to replace injured dancers with Company C Contemporary Ballet, I found an audition notice on Pointe Magazine's job posting page. Fort Wayne Ballet was holding auditions for their 2014 - 2015 season. In my typical search for work, I sent my information in to see if the company had any need for a guest dancer for their productions. Surprisingly, I received an immediate response to my inquiry. An old friend, David Ingram, that I met at Houston Ballet's summer program over a decade ago had taken over the position of Artistic Associate for the company. He called me up and told me that they are looking for a Principal guest art to perform the role of Romeo for their production of Romeo and Juliet. I was available and agreed to fly out a few weeks later.

At first viewing, it seemed like this would be like most of my typical gigs. I would be entering a new atmosphere, staying with a host family, and leaving after a couple of weeks. There were also a few bumps along the way. The first housing situation I was supposed to stay in had dogs, I only had one week to learn an entire full-length ballet, and communication was not always clear. I find that when you go into an experience with lower expectations, your concerns are either going to be reinforced by actions or you will be pleasantly surprised by what can actually happen. I am happy to say that my time with Fort Wayne Ballet was the latter.

I usually have most details lined up before arriving at a gig. Prior to arriving at Fort Wayne Ballet, the frantic period of time I spent salvaging the production with Company C in San Francisco and an unexpectedly bad sinus infection upon returning home to Philly kept me from lining everything up as I typically would. I actually flew to Fort Wayne without knowing the address of my host or if somebody would be picking me up at the airport. For some reason, though, I was calm about this. The moment I got off the plane and walked beyond the secure area of the airport, I saw a tall, nervous-looking blonde woman waving at me and a sweet, but shy-looking 14 year old staring at the floor behind her. I was tired and, in my mind, not at my friendliest, if not a little annoyed that I wasn't given more information about my arrival and accommodations. But my host family instantly began treating me in a way to ensure that I was as comfortable as I wanted and needed to be.

My host family's home
As we drove into the long driveway of my host family's house, I realized that I wasn't staying in a small side bedroom of a city-like home. The house was gorgeous with an arch over the driveway. My bedroom was actually a small apartment above the garage that was attached to the house. If I wanted my own space, I could have it. If I wanted to be surrounded by family, it was readily available. Delicious dinners were generously offered to me and I often took leftovers in for lunch, where lunching coworkers noses lifted into the air and eyes grew big as I started consuming the tastiness. There was a sauna in the basement to rest my weary body and plenty of fun space for some of the other dancers to come over and blow off some steam. But, most importantly, my host family gave me emotional support and a beautifully, familial atmosphere.

This was definitely one of my most stressful gigs. I started rehearsing on March 10th, had my first run-through of the ballet on March 15, had my first dress rehearsal on March 19, and performed two shows on March 21st and 22nd. Looking at that schedule, you can see that I learned the role of Romeo, one I had never performed before, in 5 days. All in all, I learned a little less than an hour of choreography in that short period of time. And while I should have been stressed like no other, my host family made me feel so at home that I was eerily calm. I don't think I could have succeeded in my effort if it weren't for their care.

Not only was my housing situation great, but the group of dancers that are a part of the company and the 10, or so, male guest artists that the company brought in for the production made me feel proud to lead the company. I have rarely felt as much of a support system leading into a production as I did here. My partner, Lucia Rogers, and I connected quickly (not that we had a choice) and developed a strong partnership within about 3 days. And all of the other dancers helped provide levity, emotional support, and information to help streamline the process of leading this production. It was quite heartwarming to see a brand-new community of dancers holding one another up and helping each other out.

The worst part of this gig was the amount of time that I had to get this production together. I sincerely wish that we had more time to delve into this adaptation of Shakespeare's play. But, surprisingly, one of the worst parts of the gig actually ended up being one of the most gratifying things. It was stressful, on my mind and body, to learn so much and perform with so little time or conditioning. But once my partner and I succeeded in completing our performances, my feelings changed greatly. A stressful situation and probable impossibility became a great accomplishment. Never in my greatest dreams did I think I was capable of what I did in such a short period of time. I left our final performance feeling so absolutely accomplished that I am still on cloud nine a week later. Beyond the execution aspect of the performance, I also found a new level of myself as an actor and artist. To share this with my partner, the company, and the audience was revelatory. All-around, I felt that this performance was a great leap for myself as an artist and I am grateful for the opportunity (though did I mention I would like more preparation the next time around ;-).

Bowing after performing as Romeo w/Fort Wayne Ballet
After contemplating leaving the freelance world for the past six months and experiencing gigs that were good but not career-altering, this opportunity is exactly what I needed to reinforce my work as a freelance artist. Getting to live with great people, dance with high-level artists in a supportive and positive atmosphere, and gaining great feelings of accomplishment gives me hope that I can find more opportunities like this that will leave me feeling wholly gratified in my work. We freelance artists must embrace these reinforcing experiences and hold on to them for the times that we feel that it is time to give up on this crazy lifestyle!

1 comment:

  1. I stumbled upon this article (I'm still not sure how) and loved the read. You seem to have an exciting life and your adventures make me envious.