I was so happy to wake up to a giant photograph of my statuesque friend and guest contributor, Kaitlyn Gilliland, in the New York Times yesterday morning. I have been visiting family in Pittsburgh, but anyone in New York this week should not miss the opportunity to see her dance with Twyla Tharp’s troupe at the Joyce!
Havana ended abruptly with a hug from Pontus but no set plans for future work. After some silence and one cancelled visit to Stockholm (mine) to see the premiere of a new Raymonda for The Royal Swedish Ballet (his), I was relieved to find a message from pontus@lidberg in my inbox, inviting me to join his company once again for a brief tour in April followed by a weekend at The Joyce Theater in June. We would bring four dancers to three cities with two dances and one puppet.
Rehearsals resumed in February as I was fighting major burnout: I had just completed my first three weeks of rehearsal with Twyla Tharp and her dancers and had then barreled straight into classes for my final semester as an undergraduate student at Columbia. I taught uptown, danced downtown (at St. Mark’s Church, mostly) and resented what felt like a constant and inefficient commute. I still never said “no” to any and all gigs that came my way, stubbornly scheduling events 30 minutes apart and arriving for nearly every obligation fifteen minutes late and frazzled. Frigid late-winter weather necessitated a large, puffy coat that allowed me to keep my bizarre but efficient wardrobe choices to myself while in transit. And, while I was out—always—the March issue of Dance Magazine had arrived in the mail. There I was on the cover: a “renegade freelance star” wearing my ribbon-less Capezio pointe shoes, a sexy midriff top, and a large hat of teased curls.
For my first day of rehearsals with Pontus, I arrived in my more familiar freelance uniform: sweatpants, thick socks, baggy shirt, and cap-flattened hair. I first greeted my old colleague Christopher Adams. He was already digesting new phrases, and I watched as he spun and dropped gracefully to the floor before bounding quickly to his feet again to give me a hug. I was glad to be in the studio again with Chris, an always thoughtful, positive, and well-paced partner. Pontus would dance with the new kid.
[Enter “new kid:” the young Barton Cowperthwaite. Kaitlyn introduces herself, shakes his hand, and the dancers all gather around Pontus’s laptop, where they watch the choreography they will reconstruct that day. When they have seen the movement only once, Barton gets up to try it; Kaitlyn follows his reflection in Pontus’s computer screen, immediately wary of his enthusiasm. Pontus sees too, and he is impressed. He shows Barton the rest of the phrase. Barton parrots it with ease and finishes with a flourish, adding a goofy body roll, a wink, and a theatrical flip of his long hair. Everyone in the room is laughing, Kaitlyn more reluctantly than the others as she goes to
I once read that the urge to dance necessarily comes from a place of joy. The way a dog shimmies when it is excited to see its owner or the way a baby laughs while kicking its arms and legs are examples of an innate drive to move in euphoric moments. The fact that weddings involve dancing and funerals mostly involve sitting (today that is—in the Ancient world the Egyptians and other peoples staged funerals as celebratory rebirth ceremonies with lots of dancing) would also support this claim. Intuitively, this evolutionary biology theory seems plausible, for I certainly never feel like dancing when I’m sick or depressed.
Twyla Tharp seems to understand this idea, and her propensity for shimmying and shaking feels right so much of the time—like when she uses jerky phrases to undercut the serious perfection of music like Bach’s, as she does in her new piece Preludes and Fugues, to excerpts from his Well-Tempered Clavier I and II which I saw at the David H. Koch Theater last weekend. The messy humanness of these interpolated tics marries so well with the sanctity of the Bach—music that is so beautiful it hardly seems like it could be man-made. How can one not spasmodically rejoice that something so perfect exists? Great music (and great art in any form) can indeed tingle the spine and make one involuntarily shiver.
Preludes and Fugues was one of four new pieces Tharp made for her 50th Anniversary Tour. The troupe performed for ten weeks all across the country, but the Koch Theater—its final stop—could not be a more perfect setting for the program. The choreographic bookends which opened each half of the show, First Fanfare and Second Fanfare (to annunciatory brass compositions by John Zorn), echoed the Fanfare for a New Theater which Igor Stravinsky created for the inauguration of the building in 1964. In fact, the massive chandelier which hangs over the auditorium is meant to evoke
Flashback: October/November 2014, Havana, Cuba
Autumn ended a dreamlike summer residency in Pocantico for Pontus & Co, and we agreed to meet again in October to continue preparation for our scheduled performances at the International Ballet Festival in Havana, Cuba. This was an impossible promise to keep, as time with artists from many different companies—countries, even—in one New York studio (correction! Two, as we continued to commute between Gibneys) proved almost nonexistent. The group’s rehearsals quickly shrank from two weeks to a mere few hours of scattered and sparsely attended review sessions.
I was back in the business of making myself a particularly difficult freelancer to herd. Days after sending Pontus a virtual (emailed) love letter re: our Pocantico residency, I’d settled back into the comfortably uncommitted hectic of my usual extracurriculars: running quickly between school and “work” (instructing SAB’s youngest), and showing up tardy for scheduled rehearsals with mismatched socks, a poorly pinned bun, dying electronics plugged into any available outlet, and an alarm set for my early departure. This behavior does not bother Pontus. He is usually as unruffled as I am frantic. “When you have to leave you’ll leave,” he nods, “and until then, we’ll work.”
I landed in Cuba a day behind the other dancers, carrying at Pontus’s behest a box of several large antlers that had arrived in Brooklyn via Amazon(.com). The antlers made it through customs while my Columbia Spanish failed an Ebola-related entrance interview, during which the company’s presenter eventually came to my aid in assuring my interrogator I was neither Texan nor feverish. At last I was reunited with Pontus Lidberg Dance, but our allotted free time had dwindled. I brought my rusty Balanchine technique to a very Russian ballet class, played entitled tourist in Old Havana (peering invasively into small living spaces) and spent regrettably long hours connected to
Flashback: August 2014, The Rockefeller Estate, Pocantico
Today, like every other day, I’m running late. I’ll review, on the commute from _________ (fill in the blank: school, teaching, another rehearsal) as much choreography as a delayed train, and decorum, allows. I might also muscle my way into a partially obstructed subway seat, where I use my Pilates Magic Circle for a few inner thigh exercises in transit. I’ve set a phone alarm for my anticipated early departure from said rehearsal for my appointment at _________ (fill in the blank: Columbia, SAB, DANY studios). My ensemble is predictably sweatpants-centered, accessorized with a backpack, a dance bag, and an oversized Magic Circle worn as a necklace.
Today, I arrive five minutes late and (this is a first) at the wrong studio. Pontus, as it happens, has made the same mistake. Gibney Dance Center, where we’re scheduled to rehearse, has two locations in Manhattan: one on Broadway and another also on Broadway. I am (again) on a crowded train, this time in the company of my colleague, and we match in our baggy, movement-ready outfits except that mine is almost always black and his are never black and always various shades of blue. My coffee cup hovers menacingly above a stranger’s head as I brace myself against the train’s sudden starts. When I catch Pontus’s concerned gaze across the car, we both laugh. Some days, the real work is making it to work.
Other days, special occasions, space is a given. Whenever I travel with Pontus, hustling to keep up with his purposeful stride, I suspect neither of us has forgotten where we met: in the dappled oranges of an expansive, temporarily repurposed carriage house. In August of last year, I joined