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
Our first night on the property, tired and past tipsy, we found ourselves on a long walk around the grounds, surveying to the left the distant silhouetted sculptures (Calder? Picasso!) and to the right the river basking in the late midsummer moon. How do I recount the most magical of evenings without cringing at my own clichéd nostalgia? Or without smirking—ever the skeptic—when I recall joking with my colleagues to offset the discomfort of my awe? A working and living experience immediately so surreal, so protected, and so intimate, I mused, must make good material for a reality spot—a highbrow “The Bachelor,” maybe? (Confession: favorite television show.) We’d call it “The Residency”—and someone would have to fall in love.
I fell in love with a choreographer in Pocantico. And I fell hard… and often. Pontus sat silently, knees tucked under his chin and eyes periodically widening as I attacked what we jokingly called his “tumbling passes,” many of which included diving rapidly to the floor only to spiral immediately upward in an almost instant reversal of momentum. My Balanchine training, as I quickly realized, was not naturally conducive to effortless and sudden descent, or more generically speaking, “floor work.” I was afraid of heights—my own height—and my zealous attempts to counteract this hesitation resulted in a noisy, clumsy, futile battle with gravity.
As I learned Pontus’s “Tactile Affinity” I also observed the other dancers in the room with me. (Disclaimer: these adjectives are carefully chosen but hardly sufficient descriptors). Nadja Sellrup, exquisite, kind, and tenacious in her work; the elegant and meticulous Jens Rosen; Gabrielle Lamb, ethereal and quick-witted; handsome, irreverent, and hilarious Giovanni Bucchieri; Christopher Adams, generous, lithe, perceptive; and David Lagerqvist, precociously agile. And, last but not least, friends, former compatriots, and vibrant dancers of the New York City Ballet: Adrian Danchig-Waring and Georgina Pazcoguin.
Pontus’s choreography utilizes quick shifting of direction, level, and dynamic; its clarity emerges with spontaneous and unmannered expression. It sits, most clearly and beautifully, on his body. Deftly he charts the range and energies of human conversation, chemistry, and tension with movement that is here expansive, extensive physicality and there subtle shift of gaze. He is—his dancers are—from one interaction to the next, emphatic, subtle, affectionate, tender, cool. Several days and bruises into our work, I suspected this grace I couldn’t quite muster had something to do with faulty technique. Pontus was patient, exploring with me more relaxed and coordinated ways to find the floor: the placement of elbow or the knee, the way in which the shoulder curls to avoid collision. And, in my case, further contusion.
“But it really doesn’t have to be so complicated,” says Pontus, as I overanalyze and regurgitate the corrections he’s given me. He is right, in more ways than one. The luxury of our residency was in the simplicity of our days. We all rehearsed in one place, at our own pace, divided our days as they came, and enjoyed relaxing time together. Here we were productive, cohesive, relaxed, learning all of the repertory we would take to Havana, Cuba in November. No subway delays, no rented studios with strictly measured minutes, no running off to the next rehearsal. I tend to resist this ease like I resisted the floor in our first rehearsals—defiantly, aggressively. But Pontus reminds me that to surrender is not to sink. Sometimes it’s just to fall, quietly.