I have never really thought of legacy as important.

support my work at PatreonI have mostly considered it a misguided attempt at the invention of immortality. Perhaps you could exact even a great influence that penetrates the iron walls of death for a time, but at best, we will all be forgotten in a few generations, if not in name, at least in any shred of meaningful retelling.

Legacy was certainly a big part of being part of Houston Ballet. Whatever Ben Stevenson’s mark on the greater dance world may have been, his influence within our company culture was enormous. I have throughout my life felt the effects of what was unique about learning from him. But the next step beyond that feels like a frayed end. It’s like tools that are available in my toolbox, but there is a heaviness and finality to how they might carry into the future. They have already become something else for me.

dancer Chanel DaSilva
dancer Chanel DaSilva
photo by Lois Greenfield

I have often wondered what the rippling effects of having made Trey McIntyre Project will be. Being so geographically isolated in Boise, Idaho, it is perhaps harder to gauge what affect it will have into the future.

I had lunch this week with former TMP dancer Chanel DaSilva. She staged Ma Maison for me on Parson’s Dance before they opened it this week at The Joyce Theater. The first time moving from the position of mentee to being a colleague with someone who has been important in one’s life is an important milestone. I remember it the first for for myself as this combination of giddy achievement and growth but also the wide-eyed vertigo of increased accountability and expectation.

I also imagined it as a gift bestowed upon me by a mentor in a moment of generosity. But sitting here with Chanel today, I saw it quite differently. It was happening not by my choice, but instead quite organically because of who Chanel has become and maybe even because of who I have become. It felt like I was the one being given a gift because this person in whom I had invested so much was now releasing me of the absolute duty in the out of balance relationship similar to parent/child and she was becoming my respected friend.

Parson's Dance in Ma Maison
Parson’s Dance in Ma Maison

She spoke with great understanding and insight and depth about the things she had learned from me as she was a dancer, what part of my own legacy was continuing through her, and spoke with the insight of knowing things more from a shared perspective as she spends more time in the front of the room. I can see into the future all of the students at LaGuardia High School (where she teaches) having the same exchange with her one day and how the tentacles of the way we taught and shared with each other created our history.

David Parsons and me at the Parson's Dance Opening Night Gala
David Parsons and me at the Parson’s Dance Opening Night Gala

I have certainly looked up to David Parsons throughout my career. He is so bold in making dance that speaks to the very important and malnourished experience of feeling undamable joy, and surprise. I cringe when I hear the word “accessible” to describe art because it simultaneously implies that audiences are generic and not smart (accessible carries the implication of “dumbed down”) and also undermines the possibility of richness in experience of complex work. All art is accessible unless it is locked away. The question is more if audiences are accessible.

The first time I saw Parsons Dance I felt at home and knew I wanted to get closer to that. I told my friends that one day I would work with that company and they told me to give it up because Parsons Dance only performs David Parsons’s work.

Still, David’s work was a definite influence on me as a young choreographer and as I gained more access and learned about his roots within the legacy of Paul Taylor, the weaving of influence I was benefitting from made great sense to me. Here I am, many years later and consider Dave a trusted friend and colleague.

At the opening night party for Your Flesh Shall be a Great Poem at San Francisco Ballet, I met a former Paul Taylor dancer. We were going through the list of close and tangential connections we had and I shared with her that Parson’s Dance would be performing Ma Maison. I shared with her what a big accomplishment this felt like and how in awe I am of the big picture history of all of these amazing artists and she said, ”and now you’re a part of that legacy.”

My life up to this moment had been like a vine, growing up the side of a house reaching toward sunlight and I could now see how the whole wall below me had been painted with complex, ecstatic winding leaves.

One’s legacy is not a stone memorial to winning or being the most special; it is playing our unique parts in the great chain of history…that our goodness, pain, and love will fracture, separate and multiply to become vital parts in the vast organism of humanity. It is what we connect to and how we make things possible for each other. It is not “what did I do as an individual?” but rather “how did I fulfill my part to support all of life?” Our legacy is our humanity. We create what endures, together.

3 Comments

  1. Delighted to know the Parsons Co will be performing Ma Maison, which is a truly wonderful piece I can’t get enough of. And as a dance historian I find this post on “legacy” both interesting and painful, for who now remembers my subjects, Todd Bolender and Janet Reed, and who in the current generation(s) of dancers, dance historians, audience members, choreographers etc. will be interested in reading this book to which I have devoted the past 15 years of my life? No self pity here by the way, it’s THEIR legacy as makers of ballet as an American art form I’m concerned with, not mine. I’m just the scribe.

    1. Thanks Martha. The Parsons dancers are wonderful in it.
      I know you are very much concerned about their legacy (as a person of great integrity), but it can’t help but be yours (in my opinion) because we get to learn about it from your vision and perspective…what is important to you in their stories…both in your insight and your limits. You are making it active and of this moment and carrying the important things forward.

  2. Trey, What a beautiful essay on life, dance,, our place in it and the passing of movement information and passion to the next generation. I watched Parsons performing your piece and really couldn’t think of a better company to experience your work for the first time. I was not looking forward to “that” piece as I’m not a fan of clowns or masks. But I love history and celebration of a culture and watched with my shoulders up at first, relaxing into the personalities of the movement and falling in love with that piece!
    The careful thought of every entrance and movement did not push me into loving it, I ran there. In watching this I can now sit in the audience and know my time to create is over. I’m comfortable taking it all in and standing to applaud a piece well performed.

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