I already regret this commitment to write.
Sitting down to write after my first day, all I can think about are the things I don’t want you to know. I want you to picture in your mind that I am suave, like James Bond. That after being a choreographer for over 25 years, I can walk calmly into any new situation with cleverness and ease. I don’t want you to know that I am intimidated by big companies. They are these massive factories with momentum and loudness. I work quietly, internally as an artist. These places make me feel like Charlie Chaplin in Modern Times, battered around the cogs of the giant machine. I struggle to find myself in this context.
I once heard that the architecture of Washington D.C. was built to intimidate visiting dignitaries from other countries. The facade of the Opera House in San Francisco has the same effect: it looms. The art inside is unachievable and the only response possible is to stand in awe. The structure makes it easy to forget that it is the artists that make it run and it is even easier to forget that I am one of those artists. I want you to think that I am at the point in my life where I assume that mantle with complete confidence. I do not want you to know that before every ballet, I am filled with the earthquake that none of it is possible.
I walked around for an hour, trying to come up with an idea to write about without telling you any of this, but not getting to the point is well, not the point. And that falseness feels like a sickness. It’s like when you feel a flu coming on and pretending like it’s not happening leads you deeper into the flu.
The greatest depiction I have ever seen of being on the front end and therefore on the outside of a discovery, is the movie Adaptation. Nicholas Cage slumped over a typewriter, his head torturing him with hideous insults. Personal insults about his very existence. There’s a line something like “great art is a journey into the unknown.” This line is perhaps the only thing that comforts me in this moment. In the film, he has a twin brother/alter-ego who also works to be a writer, but the brother goes to a guru in order to learn a formulaic way to approach his art. A repeatable formula that is not a journey into the unknown. The call of that alter ego is screaming in my ear before the first day of rehearsal. I do everything short of Googling “how do you make a ballet?” The thought that I could trust myself to come out the other side of this has left me and I need assurances. Stepping into that void is a horror-show.
Now add to that the people. Oh the people! What if I walk into a room with impenetrable egos who also only want a formula? What if they are people who will not make the step of bravery into the void?
When the hour of rehearsal approached, the familiar ritual of packing my bag and deciding what I need with me for this piece reminded me of what I do. What shoes will I wear? Do I need paper? I suddenly remembered one of the choices here was to enjoy myself and the fleeting moments of order and progress in the studio.
And my collaborators were really lovely (more on them tomorrow). I am only working with two people and two people alone (plus ballet master) so it is a quiet, intimate setting. They greet me with openness and excitement to work and I am busting at the seams to get started. I have channeled all of the nervous energy into this rehearsal and for the first 15 minutes, I am blind. I am just getting some material out and I cannot see it until I make myself look at it. My head hurts as if there is more information than can get out of my brain holes. There are all of the tropes of getting to know dancers, learning their personalities. What does that mean when they do that? Do they hate me and want me to leave? I had an epiphany that perhaps these experienced Principal dancers may in fact also not have brilliant confidence when working with a choreographer for the first time. Of course everyone wants to do their best and are hard on themselves when they don’t feel impressive at every moment. This is a first date where you cannot fake a better personality. You must build from the bottom. It reminded me to be pointedly, communicatively loving and at the same time patient and loving to myself. I want every step to be poetry the first time I utter it and the first time they do it and of course, that is tragically impossible.
That was a really satisfying first day.