I used to be Resident Choreographer here. I don’t remember it.
I remember thinking it was time to be done with it right around the time I was starting my own company. It was also around the time that Washington Ballet was turning into a unionized company. I remember the importance of simplifying life and dedicating my focus to Boise, Idaho — ending the attachments that were tentacles to the episodic life I had been living as a freelance choreographer. I can’t remember what it was to be Resident Choreographer though. It’s a black spot in my memory. I remember people. Some of my happiest collaborators I met here. Jason Hartley, Jonathan Jordan…and Michele Jimenez is on the staff now and helping me with Mercury Half-Life. Jonathan is still in the company and dances the role originated by John Speed Orr. It’s a pleasure to see the maturity and presence he has developed over his life of dancing. I had a dream last night that he had become a Parkour master and he was flipping and spinning off the stage and into the audience in the most surprising and perfect ways.
Still, I can’t identify what it was to be “in residence” or what that meant to my relationship with the company.
Being back here now and seeing almost all of the faces change is very weird. It is difficult to find a road between the experiences of past and present. It’s like having a dream about a waking memory. The setting is correct, but nothing feels correct.
I feel for the dancers here because they learned the material in the fall and haven’t touched it again for months. The nuance and meaning they were discovering in October is back to a somewhat general skeleton of choreography and correcting that is cold and un-organic…painstaking. I see my main job beyond getting them back to the actual choreography is to find moments throughout that keep them with and remind them of their inspiration and reason for doing it, to not let panic over the basic material interrupt the true experiences they are capable of. It is a talented group and I know they will make it happen by opening. They are present and focused and they want this.
I first came to Washington, DC with my mother when I was 8 years old. I spent several weeks living here and my experience then, compared to now, is just as distant to me. As a kid, DC was the city of The West Wing. A giant monument to the remarkable ideals of America. It was safe and good. Its sidewalks were the giant stone hand of the Statue of Liberty carrying me to the most admirable parts of our national identity. It was an amusement park of museums and enormous statues. I stood in front of Kermit the Frog in the National Museum of American History. The torn pieces of The Star Spangled Banner made our past tangible to me and I could see my part of the through-line of history and the pride in the responsibility to carry it forward.
I meet a lot more politicians now – the people who do the work of carrying these ideals forward. It is a sobering experience to see how sausage is made. And it seems the more idealistic the goal, the more heartbreaking the reality. Being in DC today feels like one giant LinkedIn page. There is a locomotive speed to the jockeying for position. It is a giant machine that serves so many purposes. It can be very hard to tell the difference between motivation toward the grand purpose of our Democracy and motivation for one’s own advancement.
I attend various social events while in town, including The Washington Ballet’s annual fundraising gala. The social aggressiveness here is particular to this city. People literally push me out of the way to get to whomever they need to get to. It is hard to truly see where the mission of this evening lies: to support the art and accomplishments of this company.
I once had a reporter from The Washington Post eavesdrop on my conversation at a cocktail party and then print what she heard as a quote. In the context of the article, it is hard to see the purpose of a newspaper, to report the news, ostensibly, being served with that action. It perhaps made for a sexier and more bizarrely controversial article – one that perhaps could give greater focus toward the career of the writer. It was gross behavior in my opinion that has affected the way that I interact with reporters since.
A great highlight of my trip was working on a photoshoot with couple Ashley Murphy and Samuel Wilson. Longtime Washington Ballet icon Kay Kendall allowed us to shoot in the house and backyard of her gorgeous home and we spent a rainy morning making art together. We walked to Starbucks afterward and got to know each other. We had really only been working in the studio together so it was nice to know who they are as people…especially learning that they were almost on The Amazing Race.
Opening night came around and the dancers were beautiful. Mercury Half-Life is a piece that requires a dancer to give all of themselves both physically and personally and they all rose to the occasion with great integrity. This was the first company to perform the work since my own company had premiered it and these different personalities took the work to a different world from TMP.
Change is a gift. I have the deepest gratitude to be living a life where returning to a place can be about now and the new possibilities here and the memories of that place can feel like a great movie I once saw. The truth is that change is always. As much as I might hold tightly to the beauty of something I remember, letting it go makes way for the living, breathing, complicated, ever-growing realities that make life so meaningful.