| Hello friends! |
What does the word “movement” mean to you? A physical action taking place in a physical space? An organized group of people with a particular political agenda? The progression of society towards new ideas or ideals (or away from old ones)? Why do some moments become movements and some don’t? And at this moment when a hashtag can represent a movement, what does it mean to be part of one?
The word seems to encompass so much of what we’ve been grappling with this year, so I asked dance-world superstar Michelle Dorrance to sit with me to discuss movements in all of their various forms.
Over the course of our conversation, Michelle and I covered the true power of art, the shocking specificity of historical oppression, the importance of spaces, the thrilling tension between ballet and tap, and — yes — even the brain science of habit. Keep reading and you’ll come to understand just how gloriously dexterous this (MacArthur) Genius is — both physically and intellectually.
Okay, let’s move! (Oh, and if a friend forwarded this to you, subscribe here so we can stay in touch.)
Netflix and Move
In this moment of high concept, tentpole television, there is something (ironically) revolutionary about putting on screen two extraordinary actors, just sitting together talking. And in our youth-obsessed, newness-driven, eighteen to eighteen-and-a-half demographic pandering world, what’s even more revolutionary is telling the story of older people pondering, discussing and living the process of aging in America. The beginning of a programming movement? Perhaps. One of the most satisfying works currently on television? Definitely. (Also, I’m calling Alan Arkin for the Emmy now!)
Movement In Miniature
Our 18-year-old son Jackson has nourished a passion for subway trains since he was a baby — first by playing with toy versions, then by drawing them, playing simulation games with them, creating films about them, finding community around them, and now re-creating them in this painstakingly authentic replica — a living testament to the joy they bring to him. It has been so moving to witness how his passion has traveled with him through life, as he grows and changes and tracks the movement of his cherished subway system.
It’s not often that I feel my entire body pulsing in response to a play. But that is what I felt at the end of Fairview
, a heart-stopping, mind-exploding, whole-life-questioning, form-defying theatre experience by Jackie Sibblies Drury. It, along with What To Send Up When It Goes Down
, by Aleshea Harris (produced by the perfectly titled The Movement Theatre Company
), is part of a growing movement of theatre that rejects the space white stories have taken up onstage and white people have taken up in the audience, and points the way to a new, fair view.
Vanessa Friedman, covering Paris Fashion Week for the New York Times
amidst the political chaos of the Brett Kavanaugh hearings, opened her September 28 column
with the assertion that, “There’s no good way to write about fashion in the wake of the scorched-earth event
that took place Thursday in the Dirksen Senate Office Building in Washington.” She then spent the next thousand-or-so words thrillingly and systematically proving herself dead wrong. There was not just a good way, there was a brilliant way, and Friedman (as usual) found it. Taken together, her columns chronicle contemporary American life by translating what we wear into who we are. She uncovers, articulates and contextualizes the silent and often subtle movements only expressed through our clothing.
It’s probably not surprising that I’m always moved by going to Gay Pride Parade every year. What is surprising, though, is just how moving I find the growing presence of big, mainstream companies and their employees walking the parade route. What some might decry as opportunism at best or exploitation at worst, I celebrate as meaningful progress. These corporations, at the risk of alienating throngs of potential customers who would deny us our humanity, are putting their money where our rights are. That’s what I thought of when I saw this extraordinary Pantene campaign currently running in the Philippines. It is so moving both for the personal bravery of each of its beautiful subjects and for a kind of corporate bravery that puts them at the center of a beautiful campaign.
In Conversation With The New Yorker has called Michelle Dorrance, founder and Artistic Director of Dorrance Dance, “one of the most imaginative tap choreographers working today.” She’s a 2015 MacArthur Fellow, a 2014 Alpert Award winner, a 2013 Jacob’s Pillow Dance Award winner, and was honored with the Princess Grace Award in 2012. After attending American Ballet Theater’s Fall Gala and laying witness to her epic new ballet/tap piece, Dream within a Dream (deferred), I knew she and I would have a LOT to talk about. I was right. So right, in fact, that despite the fact that we have never met before we dove into deep conversation, even starting in the hallway before walking in the room. We began late because of crazy NYC traffic. You’ll see why...
Michelle The guy who I was just in the car with on the way here — it was a Lyft. He moved here six years ago. I got a message while we were driving that there’d been a bomb found at the post office and I was just like — “Hey man, they’ve shut down a huge part of 8th Avenue, that’s why we’re stuck over here, because they found a bomb at the post office.” He was like, “Who sent the bomb?” I was just like, “Uh, the Republicans?” And I kinda laughed. You know, I was just kidding. But then I just said, “At this point, it’s a conservative group of people or person targeting liberal people.” He said, “You know, when I moved here six years ago from Africa it was... everyone was happy.” He said, “Things were much different. Everyone’s angry now. Just the other day I was behind someone who was clearly on their phone and looking at their phone, and so I flashed my lights. Flashed my lights again. Gave a little beep. Another beep, I flashed my lights one more time. This person finally kind of perked up and sped up really quickly and then slammed on their brakes, like almost as if to...”
Jordan “Fuck you.”
Michelle Yeah. He was like, you know, “Lucky for me, I’m ready for these kinds of things.” He was like, a little flex as a driver. Then he just said the guy leaned out his window and yelled, “You fucking black,” or you know, whatever, exactly. He was like, “What?” And he just thought, “No one would yell something like ’you black’ on the streets when I first moved here and now people feel like they can.”
Jordan People feel like they can.
It was a climate that would not stand for that kind of hatred, and now we’re in a climate that clearly is interfacing with hatred.
Michelle That’s the difference. It’s our climate. So even though we have liberal millennials or we have open minded millennials, we have a climate that is, I guess... it’s not accepting hate, but allowing it?
Jordan Oh absolutely.
Michelle It’s just that we have no choice but to try not to sensationalize what’s already being sensationalized in every single thing Trump is saying that is outrageous. So you know, it’s almost like you have to ignore it.
Jordan I’m interested that he felt that six years ago everybody was happy.
Michelle Yeah, I mean, clearly not everybody.
Jordan Because clearly not. We just didn’t know. Right? Because that person on the street who says, “You black,” didn’t just make up those feelings or that blame.
Michelle Of course. It was a climate that would not stand for that kind of hatred, and now we’re in a climate that clearly is interfacing with hatred.
Jordan But the thing that I am constantly still processing and understanding is we wouldn’t be in this situation if that hatred wasn’t already there. ’Cause that’s what got us here. Right?
Michelle getting ready to perform at Sadler’s Wells Theatre in London.by Ian Gavan/Getty Images
Jordan I don’t know, I just think, how did we miss that? How did we miss that?
Michelle I don’t necessarily think [that Trump is] the culmination of the disgruntled or frustrated or angry — or a minority that feels unrepresented — I don’t think the other side of it has to be explosive hatred. It’s been manipulated.
Jordan Okay, good, good, good.
Michelle There’s always going to be an ebb and flow to the tide, and we’ve seen it in our lifetime with how the presidential elections have gone. Then we saw an unbelievable, marked change, particularly in ’08 when so many red states turned blue. A lot of that was the work done by a huge grassroots effort that has not continued. A really good friend of mine, Angelina Burnett, who’s a brilliant writer for television and film, but whose father is T Bone Burnett, the music producer...
Jordan Oh, of course, sure.
T Bone and Angelina Burnett.Photo left by Kevin Winter/Getty Images; photo right by Jerod Harris/Getty Images for Film Independent
Michelle Yeah, so they have a legacy of artistic beings in their family, and are also very mindful, active, political folks, you know, who hope to help in some way. She was great at that kind of organizing. Obama for America sent her to Nevada. But the way this kind of change was brought about and the turning of the tide for the voting was literally a conversation between two people, and that takes time. It was, what’s my story, what’s your story? And how do our stories intersect? Once we begin to understand each other’s stories and how our stories intersect, we find commonality. We find how we can support the best candidate who will help the most people. But that conversation takes time. It just has to continue. I think folks who had yet to be reached or who maybe were not interested in being reached, or you know, those people who were frustrated with eight years of Obama — it was going to turn back around in the favor of folks who were leaning towards a more conservative pathway, I think —
Jordan Yeah, but it didn’t turn around, it blew up.
Michelle It did blow up and I blame the Republican party. It was irresponsible.
Jordan Mm-hmm! I have to say, what you just described as that personal exchange of stories, you were absolutely describing political change. You were also describing performance.
Michelle Yeah, well that’s the pinnacle of what we hope to do. If only every work could be that.
Jordan If we actually really do what we mean to do.
Michelle Oh, man, holy shit. Yeah, you’re right. Of course there’s gonna be work that you make that’s... well, even that. That’s interesting, it all falls into that. I was going to say, there’s the work you make that’s terribly personal that is a lament, or an expression of grief, or... but even that is a story you’re offering in hopes to —
Jordan Understand me.
Michelle Yes, well, it’s to seek understanding or to help provide understanding. There’s a quote from Martha Graham, when a woman who had seen Lamentation later in her life came up to Martha after the performance and said, “I lost my son.” He was hit by a car in front of her — I might be making that part up — but something pretty horrific happened to her son when he was young. She was much older. She said, “I could never cry about losing my son until I saw this work.” Until watching Martha Graham do Lamentation. There’s a recording of Martha describing this experience and she said, “There’s always one person, there’s always at least one person in the audience who you’re meant to reach. If that’s what that work did for this woman, that’s...”
Martha Graham in Lamentation.Video via youtube.com
Jordan That’s enough.
Michelle That’s the answer.
Jordan That’s enough, that’s enough, that’s enough.
Any number of groups that are marginalized could unify, could understand one another.
Michelle Let’s say I have a really emotional solo I’m working on. That’s not going to change the world or help with stories intersecting or help provide understanding, or help challenge other people’s opinions or experiences or help people reflect, no, but that one solo can provide comfort or provide release or relief or any number of those things. I forget that that’s an element as well.
Jordan I have to say, I forget that a lot, and I go back and forth honestly. Sometimes I... I mostly think, No, this matters. What we make matters and the stories we tell matter, and convening people in communion matters. Then sometimes I, on the dark days, think, What are we doing? What are we doing?
Michelle Yeah, or, is it indulgent that we’re making music with our feet? Like, what are we doing? You know? But then it’s so fleeting when I remember those who came before us and how hard they fought. Particularly with tap dance, because it’s been such a marginalized and bastardized art form and the bottom of the totem pole in the dance world; dance is kind of the bottom of the totem pole in the arts world. The working-class artist, really using their bodies for everything they do. You know, that mentality. But tap dancers were the original subversive artists. You know, Bill “Bojangles” Robinson was the first person who broke what was called the “the two-colored rule.” You could not perform as an African-American soloist in the early 20th century. He was the first.
The Nicholas Brothers & Ray Charles.Photos by George Konig/Keystone Features/Getty Images and Gilles Petard/Redferns
Jordan Why was that? Did there have to be at least two people?
Michelle Power, fame, I mean, any number of reasons. Who knows?
Jordan Ah, ah, ah.
Michelle Yeah, exactly, why was that? Are people asking that question?
Jordan Because that’s a very, very specific, some real twisted...
Michelle Can you imagine? Oh, huge. Everything was so oppressive.
Jordan Somebody really thought about that.
Michelle I mean, that was in the Jim Crow South, but... oh, absolutely. To see how a performer could galvanize people, and to this day it still exists. You have someone who has a platform who’s a liberal, who has millions of fans or followers, and that’s someone who people don’t want speaking out or saying certain things or riling people up.
Jordan First they come for the artists.
Michelle Oh, of course. But also, I mean, I can cite Bill Robinson for so many different things — He and Shirley Temple were the first black and white hands to touch on the silver screen. All those different things. There are so many different moments. The Nicholas Brothers were two of the performers who started to shift the, enter through the kitchen and come perform for this white audience thing. Yeah, I think a number of houses changed. I mean, we know Ray Charles was a huge and powerful advocate for that kind of change. But in the early days, in Vaudevillian days, so much of the work developed in circumstances that were horrific. That was why. The why is often to survive. So to carry on the tradition of those who literally sacrificed so much, you’re like, “This is a powerful, important tradition and it’s an American tradition,” and that is something we have to remember too.
Bill ’Bojangles‘ Robinson and Shirley Temple.Video via youtube.com
Jordan Is that your why now?
Michelle I mean, that’s a huge why, just to honor that. Because there are all these men and women who I met when I was a teenager, a young teenager, all the way into my early 20s, in their 80s and 90s before they passed away. Their stories are unbelievable, the things that they did and accomplished in their time. So to have been given from these folks, to honor and carry on that legacy — but then you also want to express. This is your art form. So there’s this desire to express your own personal story, and then there’s a humility in that. Like, How dare I? I should be honoring this tradition. But also to honor the tradition is to be honest and to share the story.
Jordan Something I talk a lot about here at Jujamcyn in our work is, “Honor the legacy and deliver it forward.” That’s, for me, the goal of stewarding the buildings and the goal of the work we put in them.
Michelle Yeah, space is so important.
Jordan Okay, let’s get to spaces.
Michelle Because we don’t have any. Well, you might have known Fazil’s on 8th Avenue between 46th and 47th, the old rehearsal studio. That was one of our only rehearsal spaces that was affordable, and that big, bad building is there now. Fazil’s brother, though, left a window open on a fire escape for me so I got to sneak in after it was closed, before it was torn down.
Michelle Yeah, man, I got some hooks off the wall and I now hang things on them in my house. I mean, a lot of us have little pieces of wood or like an old piano key, because there are all these old, corroding pianos...
Obsessed with Michelle.Photo by Emilio Madrid-Kuser
Jordan But those become —
Jordan They are the relics.
Michelle Yeah, they’re relics, exactly.
Jordan Quite literally, the pieces that hold the stories and that hold the energy. I think about that a lot also with our spaces —
Michelle Oh, there’s nothing like them. We don’t make things like that anymore.
Jordan We don’t.
Michelle Yeah, and that energy and spirit. It honors New York City. There are few cities that, immediately when you step into them, you feel the same way as when you step into a theater. The way you feel what’s happened there. New York is one of them, New Orleans is one of them — You can feel the history of the city in the city. Or that it hasn’t been corporatized too much and you can maybe go back to the 1700s or 1800s or back to, you know, even four decades before or something. I was in a theater in Omaha recently. We were performing in the Orpheum. It was built in 1927, and they’d just recently redone the gold leaf so it kind of felt like, “Gosh, whoa, what was this like in the ’20s? This is nuts.”
The gold leafed Orpheum of Omaha. Photo from Omaha World Herald
Jordan I think that’s so interesting what you’re saying about New York City because I always think about New York and talk about it as a place where you can very quickly plug into, unlike, let’s say, Los Angeles, that I find to be — well, you have to be invited to plug in. You can’t just sort of arrive and plug.
Michelle No, well, in part because it’s like the postmodern city.
Michelle Yeah, exactly. You’re not gonna run into somebody on the street.
Jordan That made me think, is it possibly the driving versus walking that is a necessary but not sufficient criteria?
Michelle I always think of Who Framed Roger Rabbit? and how that used to be like, the dopest trolley car system in the country and they tore — I mean, clearly Toontown is not a real thing, but —
Jordan I don’t know, maybe it is!
Maybe Toontown is real?!Video via youtube.com
Michelle I would love it. The idea that the automobile and its popularity and the building of a freeway is what ended up shutting down the cable car system there — at one point there was something going on. You do feel, in certain parts of LA when you’re there you’re like, “Oh, something was going on here.”
Jordan Yeah, something was going on.
Michelle But I know what you mean. My first visits to LA I loathed it. I was like, Why do people live here? There’s no community, I’m in my car the whole time. I was young. Then once — it was what you just said about being invited in. Once you’re stewarded by someone, because I never lived there —
Jordan Then you can get in.
Michelle Yes, and then you know where your communities are and you have to go sneak in and find them. It’s interesting.
Jordan What you were just saying about the trolley cars and ripping them out made me think about what you had said about the solo rule.
Michelle Oh, yeah, the two color rule.
Jordan One of the things that I keep trying to wrap my head around is — I don’t know if you have heard this: the bridges, when they were building the highways out towards Long Island, the underpasses that were built over those roads were built low so as not to allow buses, so that people who had to take buses could not get to the public beaches.
Jordan Jones Beach and all the others.
Michelle You’re kidding me.
Jordan And the diabolical-ness of that, and the — it’s the specificity. It’s the specificity in your example that made me think about this. The underpasses. And you know, I just at this moment thought, Well, that’s what’s happening right now with our definitions of sex in civil rights bills, and the sort of diabolical-ness of, I don’t want these people to live, thrive, be. Let me work backwards to what can put a thumb on them. What can stop them, what can remove them, what can undermine them? Those three things just added up to me in this exact moment.
Michelle Because I thought of the fact that originally things like that — like the height of a bridge in order for a bus to not pass under — that’s the elite keeping out, often, at a certain time and maybe when these bridges were built, a minority being people of color?
Jordan That’s what it was, absolutely.
As soon as they started extending a little bit outside the scope of a very marginalized community, it became scary.
Michelle But the minority being people of color intersects so quickly with the lower class in that, and that’s one thing that has been thwarted by whatever powers that be. You know, it just depends on the time period. But I think of the civil rights movement — as soon as Martin Luther King, Jr. started appealing to the working class and not just — like as soon as it was —
Jordan Come together.
Michelle Yeah, the oppressed or have-nots of the country, not just African-Americans but lower class, working class, et cetera. That’s when he was killed. As soon as Malcolm X was turning his head in that direction, or the Black Panthers, the work that certain community organizations were doing, like literacy programs, free breakfast, things like that — as soon as they started extending a little bit outside the scope of a very marginalized community, it became scary. Because imagine if the poor people and the blacks hooked up. Then you’d have, you know —
Michelle Well, exactly — it would be democracy. But instead, this country, or whomever it is, I don’t know how — the kind of manipulation that Trump is clearly a kingpin of — in order to keep this kind of hatred going, they have to keep those factions from coming together and joining and sharing stories and finding commonality. Otherwise we would be in a completely different place. Because you know, any number of groups that are marginalized could unify, could understand one another. But instead people are markedly being divisive and finding dogma and propaganda to continue this. I don’t think it’s one sided, I think, you know —
Jordan Oh, no, we’re very complicit.
Michelle Oh my gosh, yeah.
Jordan Very complicit.
Michelle Dorrance with Joseph C. Wiggan and Jason Samuels Smith at the 2017 Princess Grace Awards Gala.Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images for Princess Grace Foundation — USA
Michelle I grew up in North Carolina. I grew up in Chapel Hill, which is where University of North Carolina is, and there are a lot of smart young people who are sons and daughters of professors, or just open-minded people. Liberal people in the south. But you know that we’re in a hick state and that there are some smart rednecks out there and there are some folks that’ll shoot somebody on sight, you know? You just have this mindset.
Jordan No, I think we certainly see that in the LGBTQ community as well. The fact that we now start to put all those letters together and say that is an us is relatively new. And I would say fragile. Fragile.
Michelle Yeah, and there’s a conservative consciousness that can happen inside of LGBTQ community as well.
Jordan Absolutely correct, absolutely correct, absolutely correct.
Michelle Yeah, that’s always funny to me too, to find that. I remember I was a huge Ani DiFranco fan as a young person. I remember when she was dating a man, it was like her fans were against her. I remember her saying from the stage, “I never thought I’d see the likes of a queer, conservative consciousness.” Like, we just want freedom so that you can choose to be queer, as opposed — to what if someone queer chooses to be in a heteronormative relationship? It was just interesting to hear that perspective. We should be just as open-minded as we hope others to be, always. Even using the word hick or redneck. Those ideas, you know. I say all of that in jest. That made me, it just opened up a big bubble in my mind.
Ani DiFranco on stage.Photo by Taylor Hill/Getty Images
Jordan This is why we’re here.
Michelle Yeah, I know.
Jordan Opening the bubbles.
Jordan Opening the bubbles.
Michelle That’s true.
Jordan That could be a piece.
Michelle “Opening the Bubbles?” Okay!
Jordan “Opening the Bubbles” — I think you could imagine very quickly a sort of visual life of that. But I think it all goes to: how big is our tent? At any given time. You know, I’ve observed that and lived through it and sort of unpacked those kinds of questions. And I think where you’re going with Ani DiFranco is that when somebody stands up and says, “I belong in your tent, I’m out,” then you’re in the tent. But before that, sometimes there was a sense of “Oh, well you’re in the closet so you don’t want to be in our tent and therefore you are not in our tent.” Right? “So what are you trying to hide? Prove?”
Jordan And at the same time, that’s all of us, right?
Jordan Nobody was born in this tent.
Do we have that within us as a community to say, all right, well if you actually think Lindsey Graham is in the closet, then is there some level of heart that we can open to him?
Michelle I know. That’s interesting.
Jordan So you have to have come into the tent. But the process of imagining who is outside the tent and why — and you know, I think about this a lot. When we have these sort of horrible Republican lawmakers who will make these horrible anti-gay laws and people start to say, well, “You’re a closet case.” And that fact, if we actually believe that, then —
Michelle That kind of self-loathing homophobia.
Jordan Right. But do we not claim you as ours?
Michelle And I actually think it would be the most powerful thing to do.
Michelle It could almost be an undermining tactic. Like, you know what, we still love you, even though you hate yourself.
Jordan This is the thing.
Michelle But that’s outing someone and that’s not necessarily right.
If you take it down to the root, if you take everything down to the root of Christianity, it really would be communist. All the conservative Christians would be communists because Christ was a communist.
Jordan Do we have that within us as a community to say, all right, well if you actually think Lindsey Graham is in the closet, then is there some level of heart that we can open to him?
Michelle Right. To know they must be struggling so much to fight this hard, to be this full of hate for themselves. Because in the end, those who are acting with hate, it’s from within. There’s nowhere else, you know? If someone is happy and full of love and loves others and is a giving or caring person, it’s hard to turn that person into a hate monger. There’s an acorn in there and that’s where it’s grown from. It’s interesting to think about that. And, surprisingly, the hate mongers of our national community are often conservative Christians, and the root of Christianity is love thy neighbor. It is the difference between the Old Testament and the New. It is turn the other cheek, it is love everyone. It is judge not, it is all of those things. If Christian principles were actually taken and pushed into any conservative agenda, none of this would ever happen because that is no way to treat your neighbor. It would only be seek to help, seek to understand, seek to support.
Jordan I just thought about this: did you see that huge article in the Times a couple of days ago about, I don’t know if it’s a factory or a plant where the rate of women miscarrying is higher, significantly higher than the norm? It is because these women are doing manual labor and lifting heavy things and they kept asking for a less-strenuous assignment, but they kept saying no and the women kept miscarrying. This was a huge exposé article, which was of course hellacious and heartbreaking. All I could think of was, If you are pro-life and you are not getting yourself to these factories and protesting with the same zeal that you are protesting Planned Parenthood, I have nothing, nothing for you.
Michelle Because a decision is being made at both places. In this case, the woman does not get to choose.
Jordan Actively not. These are women who want these children, want their babies.
Jordan And do you care about them?
Michelle Exactly. And it shows that that kind of hate, the zeal filled with that kind of hatred is really an outlet for hate as opposed to, “I’m a political activist that is interested in keeping babies alive.” Because those people should absolutely be knocking on the door of that factory the same way they would a clinic. You’re right. And then there’s the whole death penalty/pro-life intersection; all of those things are interesting. If you take it down to the root, if you take everything down to the root of Christianity, it really would be communist. All the conservative Christians would be communists because Christ was a communist.
Jordan So I think that might be another piece, called “Communist Christ.”
Michelle It’s true. It’s about selflessness. Nobody takes the actual lessons of Christ and applies them. People try to find some quote in some back corner of the Bible to spit at people.
I’d imagine everyone thinks they’re right, I would assume so. I think that there’s fear-driven right and there’s hope-driven right.
Jordan That goes back to the thumb for me. Because if it’s an, I know where I want to end up and I’m going to work backwards to what gets me there — Well, in fairness, I think we all do that.
Michelle For sure. If we truly believe in an agenda, we of course want to get it done, so we’ll find ways to get it done.
Michelle I’d imagine everyone thinks they’re right; I would assume so. I guess we hope that —
Jordan I do think everybody thinks they’re right.
Michelle I think that there’s fear-driven right and there’s hope-driven right. And I think the fear-driven right folks should open their minds a little more and wonder why they’re so scared. Because usually you’re scared of the other or someone is scared of an immigrant taking their job and often people are scared of things that are intangible.
Jordan Aren’t we all scared?
Michelle Yeah. We’re all scared to an extent. What I’m most scared of is masses of people being killed, compromised, jailed — like those fears and the fact that we could see some totalitarian or really nasty possibilities ahead of us. It’s also smart to acknowledge, I don’t think we need to act out of fear, we should act out of what we can do to make this better. Yeah, I think we’re all scared to some extent.
I don’t ever doubt what I’m feeling. But how I came to feel it is rooted in subconscious judgments, is rooted in my experience as a human being.
Jordan I think a lot about doubt because I have a lot of doubt.
Michelle How so?
Jordan Just in that I — the level to which somebody believes they are right is the inverse is the amount of doubt that they allow to creep into their heads.
Michelle Could it be open-mindedness? Like can someone believe they’re right, but still —
Jordan Yes, that’s probably a better spin than doubt. Yeah. But allowing for the possibility that you may not be right.
Jordan I guess that sort of doubt is the opposite of zeal, perhaps.
Digging in. Photo by Emilio Madrid-Kuser
Jordan And, this is what I believe, this is what I know, but maybe there’s more, maybe there’s something I’m not seeing — When that doesn’t exist, that’s when I get really scared. That’s what scares me the most.
Michelle The inability to reflect I think is — that’s the end. I can 100 percent know how my heart feels so there’s a true confidence in my passions and my feelings. I don’t ever doubt what I’m feeling. But how I came to feel it is rooted in subconscious judgments, is rooted in my experience as a human being. And if we don’t reflect on that like, I know why that angered me and it’s because this used to happen to me when I was little — You know what I mean? — If we don’t have a moment to go take a deep breath and know that you’re being more sensitive than you usually would be — this particular poke hits a little deeper because there’s a bruise in there from an old poke or whatever it is — If we don’t take a look at that —
Jordan Is that what you’re doing in your work?
Michelle Oh man. I don’t know. There might be some elements of that inside larger pieces of work. That’s interesting. Well, just exploring, reflecting. And one work in particular that I made most recently, I absolutely had to exorcise someone who was very manipulative — someone who was in my life very intimately, very quickly, and the havoc that was wreaked because of it, and because I made certain decisions in relation to it or was manipulated into. But I have to take responsibility and say you are a sucker so that’s why you got —
Practiced behavior becomes who you are.
Jordan “You,” me?
Michelle Me. Me looking at myself. You, Michelle Dorrance, are a sucker. You are so bent on care-taking that you couldn’t see that that was the way you were pulled into this by someone who saw that in you — they played the victim because they knew you would go for it. That’s embarrassing. But also, the idea that practiced behavior becomes method, it becomes who you are. You can choose the wrong thing enough times for it to be your go-to even though you know it’s wrong, and I observe that in this person.
Jordan Okay, well, that has to take us to dance. Practiced behavior becomes who you are.
Michelle Absolutely. Well, that’s the other part of it. That’s also how we become as proficient as possible. Masterful technicians. It’s the only way.
Michelle Exactly. The piece is called Myelination, it’s about the fatty tissue that builds around synapse fires in your brain — all the nerve fibers. That’s how we remember things. That’s how we do anything we do. That’s how we walk. Everyone used to think that gray matter was the most important thing, when really we’re still learning, discovering elements of what’s really happening in our brains. But this, it’s insulating myelin. Myelin is this fatty tissue and it’s the white matter in the brain. It’s insulating these pathways so that the more you do it, the more that builds around it and the faster it fires. So things that we don’t have to think about — walking, talking, you know — we’ve practiced and it exists. But things we’re learning how to do for the first time or innovating within something we’ve done before — when I’m used to doing a shuffle heel and I want to do some weird toe stand before I do the heel, all these other things have to happen in order for, first of all, the heel not to engage first and then also for me to get off the ground and do this other thing before I land again. So just that idea, that’s going to take some practice for it to build. That relationship has everything to do with building skill, building technical mastery, building the ability to make music, building the ability to communicate. All of those things intersect with the same practice that treats people with kindness or hatred.
Watch Myelination.Video via youtube.com
Jordan This is going to make me cry and I feel like this is a breakthrough.
Michelle You know what I mean though?
Jordan That’s the book.
Michelle That’s the book, oh my gosh. You know what I’m saying.
Jordan I do. I mean, the whole world of business thinking and self-help thinking is around habit and how you build habit. So I think you’re pointing us to a whole legacy of creation and work and creativity that is doing exactly that and telling us, pointing us in that direction, with that kind of repetition. Put this in your body so it lives in your body.
Michelle And it must. It has to be embodied. Kindness is embodied, it’s practice.
I am a person who believes in the way our spirit engages and interacts in our physical being.
Jordan Kindness is embodied, it’s practice.
Michelle But it is also from this other — and I believe this and whether you want to call it spiritual or hippie or whatever — I am a person who believes in the way our spirit engages and interacts in our physical being. And whether people want to quantify that as energy or something scientific, there are a lot of other ways we can think of it, that we are invested on this other plane in our physical body and that practice, that’s what takes it to a level that changes hearts and changes spirit and can change. There can be someone who’s practiced in another way that can change, that can be moved by something. When it reaches to the core of something and can change it from the inside. It’s not that we can’t pray for revolution for people who have been practicing hate, I think we can. But it means really getting to the heart of something.
Jordan But I also think that it takes us to — we’ve been talking in extremes.
Michelle Yes, of course.
Jordan And probably more useful or just as useful is all of those little things that are inside all of us that don’t serve us individually and that don’t serve us communally. Maybe if I could find my way out of that through the repetition of my body in the way that you would prepare your body to dance or prepare your dancers to move —
Michelle Or perform.
Jordan For you.
Michelle in ABT rehearsal.Photo by Rosalie O’Connor
Michelle To execute something that takes the kind of strength that you can only build through repetition, it’s the same thing you’re talking about. All those little decisions that you have to make on a given day, even if it’s your own thinking. Like, I won’t engage this negative thought because I know what it will do to me. I’ll continue to do this and then I’ll have this big part of me that does that. It’s every little choice. Then you’re building a muscle that’s more resilient to indulging that pathway.
Jordan Dance as a metaphor for fixing the soul.
Michelle Because it does.
Jordan Not metaphor. Instruction manual.
Michelle It is. It’s nuts.
Michelle I’m guilty of the same thing. Anxieties or fears. I never, until very recently, could even identify with feeling anxious.
Jordan What does that mean?
Michelle I didn’t understand what an anxiety attack was because I had only very, very rarely ever felt anxiety. I was such a positive —
Michelle Yes, until recently. Now I’m like F this. I don’t know, I don’t want to —
Jordan Wait, wait, wait. So you’re like the Holy Grail of a person. Why do you think you had not experienced anxiety when you look back?
Michelle I guess I experienced negative emotion in such different ways, whether it was a heartache or heartbreak or disappointment. You know what I mean? It’s such a really strange plane, and it takes an involvement, I don’t know — I don’t even think I can articulate it yet, but give me a year and maybe I’ll try to think about it more.
These conversations are all about searching for a new point of view. Photographer Emilio Madrid-Kuser found one too — under the table. Photo by Emilio Madrid-Kuser
Jordan We have a date a year from now and we’re going to talk about anxiety.
Michelle Well, I just didn’t understand what it was. I think I gained a lot of positive energy from the same experiences that others would but even now can find myself feeling anxious. Even if it’s something I used to just laugh at — like when you’re commuting at rush hour going anywhere. And back then, however many years ago, I was always going to go dance or move my body, you know what I mean? So like I felt pressed up against all these people. If we were at a club it would be fine, but if we were in the subway, it was miserable. But there are all these fun ways to think about —
Jordan Context, context.
The more you get done, the less you feel like you’re getting done.
Michelle I think part of it was that I had a better attitude.
Jordan And so what happened to change that?
Michelle I might have a shitty attitude now.
Michelle I mean, a number of things, a lot of it is just being overwhelmed. I don’t think I can ever get enough done or all the things done, you know, whatever that means. And that’s such a first world problem. Anxiety in this realm is very Western world.
Jordan Doesn’t make it unreal.
Michelle No, it doesn’t make it unreal and that’s what I hate. I want to not feel it. I’m like, I wish I could think my way out of this but you can’t. It’s weird when it starts taking over.
Jordan For me, I feel like the more you get done, the less you feel like you’re getting done.
Michelle So let’s just blow up the Internet and emails and paperwork.
Jordan That’s it.
Michelle And talk in person. It’s the only thing we can do.
Jordan That is literally it.
Michelle Yes, I totally agree. This is our promise.
Jordan We are making a pact.
Michelle Whenever you want to talk, call me.
Jordan Call me.
Michelle Let’s plan everything with our voices and our body.
Jordan No voicemail.
The brilliant dancers of ABT in Michelle’s Dream within a Dream (deferred).Photo by Marty Sohl
Jordan If we don’t pick up, just keep trying.
Michelle Can I tell you — this one guy — I have a board now because we’re not-for-profit, and he’s actually now president of Dorrance Dance Board — he told me that he experimented with this idea in a business once and it was: you can’t email someone and expect them to email you back. You can email someone to give details or send something —
Michelle Exactly. Because what a great way to send information; it used to be so archaic. Okay. But if you want to talk to somebody, you have to call them. If they’re internal, you have to go by their desk. You have to have tried three or four ways and then you can leave a message like, “Hey, I stopped by, I called a couple of times, I sent an email and I just can’t find you. Is there any way you can get back to me?” It’s something you want, so at that point, if you have a need, you send an email and you put it on someone else.
Jordan That’s it.
Michelle And then it’s the other person’s job to freak the F out.
Jordan Okay. That’s our pact. So, I have to say, so much of what we’ve been talking about makes me want to dig in with you on bringing tap and ballet together.
Michelle Oh Man. Wild.
Jordan I mean, on so many levels, but going back to when you were talking about the roots of tap and the lowest of the low of the totem pole — Ballet, in many ways, is the reverse.
Calvin Royal III is a literal dream in Dream within a Dream (deferred).Photo by Marty Sohl
Michelle It’s on the top. Absolutely.
Jordan It’s sort of traditionally, socioeconomically, racially, in the arts world—
Michelle Upper echelon of culture.
Jordan And so, dig in with me on this literal and figurative leap of bringing those two forms and those two cultures together.
Michelle It’s interesting that at first I didn’t think of, well, the way you’re talking about keeping these theaters, these spaces alive, and what they are doing to honor our culture, and also that it is literally a room, a space where people gather to experience something together. In that alone, like that’s another thing that is so powerful about the arts because people don’t attend town halls, you have to go in person to see this live show. I mean, yes, things stream on the Internet but it’s not the same.
Jordan Not the same.
Michelle You must go see your favorite live musician or your favorite live dancer or theater performer or speaker. But the fact that in certain spaces, certain parts of our culture, that’s never existed. And I didn’t consider that until [working] in the State Theater, which is what my mother called it, so I will call it the State.
Jordan And will continue to call.
Michelle But it is no longer usually referenced —
Jordan It is the David Koch Theater for all that implies.
I want to offer something that is in relationship to being an artist that believes in American art. Like a patriot in this weird way.
Michelle There is something about that theater, what has always lived there and what has always been upheld, that is to be celebrated in our culture and in this upper echelon of our culture. It was important to me, outside of the intersection or very jagged meeting of percussive dance and ballet — and I say those two things because some people think that this is an exciting thing and some people are like, this juxtaposition is too much or too extreme. It was really important to me to bring part of our culture that I cherish most, and that has often been the most downtrodden, into this space because this space had never had this part of our culture in its history — in this space in this way.
Jordan So a taking up of residence.
Bring it ABT!Photo via @gillianemurphy
Michelle This is a community of people that in this space would otherwise not experience this. And so, making a choice to offer this experience to this community and to hope that this is something that causes reflection and then have someone go home and think, I’m someone who only goes to the ballet, I would never have thought of going to support an art form like tap dance, you know what I mean? Just that open-mindedness from a close-mindedness move into other directions — that’s beside the point. My aesthetic interest in the intersection of ballet and tap dance was first just to make the pointe shoe percussive because it is such a great sound and everyone talks about the fact that, well, you know, ballerinas are meant to be quiet and they are taught this from the very beginning of their lives. Wouldn’t we all love as — I mean, I say this because this is my spirit — maybe they don’t love it. Some of them I think have been having fun with it but some people were probably like, this is blasphemy. But who doesn’t want a revolution? When someone tells you to be quiet, who doesn’t want to be able to speak up? But simultaneously, that’s what honors the form. So I don’t want to totally derail or disrespect that. Also that skill set, that’s tremendous, the kind of control it takes to maintain that kind of quietude, it’s amazing. Not necessarily quietude, but like that level of...
Calvin in rehearsal for Michelle’s piece at ABTPhoto by Rosalie O’Connor
Michelle Yes, through an entire performance. So, taking this instrument that they beat the crap out of just to mute, to ask them not to do that — In fact, could we get the loudest pointe shoes you have and can we explore music with the same technique that you’ve been trained in? Of course, there’s an adaptation of the technique in order to create the sound. But it is because of their clarity of execution and their brilliant technical capacity that we can execute these sounds with so much strength. I mean, I’m like, whoa, we can ease up a little bit. So when we finally got on the wood, I can’t even tell you, when we finally got on the pieces of wood, like there are small platforms, essentially small drums. So when we finally got there, I’m like, “Ladies, I never thought I would have to pull you back but can we pull you back?” Last night, oh last night, there are three ladies in this particular work that are like nailing these really intricate canons that are like in a triplet inside of blues. So blues is usually like [tapping in rhythm on the table] one, two, three, four. There’s always a [tapping faster on table] one, two, three, four. So they’re doing it. And this one’s [tapping still faster]. So they do. And each person has like a little element of that canon. And for me to ask them to do that! Also, when did they ever dance to blues? So there’s just a lot of stuff that’s happening there that I was excited to explore with them. They are from a legacy of movement that involves such precision in line and I was really excited to hopefully show that thing they’ve built their entire lives, show the line, and then show the breaking of the line in order to sit in this vernacular, movement and aesthetic. To ask them to really go back and forth between both was something I wanted to explore. I wanted to see that extreme line and then a breaking of the line.
Jordan It was thrilling.
Michelle Well, to me, it’s another way of carrying your body. You’re carrying your body so that you’re lighter than a human being would be. Then you’re sitting on the floor. Like, literally, with your full weight.
Michelle That juxtaposition is so important. I think that it shows how hard both of those extremes are to live in. They’re both exhausting.
Jordan Yeah! Yeah!
Michelle They both require an extreme push. You can’t just say, Oh, I’ll relax into this. Although, I am often asking a lot of them to relax an upper body that is stiff. What that means is maybe sometimes contracting. There are many things that are the opposite — I think exploring those opposites within a small time period, to me, is also thrilling.
Michelle Yeah. Some people are like, Eh... Too jarring of a switch, seeing idiom changed inside of one second or a 30 second note. Too quick. I’m like, No. Give it to me. Also because I think we all hope to be able to navigate more than one language and even if this is not something they’ve spent their life doing, the fact that they are exploring a new physical language is really exciting to me. They are the American Ballet Theater. At the gala last spring, the work that I did was much different. Stella Abrera and David Hallberg were given a little thing to read in between. They mentioned me as an American tap dancer. This is American Ballet Theater. It hit home that I have to offer something; I don’t just get to play and explore what’s interesting to me. I want to offer something, in relationship to being an artist, that believes in American art. Like a patriot in this weird way. Tap dance is this thing that, yes, came from this effed-up oppressed place but that found its way to unbelievable precision and joy and a new art form.
Jordan Art as an act of patriotism.
Michelle Yeah. The idea is to bring part of our American culture that doesn’t live inside of American Ballet Theater into American Ballet Theater. That was the other dream.
Jordan Extraordinary. Extraordinary.
Michelle Yeah. You know, it was barely enough time to finish the ballet. It was rough. It was rough. It was rough. It was rough. And we’re still rehearsing.
Jordan I’m interested in what you’re talking about with sound, particularly at this moment, as you point us towards our sort of grappling with the meaning and strength and possibility of all of our voices. Ballet strives to make the human body quieter than it normally would be. Tap strives to make the human body louder, more sound, than it normally could naturally.
Michelle Yeah. That’s a good point.
The virtuosity is in the playing of the music. You don’t see it in the movement. You hear it. If you closed your eyes you would still hear it. That’s what I think is very different.
Jordan Do those impulses come from the same place? Or are they coming from opposite places? You know where I’m going?
Michelle I do.
Michelle This is where my allegiance is entirely to — well, not allegiance, that’s the wrong thing to say — but my experience and my passion, my identity, is that I’m a tap dancer. That’s what I know and understand. I’ve studied ballet but, — it’s interesting — the impetus to choreograph, the impetus to create movement, mine is usually music. I want to move like this because this is what it’ll sound like. That’s not to say I don’t move the way I want to move while I’m creating music with choreography that feels good, that feels right. This feels right in my body. I’m going to move in this particular way because that feels good. Then there are those driven almost entirely by aesthetics. This doesn’t necessarily feel good but my gosh is it beautiful. Or, It’s so intriguing or like, Look at this line. You can say that in so many directions. That could be vogue or ballet. There are very specific lines that you want to hit. Even if the first 100 times you do it it feels terrible, maybe it gets to a place where it feels good because of the integrity behind what you’re creating.
Langston Hughes tells us what happens to a dream deferred, but what happens to a dream within a dream deferred?
Michelle Then I think inside of both and there are things, not just line-driven — there are also things that organically feel good to the body. I think the one difference in all forms, and percussive dance forms or tap dance specifically, is that music is the reason. It’s the reason for most of us, or a lot of us. In ballet, in working with these ballet dancers, I want to honor so many different ideas. Some of it is their traditional aesthetic, their line. Some of it is that I want to see what it feels like — I want to see their personalities respond to the embodiment of this feeling. And then when I ask them to be entirely percussive — literally in Oxfords and with the hand clap, like literally just their hands and feet, just their bodies — it can be awkward but they’re making music as a community of people. That’s something they’ve never been asked to do. That to me is really exciting. Watching them move through or charge through something that is also a struggle — that has become compelling to me. Or at least I’ll be like, Gosh, look at what I’m doing to these ballerinas. Some of these principle dancers look exquisite. Some of the best in the world and they’re walking around like [clomps around]. It’s awful. I’m like, This is terrible. Relax more. You don’t have to be in the mud. When I first had them do this I was like, I have to cut this part. This is awful. I can’t do this to Gillian Murphy. I can’t do this to — You know what I mean? But the more they found they could embody the pulse of the music or the more they could embody even just, I was walking down the street and I decided to start creating this sound. Then here are my other friends or people on the street or fellow human beings making music with me. The more they move through it as a discovery and an exploration, the better. Yeah, don’t think I wasn’t nervous about, We brought Michelle Dorrance in to make everyone look like shit. I don’t know. I don’t know. There’s also something that makes everyone really very human in that moment. That the virtuosity is in the playing of the music. You don’t see it in the movement. You hear it. If you closed your eyes you would still hear it. That’s what I think is very different. Yeah. Someone could experience that without watching. That’s what I was most proud of the very first time at the gala because there are a lot of crazy things that happened and there were many things that we didn’t get to work through entirely. I said, “At the end, you guys, if the audience had closed their eyes, they would still tap their foot or nod their heads or feel in their bodies what you were doing and I am so proud of that,” because they’ve never been asked to be an orchestra of music before.
Michelle Yeah. I was really proud.
Gillian Murphy as Princess Aurora in ABT’s Sleeping Beauty.Photo by Gina Ferazzi/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images
Jordan Is that how we should be experiencing tap on some level? Should we close our eyes?
Michelle Oh my gosh. Yes! In fact, if you close your eyes — that’s the other thing — If you close your eyes and can’t experience it then absolutely, as tap dancers, we are not doing our jobs. I love dancing in the dark. Oh my gosh. My mom used to be like, “Too long in the dark, honey.” I’d be like, “Mom, I love soloing in the dark.” “Two minutes and then you’ve got to bring the lights up.” I’d be like, “No!” I used to love exploring that.
Jordan Well, that’s another piece obviously, “Dancing in the Dark.”
Michelle “Dancing in the Dark.” Yeah.
Jordan I love all of this.
Michelle I know I just jumped into a million different directions.
Jordan No, I love all of this. I’m also interested in — you were talking about how when you were digging into the ideas, you called this piece “Dream within a Dream (deferred).”
Michelle Oh, yeah.
Jordan Langston Hughes tells us what happens to a dream deferred, but what happens to a dream within a dream deferred?
Michelle This is also part of that montage of a dream deferred. It’s funny. I’ve been a huge fan of his for a really long time. I had so much that I was hoping to explore inside of this work. Calvin Royal is very much a muse for me as a character in the work.
Calvin Royal III commanding the stage as Don Quixote.Photo by Hiroyuki Ito/Getty Images
Michelle A lot of these folks in the cast that you saw perform, I’ve gotten to know them. Like James Whiteside over the years. Also, another phenomenal actor.
Michelle I love these folks. I knew what I could ask Gillian [Murphy] to be in, being James’ partner. She has such a sass. You know what I mean? She could be Odette and Odile. You see that. You see her capacity for that. I would never have imagined seeing what Christine Shevchenko’s character turned into inside of that particular thing. I have these powerhouse women who I called “The Shorties” who are the ones I’m asking to make this music because of their clarity and execution, but they are also these unbelievable, joyful, spirited performers inside of the Lindy Hop and the vernacular works. I would say the same thing for the men. I wish I could have explored a little bit more specific percussive work for the men because I was so obsessed with doing this work with the pointe shoe. I learned last time that not every man is excited to put a pointe shoe on though because I asked and only one guy kept them on the whole rehearsal process. He’s the only one that ended up in a pointe shoe in the first piece that I did. Tyler Maloney.
James Whiteside along with Isabella Boylston and Daniil Simkin at the Joyce.Photo by Timothy A. Clary/AFP/Getty Images
Jordan This gets me to gender in dance.
Jordan There was a moment in your piece that sort of awakened for me: Calvin and James together.
Michelle Yes! I wish you could have seen it last night. I gave them this note because they were doing this hug at the end of the big Lindy Hop, and it was turning too much into a bro hug. I was like, “Can we get a little...”
Jordan It’s not a bro hug, friends.
Michelle No. I was like, “Can we get a hand hold or an intimate elbow touch or something that leads into the hug as opposed to the both arms out big hug?” Last night James — I was sitting there and gripped the — what do you call these?
Jordan Arm rests.
Michelle Arm rests. I almost stood up. I was sitting there. I watch my own work sometimes with a nervousness — sometimes I’m taking notes — but last night was the last time this cast was performing so I just let myself enjoy it and cheered them on. That happened and I got on the edge of my seat and every muscle tensed because I thought they were about to kiss onstage. I thought to myself, Is this — outside of some sort of Romeo and Juliet — not Romeo and Juliet but outside of some sort of Shakespearean exploration of a man dressed as a woman? Is this the first time two men are going to kiss on this stage? Like I thought they were going to kiss. Not to mention an interracial couple. It was just so much.
Michelle Yeah. It’s also as the lights are fading and it moved into a hug and who knows. It almost destroyed me. It was so exciting.
Jordan My fantasy of the follow-up piece to this is James and Calvin —
Michelle The piece!
Jordan “James and Calvin: The Piece!”
Waiting for James and Calvin: The Piece!Photo by Marty Sohl
Michelle Okay. Yeah. I love it. That’s great.
Jordan There was this moment where it felt like the two of them were going to emerge into this full-on, same-sex pas de deux and then...
Michelle It kept not quite getting realized.
Jordan It kept not getting realized.
Michelle There’s an element of the dream...
Jordan The dream deferred.
takeover with Calvin Royal and Christine ShevchenkoPhoto via @pointemagazineofficial
Michelle Yes. Exactly. Also, that it’s Calvin experiencing it and that he is one of the only — and this lives inside of our classical world rampantly — one of the only black dancers in that company and in many companies. That he is literally the one who is burdened with a lot of what is happening inside this abstract narrative inside of the work. And, in a larger sense, my love for this art form that is a black form. Of course, there have been intersections of Irish and African culture. There are a lot of things that helped tap dance come to be, but it was carried by the black community and it was innovated largely by the African-American community moving through the early 20th century. Then, of course, it’s championed and honored in these movie musicals that star entirely white casts. I know a story of a woman who was about to be — her name was Jeni Le Gon. She was a killer. She and Eleanor Powell were both about to be soloists in a film. And there was an opening night party at MGM or whatever big studio it was. She was asked to perform and she blew the roof off. People lost their minds. People were talking about it for, I don’t know, the whole night and into the next day, which is when she got a call from the studio saying, “We’re so sorry. There’s only room for one female soloist in the film.” It wasn’t that she was marginalized inside of the film. She was gone. I imagine that Eleanor Powell’s people felt threatened. I doubt Eleanor herself, because she was a real competitor.
Michelle We could have had a black woman soloist in one of those films. It almost happened and then it didn’t. Anyway, that’s beside the point.
Jordan No, it’s actually not. It is exactly the point.
That’s what every dancer I guess might hope: that they can live and breathe their emotional truth into their body and out there to share with the people.
Michelle You’re right. That’s a good point. That’s an illustration of culturally what we’re reflecting on — the great weight of what a dream deferred has meant and means and then has also been referenced since the writing of it, since Langston Hughes first wrote it and published it or ever spoke the words. Just that we’re getting close. This art form is being invited into this world but it’s these teeny little steps. So much is deferred. So much is not fully realized. Culturally, it is absolutely not fully realized. For many people’s experience in this country, it is still a dream deferred.
Michelle There are many ways to interpret that or understand that reference. I never thought I would actually have to talk about it, but you immediately understood it. Some people wouldn’t understand the reference from their own experience of what they’ve read or what they’ve learned. Then other people are just lazy and haven’t done the research. I don’t know. Look it up. I’ve got the book on my shelf in my room but I’m sure you could figure it out on the Internet. Google something.
The meaning of the smallest movement is how we excavate those stories. If we have written with our bodies, can we then read from them as well?
Jordan What you’re talking about, though, at MGM...
Jordan When you have any of these forms of expression that come out of marginalized communities and are expressions of that experience and that identity there is this tension that we want it to go as far and wide as it can, we want it to be heard, we want it to be seen, but at the same time there is this sort of appropriation, tension of appropriation, possibility of appropriation. Where does that sit for you now, working in tap?
Michelle In this world?
Jordan In this world, at this moment, right now.
Michelle I think that’s another reason it was important for Calvin — and then Jose Sebastian is his character in the second cast — it was really important for me to center this around this figure that could carry and honor and represent things in a number of different ways. Just that this is a person who moves through the world with a different experience than any of you, than any of us, than any of me. This story and this emotion are coming from this person. We have to listen to this person and we have to honor and respect and think about what that experience is. Hopefully one of the ways we can invite people to do so is to literally create an experience of doing that in a theater. We’ll observe and care about the vulnerability of this human being onstage. Can we do that in the real world?
Backstage at Dream within a Dream (deferred).Photo via @josemlsebastian
Jordan It’s so beautiful when you say this is a person who moves through the world in different experiences because that phrase helps me visualize a physical dance through the world, not necessarily a joyful one but a movement with your full body through the world.
Michelle Yeah, and that this person walks down the street and walks into stores and interacts with others. Yeah. You can actually picture a person walking. That’s interesting that you say that.
Jordan Somehow, because it’s coming out of your mouth and that word, I don’t picture a walk, I picture —
Michelle Actual movement.
May we all learn to read our bodies.
Jordan Actual movement and that will be the seventh piece that is actually, I think, a film because we want to see Calvin in motion in the world.
Michelle Yeah. I mean, he is also gifted in that he puts — infuses I guess — He has the capacity to move his arm, like just a simple port de bras, and have it mean so much. He can just put his emotion into it. That’s what every dancer I guess might hope: that they can live and breathe their emotional truth into their body and out there to share with the people. There’s a gravity to the way he does it.
Jordan That just made me cry a little bit because Anna Deavere Smith, who I love deeply, once said to me that you hear stories, or you’ve been writing your stories, with your body. Your stories are in your body.
With my dearest Anna Deveare Smith.Photo by Michael Loccisano/Getty Images for DKC/O&M
Jordan “You’ve been in conversation with your body for a long time,” she said. The work that she was talking about — and I think the fact that we are talking about Calvin — is that the meaning of the smallest movement is how we excavate those stories. If we have written with our bodies, can we then read from them as well?
Jordan That work, that work — I don’t know. That’s God’s work.
Michelle Yeah. It is. It’s the highest calling that we could hope for from ourselves as dancers. In absolution. What a humbling challenge. Also, that’s scary.
Jordan That’s scary.
Michelle If we’re not scared of much, that internal introspection or internal reflection, and the manifestation of that story —
Jordan May we all learn to read our bodies.
Michelle Yeah. How vulnerable, to do that.
Jordan My friend.
Michelle Thank you.
Jordan What an extraordinary experience of being with you.
This extraordinary woman! Photo by Emilio Madrid-Kuser
| Movement is as much about who we’re going with as it is where we’re going. I’m so grateful to have dug deep with you and with these extraordinary people this year. Here is what I’m taking with me as I begin to move towards a new year: |
“Life’s journey is about redemption and being able to constantly learn, course-correct and redeem ourselves.” — Arianna Huffington, The Unplug Issue
“You need artists, more than ever, for their songs and their stories to kind of reach above the crazy fray in our society. Artists are the change agents.” — Jane Rosenthal, The New York Issue
“I think there are things that are important in life — sleeping, eating, love — and, for me, another kind of necessity is that creative output.”— Zac Posen, The Fashion Issue
“It’s a big ugly mess, but that’s what history is. I just sort of feel like people can rely on their own inner compasses and the important thing for everybody to remember is that we’re not in the Inquisition. You don’t throw a human being away because they said one thing that you didn’t agree with.”— Tony Kushner, The Tonys Issue
“Your paranoia is justified. But then how do you proceed as a citizen?”— Tina Fey, The Tonys Issue
What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore —
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over —
like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.
Or does it explode?