Inspired by my brother’s and my sister’s early successes in dance, after receiving my literature degree I moved to New York. I was on scholarship at Alvin Ailey. I took additional classes at Paul Taylor and Ballet East, telemarketed for the Fred Astaire ballroom studios, paralegalled and auditioned. I saw performances: David Parsons, Momix, Ailey, Joffrey, the newly formed Complexions, Paul Taylor, etc. In January of 1995, Pina Bausch came to BAM and performed “Two Cigarettes in the Dark.” I felt inadequate. Although I’d always been less interested in performing than in choreography, I knew that most who achieved success in the latter began with a career in the former. In March of ‘95, I folded my between-xmas-and-New-Year’s overtime from a midtown law firm into an Air Pakistan flight to Paris to visit my aunt and clear my head.
The month-long trip changed me. I decided I couldn’t stay in New York; Manhattan made me tired in a way that kept me from loving what I loved. I applied for my MFA in dance and in the fall of 1996 I moved to Iowa City. There, in class I watched a video of Pina Bausch’s Rite of Spring projected large. This time I wasn’t wounded by the virtuousity of her dancers. Her use of their talents was instead a revelation.
I no longer saw technique as a personal obstacle; it was simply a prerequisite for a certain type of vision. Here was unabashed emotion. Here was absolute commitment to movement and a desire to say something. I felt the desire, the need; I cared less about its exact translation. I learned later that my response Bausch’s work was not the only possible response. Some of my friends saw her work as over-the-top, her theatricality as excessive and “speak-y” yet narratively opaque–a combination they were uncomfortable with–and the impact of her movement too reliant on the training of her dancers. This last was voiced as a crime. I began for the first time to think about dance-writing, about defending my choreographic ideas, and about describing what initially felt indescribable. Oh, and I was taking poetry classes on the sly.
For the first time I began to seriously consider combining my two worlds. I dipped my foot first into the creative side of things: my master’s thesis for my MFA in choreography at the University of Iowa was a text-based, highly theatrical piece called “How Words End.”
None of the words were my own.