Learning from History

Being on Contemporary Dance Theater has definitely been a large time commitment for me. But that becomes worth it when I get to have experiences that many people would only dream about. One of these experiences happened last week as CDT worked with Donald McKayle, a man who has lived through the events, and met the people found in the history of modern dance. This may not mean much to people who are not familiar with dance, but this man has worked with Martha Graham, Alvin Aliey, Pearl Primus, and many many others (including some singers like Diana Ross and Michael Jackson). He has choreographed many well known modern dance pieces as well as hundreds of television shows, movies, and musicals. He has toured or had his work performed on almost every continent. He even told us, nonchalantly, that he was roommates with Paul Taylor! He is incredible!

In CDT, we are performing four of his pieces, in a suite called Songs of the Disinherited. We had learned the pieces before he came, but Donald made sure that we had everything exactly how he wanted as we rehearsed. This required a lot of repetition and a plethora of new information to process, which resulted in very sore muscles and many tears. To say the least, it was wearing. Thank goodness Pat and Michelle (the artistic directors for CDT) kept us well supplied with encouraging words and food to snack on. After 12 hours of working on the pieces, he declared them as being good, but told us that we have much more work to do before we perform. And with that in mind, we have been working on the pieces since then to perfect them further.

It was exhausting, emotionally, mentally, and physically, but worth every minute. Why? Because we were able to learn from an artist that has had such a profound impact on dance history. We were able to hear his stories, feel the influence of the modern dance pioneers who had taught him, and learn from his teaching methods. Wow… what the experience.

This is a time I will never forget.

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