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By Christopher Atamian
Darrin Wright and Luke Miller met at the 2001 American Dance Festival. They were both working on Russian choreographer Tatiana Baganova’s Wings at Tea, a Pina Bausch–like piece based on Marc Chagall’s paintings. “We both instantly got the piece,” says Luke, implying that a shared creative vision may have been at the base of their original attraction. It certainly was not first impressions that bound them to each other. Darrin says of his beau: “I thought he was Russian,” while Luke retorts bluntly: “I thought he was mute,” as the latter stayed silent throughout the audition. The two started to date, but broke up at summer’s end and went their separate ways. In Wright’s case, this meant attending the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champagne, where he completed his BFA in dance. (Miller graduated from NYU Tisch School of the Arts.) They met again in 2003 when they moved to New York separately. This time, they fell in love. Then they both tried out and were accepted into Susan Marshall & Company.
They are a study in contrasts: Luke is tall, blond and lanky, and has an appealingly off-center quality. Darrin is muscular, dark-haired, and wiry with an intense stage presence. Both dancers have a gentleness and a studied, mature grace. Luke notes that they keep their home life and dancing separate: “If we’re having an issue at home, we’re careful to leave it there. When we come to work, it’s only about dancing and the choreography. And vice versa.” Still, one would think that a romance in a company of only five members might cause tension. Darrin insists that quite the contrary is true: “Susan is great and the company works like one big family, so people treat us no differently from anyone else. In fact,” he adds, “the intimacy helps us to keep the bond we already have. We’ve grown closer together thanks to our dancing.” Conversely, working together also helps with their private lives: “Since we work together, it makes it easier to understand each other. One enriches the other.”
This intimacy was apparent at a June performance of the Marshall Company’s Frame Dances, a fascinating set of short pieces performed in a large brick DUMBO studio. The dances were accompanied by a video reminiscent of Annie Leibovitz’s famous photo of Whoopi Goldberg in a tub full of milk. Two bodies—Luke and Darrin—submerged themselves in white water, reappeared, and rolled over each other. A hand poked through the liquid, then a face, then an underwear-clad backside. Hearing them talk about working on the video, you get the impression that Darrin and Luke have lots of plain old fun together. “The liquid was actually powdered milk,” Luke said, laughing: “We had to sit there smoothing out all the powder to make gallons of milk!” As the video progresses, the random body parts take on a certain rhythm and elegance. “We know each other and our bodies so well,” said Luke, “that it makes performing together much easier. It comes very naturally.”
Darrin recalls a performance of Arms—a classic Susan Marshall duet—that he was scheduled to perform in California with a dancer who became ill. Luke stepped in at the last minute. “The choreography is simple yet confusing,” Darrin noted, “We had no time to rehearse it together. Susan told us to use the dynamic in our relationship to build the piece and not to worry about anything else.” Luke was able to understand Darrin’s cues almost instantaneously. “When the curtain went up we both took a deep breath,” Darrin continued: “It was the best run of the piece. The audience loved it. I’m fairly certain that it wouldn’t have come alive if I had performed it with anyone else.”
Luke and Darrin have performed together with other choreographers as well, including Yanira Castro and Keely Garfield. Asked whether they recommend dancing with one’s boyfriend, they both answer unequivocally: “Absolutely.”