"I Truly Believe That Me Being a Dancer Is No Coincidence"
Photo by RJ Muna
I truly believe that me being a dancer is no coincidence. As Martha Graham put it, "I did not choose: I was chosen to be a dancer."
I started dancing before I could even stand, as my mom likes to tell me. I grew up in Munich, where my dad used to give concerts on the weekends playing a Senegalese stringed instrument called the kora. Whenever he practiced at home, I started rocking back and forth, enjoying the rhythm.
Video footage courtesy of Alonzo King LINES Ballet
Once I was introduced to the world of ballet, there was no stopping me. Most of my teachers were strict Russian Vaganova teachers. My parents questioned why on earth I wanted to spend all my free time being yelled at, but I didn't see it that way.
Photo by RJ Muna
I found pleasure in the hard work. I loved when my teachers lifted my leg up all the way to my ear, only to let go a second later and yell at me as it dropped down rapidly. I learned quickly that once you achieve your goals you set new ones even higher.
Sometimes I feel like the older I get, the more I find to work on, and I wonder why. Shouldn't I be perfect by now, or at least have less to worry about? But I find new things to improve because I have come to a higher level of fine-tuning, of understanding my own body.
Being at LINES opened my eyes to a whole new kind of awareness. Instead of focusing on matching the dancer in front of me, I now get to focus on exploring space, and on strengthening my attention to every body part and their many ways of moving. Working with Alonzo King has shown me how much more there is to dance.
Photo by RJ Muna
I spent so much time using dance to speak that I didn't take enough time to listen. One often has a clear idea about how the steps should be executed, but by listening, I've learned that there are usually many more possibilities. Sometimes the in-between movement is more interesting than the end result.
To finesse your dancing, you want to find generosity within yourself so you can give and share. That's the beautiful part of ballet as an art form—we share it with the audience. We take them to places they might not have been to before.
One of the things I love most about my profession is the ability to inspire. Inspiring people to find the dancer within themselves, because it is inside of each and every one!
Tony Testa leads a rehearsal during his USC New Movement Residency. Photo by Mary Mallaney/Courtesy USC
The massive scale of choreographing an Olympic opening ceremony really has no equivalent. The hundreds of performers, the deeply historic rituals and the worldwide audience and significance make it a project like no other.
Just consider the timeline: For most live TV events like award shows, choreographers usually take a month or two to put everything together. For the Olympics, the process can take up to four years.
But this kind of challenge is exactly what Los Angeles choreographer Tony Testa is looking for. He's currently creating a submission to throw his hat in the ring to choreograph for Beijing's 2022 Winter Games.
In a studio high above Lincoln Center, Taylor Stanley is rehearsing a solo from Jerome Robbins' Opus 19/The Dreamer. As the pianist plays Prokofiev's plangent melody, Stanley begins to move, his arms forming crisp, clean lines while his upper body twists and melts from one position to the next.
All you see is intention and arrival, without a residue of superfluous movement. The ballet seems to depict a man searching for something, struggling against forces within himself. Stanley doesn't oversell the struggle—in fact he's quite low-key—but the clarity with which he executes the choreography draws you in.