What It Feels Like to Come Home to Dance After 22 Years

January 2, 2018

These days I work as assistant to shoe icon Steve Madden. It’s a busy job, and it had me running late for my first dance rehearsal with Jane Comfort and Company after…22 years? Yikes!

When Jane asked if I’d like to perform in her 40th-year retrospective, I didn’t hesitate to say yes. I’d worked with Jane for many years, and really missed her and the process of putting a show together. The pieces I’d be performing involved mostly gesture, like Four Screaming Women, and singing and acting in She/He. At 64 years old, I was thrilled at the chance to hit the stage again.

We wouldn’t have a lot of rehearsals for our performance of Four Screaming Women at the Joe’s Pub Dance Now series, so I’d looked at the piece a thousand times, and practiced indoors, on decks, near swimming pools, and on trains. I’ve always been an over-rehearser, because I like to get the material deeply ingrained so I can “get lost” when it’s time to perform.

Excerpt from Jane Comfort’s Faith Healing, with text by Tennessee Williams’ (from The Glass Menagerie). Performed by Mark Dendy, Nancy Alfaro, and Scott Willingham.

I last performed Four Screaming Women in 1988, but miraculously, muscle memory kicked in, and though I had to work to get the text down, the gestures came back like I’d done them a lot more recently than the 20th century. Maybe my past drilling had a lasting effect!

When I walked into Jane’s studio, where we’d rehearsed so many hours for so many years, a place where I’d grown as a person and an artist, a place where I was able to pursue my art while my baby daughter rocked in a swing (thanks Jane!), I felt like I’d come home. Memories rose to the surface as I looked at the familiar columns, art and furniture that surrounded the space.

I felt really lucky to be working with Jane, Peter Sciscioli, and Leslie Cuyjet, all talented, supportive castmates. I told myself to just go with the process, to make my mistakes and try to retain what I learned from them. I really wanted to be present throughout, so I could eventually move beyond drilling, and give the words and movement their full value.

When the day of the show arrived, my heart was pumping like I’d just run a marathon, even at tech rehearsal. The last “exposed” performing I’d done (meaning, not part of a big group) was about 11 years ago. I wasn’t sure if I was afraid I’d make a mistake, or excited to be on stage, or a combination of both.

I forced myself to focus on my breath before going on, and that quieted my pounding heartbeat some. Once onstage, though I could practically hear myself swallow, the familiarity and enjoyment of performing hit, and I was able to express and feel in command of my performance.

This April, we’ll be showing Four Screaming Women again at La MaMa, and I’ll also reprise my role as Clarence Thomas in She/He, a piece from 1995. I’m so fear-struck/excited that I’ve already learned my monologue, and am working with castmate Peter Sciscioli, who is also a “Voice as Movement” coach, to help me find more subtleties within the role, and to enhance my vocal performance. Jane recently invited guests after only one She/He rehearsal, and this time I thought my heart was going to jump right out of my chest!

It’s only January, but I’m going to work my butt off to do the best I can this April, to allow the performance to rise to the surface, so it’s not forced out by sheer will. I have been so elated to have this return to the world of dance, the world in which I spent so many cherished years. I feel like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz. I’ve clicked my heels and realized, there’s no place like home.