Why I Choreograph: Annmaria Mazzini
An expressive, intense dancer, Annmaria Mazzini carved out her niche in the Paul Taylor Dance Company’s repertoire with indelible performances in pieces like Rite of Spring (The Rehearsal) and Speaking in Tongues. When she retired from the company after 12 years in 2011, it seemed impossible to imagine another dancer in those roles, so completely had she made them her own. However, Mazzini herself was ready to move on to her next chapter—as a choreographer. She is now artistic director of Mazzini Dance Collective and resident choreographer of the American Modern Ensemble (a group devoted to performing minimalist contemporary music), continuing to share her passion for movement.
The urge to create theater burned in me early, all the way back to when I held my family captive for elaborate living room performances. I was just being a kid, but, oh, the fire was in me! By the time I was 12 and decided I wanted to be a dancer, I had already been practicing solos of my own devising in the basement of the rural Pennsylvania farmhouse where I grew up. It occurs to me now that no one ever saw these spectacles, just a few cats of mine. It was a glorious time, though, born out of play but refined by an increasingly intense focus.
I stayed in the habit of making up dances through high school and college, and it proved a valuable skill. As I began auditioning for programs and local gigs, I had a nice stash of repertory. Choreographing not only brought me some of my first professional credits as a dancer (ask Michael Trusnovec about the “Fred and Ginger” duet we did for a community choir near our school), it helped me to cope with the inevitable rejection all dancers face. Actively creating my own dance experience, I could feel in control instead of helpless.
It was around that time I became obsessed with Paul Taylor’s work. His dancers astounded me with their majestic ferocity, and I desperately wanted to feel whatever it was that Ruth Andrien was feeling when she took my breath away in Esplanade. His was the choreography I needed to dance; the savage athleticism of it stirred things in me, and I badly wanted to live in those beautiful and terrifying worlds he created. Once inside the thrilling patterns and intricate counts of dances like Esplanade, delicious, satisfying jigsaw puzzles, I was driven to the very edge of my physical and mental capabilities. Paul Taylor’s dances make dancers feel like superheroes. Smartypants superheroes. It’s no wonder so many of us go on to choreograph.
I’m now working with a fantastic group of people who, I am happy to say, love performing the dances I make. Any chance for a dancer to do a full-out run of a piece is an opportunity to immerse herself in magic. Like sleep to a baby, it’s when the growth happens, in those moments of complete physical and spiritual abandon.
Watching the dancers perform my work from the audience, I see them do things I’d never seen before, little details with gigantic intentions. One dancer swoops upstage in a low running curve, suddenly changing to face downstage with the full weight of her being, and I can actually feel the force of her gesture travel through me like a gust of wind. These are wild moments that I love. I firmly believe that the more moments we have like these, where we are witness and party to glorious abandon, the bigger our spirits become, and the better we love our lives.