Note: for those of you who don’t know, I was a dancer here for 12 years, 1991-03. Helping to stage Clowns and Others and being back to shepherd it into the final stage of performance feels like repaying part of a debt I owe to Salvatore Aiello for his contribution to making me the dancer I eventually became. “We are not dancers. We are just human beings that just happen to dance” was not an abstract concept for Sal when he said it, not a good sound bite put forward for marketing purposes. He really lived it. He knew that to be a good artist, a real artist, it was necessary to reveal our humanity rather than pretend to be someone or something else and hide our inner beings in a protective shell, a reaction I see all too often in the world today.
During my last year in North Carolina Dance Theater (1990-91), before I arrived in Milwaukee, the company was beset with financial problems and was a sinking ship. That winter Sal set to choreographing a new work… the only action he could conceive of to fight back an increasing sense of despair as his Company fell apart around him. He essentially said to us, “To hell with it, we’re just going to do what we know - dance. That’s what’s important right here, right now.” And we did. And he made a beautiful work, Symphonic Dances to Rachmaninoff’s music of the same title. The final gesture of the dance, after three sections, was six couples just standing there and then turning to look at the audience in quiet defiance, as if to say, “You have just witnessed something that can’t be taken away from us – our talent, our desire, our freedom, our humanity - the wings we wear when we dance.”
While Sal was choreographing Symphonic Dances, one of the ballets we performed regularly that season was Clowns and Others. Each night, in various places around the country, we presented Clowns with its gentle humor and acknowledgment of life’s fortunes. BUT WE DIDN’T PERFORM. We danced who we were; we illustrated the human condition: we believed in the value of our work and skill, and shared it as best we could in the only we knew how.
That year we had a 35+ week season; the following year after I left, Sal and NCDT barely managed a 14-week season and began an arduous, and eventually successful, journey towards rebuilding the company.
It has been a privilege to return to Milwaukee and share Sal’s work with the dancers at MBC. They are ready to share their hard work with you. They are ready to share Sal’s vision, and to reveal themselves, unfurling their wings to fly in the only way they know how. And because of this opportunity, I find myself flooded with memories of the dancer I was at NCDT with Sal, the dancer I was here, the person I am now. And I remember a man I argued with; the man I hugged; the man who gave tiny diamond earrings to my newly born daughter; the man who choreographed solos on me; the man who pulled me out of ballets; the man who gave me his blessing when I abandoned ship to come here. After rehearsing the Company and witnessing the dancers’ work, I think a little bit of the debt is repaid.
As you watch the Company this weekend, I hope you enjoy the three dances presented and appreciate the fact that you act as witness to the dancers as they reveal their humanity to us, and by extension, reveal our own humanity to ourselves.