This is the time of year when one performance season is transitioning to the next. It is also a time that Company dancers depart for new or just different lives. Often during this time I find myself reflecting back on the events of the past season, the highs and the lows, but also on my relationship with the dancers, in particular those that have decided to leave.
In 2010 a Company dancer departed suddenly mid-season. It was a dancer that I was very fond of, not only as an artist but also as a person. In March of 2011, I wrote a blog about my thoughts and feelings regarding dancers departing the Company. This was the first time I had ever expressed them publicly (in writing) and maybe the first time I had ever thought them through so thoroughly. Since that time, from time to time, I re-read what I wrote then (usually during this transition time) and am often surprised that those thoughts still seem true and relevant. This year that posting seems to resonate more than usual. It is re-posted here, with some slight edits, and dedicated with love to all the former dancers of Spectrum Dance Theater who have moved on to the next chapter of their lives.
March 29, 2011
One of the most difficult and challenging aspects of my job as artistic director is watching dancers leave. I almost always feel sad (and abandoned), sometimes hurt, and at times angry. Occasionally, I have felt betrayed or some combination of all of the above.
The abandonment feeling is my issue and has nothing to do with the dancer. On the other hand, the sadness means that the dancer is leaving with grace and my affection for them is still intact. There is a degree of dignity in their departure. My sadness being an indicator that I care about them, that we (well at least I) have connected. It is a deeply felt loss to lose someone that I not only have affection for, but with whom I won’t have the pleasure, joy, and challenges of almost daily creative interaction. It is a grateful sadness. The hurt, angry, and betrayal, however, is more complicated.
Usually when I have one of those responses it means that the decision of the dancer to leave and how they have chosen to do it has at best had some ‘awkwardness’ to it. These might include a range of things such as unfortunate statements – “there is nothing for me to get at Spectrum”; to innocuous one -“I don’t like Seattle and can’t live here”; to ones that are real pressing issues for the dancer – “it’s not enough money”. At other times these statements/reasons will demonize the organization, other company dancers and often me. I have to consider whether some of this ‘awkwardness’ can be attributed to age or inexperience in how to gracefully end a work relationship without burning bridges. Or is it mean-spiritedness, justification, or some unspoken expectations that the dancer had of Spectrum or me that were not met? The latter is I believe the most common – undeclared expectations not met or assumed promises unfulfilled. Rarely, I believe, is it plain mean-spiritedness (though there are couple of examples I can think of where I believe I misjudged character and the dancer was not the person I thought them to be).
One would think after all the years of doing this job that I would ‘get it’ by now:
1) Nothing lasts forever, 2) There is always change, and 3) Dancers leave companies. My head knows all of this but my heart is another matter.
Simply, I hate it when dancers in my company leave. My emotions take over and I am not reasonable – I am in a profound state of upsetness. I feel they don’t get my contribution to them or even who I really am. How could they do this to me? I gave them everything I had. I feel unappreciated, unacknowledged, unvalued and left alone (that’s the abandonment part). I feel sorry for myself. I sit on the ‘pity pot’. I wallow in the loss and in thoughts of loss. “What am I to do without them?” I think. “How can I go on?” I am inconsolable.
My response might seem overwrought and dramatic but beneath the histrionics the feelings are real and authentic. I guess it is my form of grieving. The departure of the dancer, the leaving, I experience as a kind of death. In some ways I go through all five stages of the Kübler-Ross model of grieving – denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. It is the end of a great and wonderful ‘something’, of a collection of moments that can never be recaptured, lost in time and trapped in memory. I am reminded of the fragility of existence. Like a dousing with a bucket of cold water in the middle of winter, a slap in the face, I recognize at the moment of the dancer’s departure that my dances/choreographies as created with and performed by this particular configuration, this group of unique and singular people, will never happen exactly the same way again. Dance, like life, is ephemeral, the moments brief and elusive… There is an adage that says, “Wear life like a loose garment”. I like that – but it is so hard to do.