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 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 the 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 over wrought 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