Longevity is a virtue we inexorably attribute to the world’s renowned choreographers; dance, after all, is a field utterly devoid of one-hit wonders. (Before you object: would Revelations be remembered without Mr. Ailey’s lifelong dedication to AAADT? The same question goes for Mr. Taylor’s Esplanade, Ms. Bausch’s Rite of Spring, et al. In other words, okay, these are hits, but hundreds of other works by the same choreographers, some great, some eh, came before and after.) Nanette Brodie Dance Theatre, a dance company based in Southern California, exists a step or two aside from the above choreographic greats. Still, Ms. Brodie’s commitment to and presence within the dancemaking world has endured comparably. I attended the company’s 25th Anniversary Concert on Saturday night at the Martha Knoebel Dance Theater in Long Beach, and I was reminded that the thing, above all–aside from the given that is repertory–choreographers cultivate from their investment of time is the beautiful, tangible, and enviable outcome of community.
Tied in to that end, inevitably, is trust. Choreography requires huge levels of it vectoring off in all directions. From the dancers, trust in an eventual outcome that will prove worthy of their time, their physical exhaustion, and their performance. Choreographers, oppositely, must trust their chosen cast to bring their vision to life, elevating their work. It is an entirely symbiotic relationship, and one that takes time to grow. It’s one I have at times struggled with growing myself, as a choreographer. Impressively, Ms. Brodie has developed this relationship with 40 dancers in her company’s lifetime.
Indeed, during the performance, I found myself contemplating the company’s inner workings more than I normally might. Perhaps it was the dinner I had shared beforehand with former company member Mikel. He and others in my party had mentioned a few of the dancers’ names, generally in conjunction with the words: “Is ____ performing?” “I can’t wait to see ____ perform.” Upon receiving my program I scanned it for those names, as well as the names of others I had met attending company class once before. There was a taste in all this I recognized from school. (But beyond school, too: having spent years in the Taylor School and the Ailey Studios, seeing any show by either of those companies is a nosy investigation into their worlds as their respective communities are like families. What are the relationships? How will the dancing, even in the same piece–Esplanade, Revelations–have changed?) It’s the excitement of knowing people in the show. Of seeing what newness the lapse of time, the glare of lights, the hum of audience, might reveal.
Besides, on the occasion of an anniversary, the inside is celebrated and brought out. Flowers for the choreographer. The choreographer herself, to introduce her work and articulate her gratitude. A photo montage. Alumni. So maybe my meditation on behind-the-scenes goings-on was not entirely unfounded, after all, as aspects of it were presented as part of the show. As for the scenes themselves, the performers exuded strong personality which seemed grounded in a real sense of community, in work created with the (relative) luxury of time, and in a level of trust beyond what is considered standard professionalism. 25 years in, NBDT is plainly a dance family; Ms. Brodie its creative, consistent matriarch.