Female elk are extremely feisty. You have to watch out for them. May is the birthing season for elk in the Canadian Rockies and mother elk will fight anything that comes between them and their babies -- which can occasionally be unsuspecting humans like you and me. Though they may look harmless, female elk are most definitely not. If you get too close, a mother elk may lash out and charge.
Last May, I traveled to The Banff Centre with my fellow collaborators: composer and saxophonist Curtis Macdonald; my longtime assistant and dancer William Briscoe; and my sister Charissa. I flew to the Centre in the Rockies, located both deep in elk territory and my home province of Alberta, to lay the groundwork for my latest creation, LIFT, for Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater.
Robert Battle, the company's artistic director whom I have known for over twenty years, invited me to create a new work for Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater about a year ago and I was thrilled at the prospect. I knew that he had an expansive vision for the company, but I had no idea that I would have the honor and opportunity to be a part of it.
I first met Robert through my sister Charissa while they were attending The Juilliard School together and I would travel down to New York as a teenager to visit. We quickly realized that we shared a kindred passion for jazz music; specifically, the divine Sarah Vaughan. In those early years, we generally communicated by reciting her scats verbatim.
Robert and Charissa were so wild, courageous, and inspiring. Watching them trust their instincts, and do what they loved and believed in, made them such powerful and authentic role models for me. They taught me the importance of risk. In them, I could see the possibilities for my future living in NYC.
Now, here I am two decades later, making a dance for Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. While Curtis, William, and Charissa I ventured into the mountains to gather field recordings for the score, we were acutely aware that the irritable elk mamas just might mistake us for kidnappers. In this moment, I experienced that familiar apex of excitement and fear -- the thrill of possibility, the anticipation of adventure. It's a similar rush dancers experience every night before they step on stage, and it's how I feel when I enter the studio for the first time to create a piece. Of course there is fear of the unknown, of something uncomfortable to come, but moving through that fear, and doubt and unknown, is part of the process.
These ideas of trust and vulnerability are things that I aspire to personify every day. I get the fear; I experience it all the time. Writing this is terrifying for me and thus a practice in making myself vulnerable. Being brave and reckless and adventurous, like Robert and Charissa showed me, is infectious. Somehow we find our groove, together.
As the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater dancers worked on LIFT -- and they worked incredibly hard -- they got frustrated with themselves (and with me!), but they were also admirably patient with me and with each other. Watching the puzzle pieces come together, seeing the dancers work as a family and support each other, and witnessing them find the pleasure in dancing is so fulfilling for me -- and hopefully for you too, as an audience.
In these final preparations for tonight's premiere of LIFT at City Center, I want to thank Robert for this massive opportunity and his willingness to take a chance with me. He is truly creating space for risk, renewal and growth, and I hope that LIFT reflects this at heart.