A lot is written about the plight of the free-lance dancer (and rightly so), but I’m thinking today about what it means to be in a company. An exercise in nostalgia, to be sure.
For those readers who do not know the skinny, the Metropolitan Opera Ballet is disbanded. Through scheduled downsizing of tenured dancers, the Met has arrived at a place where all dancers work on a per-performance basis. Where there once was company, there is now a pile of backpacks - a grand hotel turned youth hostel. And my daughter, internalizing overheard conversations about my career transition, has started telling people I got fired. Which isn’t actually true. Kid, it’s complicated. How to explain decades of internecine labor history to a 5-year old?
But I digress.
Thank Pete for the chorus! That glorious anchor remains, and from its excellence blooms security. Juilliard dance grads rejoice! And get thee to Belinda and Karen for the how-things-run-here nuts and bolts orientation that was formerly the de facto job of senior dancers. They will take care of you, keep you apprised of your rights and prevent you from running to stage before your call. From these ladies you will learn that dancing in an opera, that most interdisciplinary of art forms, is rather dissimilar from all you know about concert dance. And this will be the free-lance gig that lulls you into a sense of company, of belonging. You know what? It’s a real thing.
Let me tell you something about the Metropolitan Opera chorus. After my little family lost our apartment in a 3 building fire, the chorus took up a collection and presented me with a box of cash into which pockets had clearly been emptied - the dancers did too, and the costume shop, for that matter. Company. I was mortified to be in need of such charity. And moved. And in that moment (Carol Wright!), a safety net opened up beneath me - a web of connectedness that I hadn’t previously considered.
Because even after more than a decade as a company member, I retain the fierce qualities of a free-lancer. By nature and practice I am bullheaded and self-sufficient and hard-working and stubborn and rash. I am not supposed to be in need of help. Quintessentially American, I guess. So is my daughter. “NO MOMMY I WILL DO IT. DON’T HELP MOMMY!” But she knows that we were helped by the artists of the Met during our time of need, and I hope this bit of family mythology will cause her to know that feeling of connectedness, of company.
And when I make my final, super-slow descent off the deck in tonight’s season ending performance of Un Ballo in Maschera, it is only fitting that I will be greeted with the elegantly floating hands of Dan and Craig. They will guide me safely and beautifully offstage.